A 10-year contract will save marriage

I’ve established that marriage is dead. The model based on committing to a “soulmate” for the rest of one’s life is but a blip in the history of marriage, and it’s day has come — as evidenced by the steady, high divorce rate and dwindling numbers of people in America who get married at all. An astonishing 40 percent of people polled by Pew say the institution of marriage is obsolete.

And yet. And yet we crave that connectedness, the comfort and protection that comes with marriage. There is a reason that marriage has been part of nearly every society in history. Marriage is good, and there is an innate human drive to formally connect with our romantic partners.

I have that need. I enthusiastically married the man I loved, and just like you, I signed on to the forever-and-ever. Forget the fact that I come from divorced parents, and so does he! We all know the divorce stats. But no, no, no! Our marriage would survive, I told myself. And then, when we divorced and I had to figure out how to sell a diamond ring, I was genuinely shocked. Now I see I was genuinely naive.

Here I am, past that marriage and dating again. I’ve been in couple relationships in which I start having girl thoughts about the size of car we would buy to transport our collective kids to the beach, and how we would integrate his art with mine in our charming bungalow big enough for everyone’s brood. I am not sure what my romantic future holds, but I know that the forever-and-ever model is a joke. When the thought of marriage creeps into my girl thoughts, suddenly the images of the minivan and bunkbeds go black.

I join the majority of people compelled to be married, but how could marriage possibly work for me? How can we embrace what is really going on in the world and make the institution of marriage work for everyone?

Marriage has evolved and changed throughout history. All evidence is blaring in our faces that now is a time for change.

The new model is a 10-year marriage contract.

It works like this: On the onset of the marriage the parties lay out the goals of the relationship. A prenup, but more. Decide the financial terms during the marriage, as well as how money will be dealt with should it end. Same with kids. But more than that, the contract establishes broad goals for the marriage itself: Is it for companionship? A passionate love? To bring children into the world? Build financial equity or a business?

Then, when the marriage nears year No. 9, the parties are forced to make a decision. Do they decide — amicably — that the marriage has run its course? If so, the contract has paved a path for a low-animosity split (thanks to the prenup), and the possibility for celebrating a partnership that was successful while it lasted.

Or, the couple decides to sign another 10-year contract, but with changes. Study after study find that a lack of communication is the No. 1 reason people divorce. A forced conversation about the future of a marriage can only be good for any relationship. Gone will be the days of the couch potato marriage, where everyone simply waits out the clock without actually working on the relationship.

Finally, for those who are certain their love will indeed endure for the rest of time, what could be more romantic than signing on for a lifetime of 10-year anniversaries? How delightful to look forward to decades scheduled with vow renewals?

A 10-year marriage contract embraces the human drive to formally couple. It offers the legal and emotional protection that marriage affords us, but also embraces the very realities of how we live our lives today. We no longer expect anything to last forever. Americans change careers an average of six times in their lifetime, and three out of five of us move away from our hometowns.

Most critically, many of us have long-term committed relationships before we meet our spouses, and then go on to find love after divorce. By definition, we are serial monogamists, yet the current marriage model is in direct conflict with reality. No wonder so many people are terrified of marrying – whether for the first time, or the fifth. The current marriage model asks you to front-load your investment in the relationship with an insane wedding and declarations of unwavering love, and then put on blinders to the very real possibilities of divorce for the rest of your life. Nothing makes you more vulnerable than living a lie.

The institution of marriage is in crisis.

Let’s demand a new model and save marriage. I’ll sign a 10-year marriage contract.

Will you?

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Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

88 thoughts on “A 10-year contract will save marriage

  1. I love it because it honors everyone. It honors people who are happy in long term marriages AND it honors people who are not. It really IS what marriage should be. Great communication and a chance to really reassess every decade is not a bad idea.

  2. If it were embraced it could eliminate the stigma of divorcing because people just ‘grew apart’ and prevent the resentment that couples that stay together “just because they’re supposed to” can breed. Really interesting concept.

  3. Interesting concept but I’d tweak it. How about a 2-year contract that re-ups every year? Once a year you devote a weekend to having an honest conversation about your relationship, what’s working for you and what’s not, and commit to make changes that can make it better for both of you. Then the next year, if those changes didn’t help or weren’t made, you ride out the remainder of the contract and are divorced within a year. I think the key to making any marriage work is doing the work of maintaining a relationship, and putting the onus on the couple to prioritize their relationship could actually make marriages last longer and be stronger.

    1. I like that. Mexico City proposed a two-year contract a few years ago. The (lefty) legislator had other priorities with his idea:

      “Almost 50% of couples in Mexico City end up in divorce,” Luna says. “What we’re trying to do is acknowledging reality and creating a mechanism that will allow couples to end their marriage without going through the additional pain and suffering of a legal battle.”


  4. As a man I’m not really clear on the benefits of this. Why not just stay single and sleep with random childless women?

  5. I completely disagree. This might work for a well-educated couple that has a relationship of honesty and open communication. But what about the scores of marriages out there where one party is kept in the dark about finances and the state of the marriage completely?
    Marriages change and grow. Your model says to set forth the plans of the marriage from the outset but there are always contingencies.
    And how would this even be maintained by the state? Is there going to be a DMV-type agency issuing expiration notices?
    Here is what I hear under your theory: “Oops, honey, I forgot to mail that renewal in – so I guess we are no longer married and I get everything, so get out.” “He told me that he mailed the form in, but he never did and we haven’t been married for 4 years and I didn’t know it. Now he’s gone with all the assets acquired in the last 4 years that suddenly I don’t have a right to because those aren’t marital and I didn’t know that when I helped acquire them.” “She left and took the kids. Our marriage automatically expired the next day – now I’ve lost marital rights and have no recourse.”
    My experience (and a common refrain of divorce attorneys) is that each divorce is a reflection of the marriage. I don’t think that a renewable contract will change that. I don’t think that it addresses the real reason why people fight in ways that might not make sense: there is emotional hurt at the end of a marriage. And, if a couple is going to have a low-conflict divorce, they have that option now.
    Finally, I’ve heard advocates of this position say: how wonderful that you have to purposefully agree to continue the marriage every ten years. Well, you should purposefully continue the marriage every day.

    1. @Morghan:

      1. Only educated people have open and honest relationships? Wowzas!
      2. You’re hung up on the logistics of this. This can all be worked out (with bazillions of dollars of legislation, no doubt), and certainly there can be baseline legal rights built into all marriages, as well as those customized by the couple. And because my model builds in MORE individual responsibility, no one could claim ignorance about the administrative oversight of their marriage.
      3. Re: low conflict — Of course we’re all adults and can chose to have civilized divorces if both parties are on board. But under the current marriage model where marriage is designed to last forever, everyone is shocked when their union ends, and a tiny portion of couples have prenups, this isn’t happening. Yes, we are moving towards more mediation, etc., but as you note, people are emotional beings and divorce — if we expect it to last forever, which is insane — is devastating under the current model.
      4. “Well, you should purposefully continue the marriage every day.” Yep, and we should all exercise every day, vote every election and volunteer weekly. Good luck with the shoulds. Lecturing does zip. Marriage needs an overhaul.
      5. Are you saying that the current marriage model — the social norms, not just legal — is working? Yes? Please explain. No? What do you suggest in its stead?

    2. I totally agree with Morghan. You should be doing all the communicating now and people don’t. I don’t see why they would change their ways. Marriages don’t work because people are lazy. People have to change not the institution of marriage.

  6. I used to joke that instead of the military moving families around, they should just move the husband around we’d all get new husbands every three years. An interesting concept. I think it is a great idea to talk regularly about what’s working and what’s not working. My second marriage is pretty great, and that’s because we’re committed to communicating, putting each other high on the priority list, and being kind to each other. I hope more people can find a great love to enjoy, no matter how long it lasts.

    1. That is funny, Honoree. Who could argue with more talking, commuicating and commitment? We can preach that all we want, but until baseline changes are made to marriage as an institution, people will keep dumping money and time into couples therapy, relationship books and the like with nary a waiver in divorce trends.

      1. I agree that institutions have to stay current and recognize roles have changed and are constantly changing. Couples have to make their relationships work for them. And as soon as we stop worrying about what other people and just living our lives, the happier we will be.

  7. Maybe it should start out like this: You go in with a cubic zerconia & if you renew you upgrade to something a little better & then if you renew again you get a second home or something like that?

  8. Emma, Emma, Emma…. marriage never has, nor will it ever be the problem. The people in the marriage are the problem. Saying that marriage, in our oh-so modern age, is suddenly dead is no less than believing the wheel is now a bad idea.

    You see, it is far easier to say that marriage failed us than to say that we failed marriage. It makes us feel better about ourselves to think we weren’t responsible for why we divorced, and instead we were putting ourselves in a losing game for day one.

    Listen, as long as couples refuse to take the responsibility for their marriages they will continue to fail. I should know, I failed at one myself. But the moment I realized what I did wrong, and could have done differently, my entire outlook shifted.

    And lastly, as a divorced woman, you should know as well as any the folly behind thinking that a couple will agree on some abstract idea of things yet achieved today and when the ‘contract’ expires that decade old agreement will lubricate an amicable and civil divorce – between uncivil people.

    And I just have to say, what sane man would possibly agree to this?

  9. Oh, condescending Kyle, Kyle, Kyle. Do a quick google on the history of marriage. The current model of marriage for love is so new – just a couple hundred years old. Arranged marriage, unions based on economic or political gain — these are the ones that survived far, far longer than any others in history. Society changes. Culture evolves. The institutions that govern us must also change and evolve.

    When half of marriages — marriages that are intended for a lifetime, under current practice — end, 40% of people say the institution is irrelevant, and fewer and fewer people marry each year, it is time for yet another chapter of marriage to be introduced.

  10. Great points, Emma. But… No, for several reasons. * Let’s say the parents are miserable and the kids would be better off if their folks divorced — in that case, no arbitrary time limit should be imposed. * If the kids knew about their parents’ expiration date, they’d be worried sick. * What if the couple plans to have kids: In that case, the marriage expiration needs to come at least 18 years after the birth of the last kid because no reasonable parent should put their kids through a divorce without a good reason, and “we only signed up for 10 years” is a bad reason. * Couples with a 10-year marriages who socialized with other couples with 10-year marriages would lead to a higher divorce rate. You’re gonna let your high-earning Year 9 husband hang out with a pretty Year 9 woman whose husband turned out to be a bum? No way.

    1. Ray – Excellent points all around. But I worry you are looking at this all through a paradigm of the current marriage model. To your arguments
      -Terrible marriages should not be subject to arbitrary time limits — They already are: Forever.
      -Kids would live in fear under a 10 year contract: They already live in fear once the see divorces around them. Today, parents tell their kids they will NEVER divorce, but then often do. My plan keeps things real. There is nothing scarier than living a lie – for anyone, of any age.
      -18 year contracts for couples with kids – But I know plenty of people whose parents divorced when they were in college and beyond — far more traumatic than, say, as newborns or preschool. (I should ask a child therapist about what ages are most vulnerable to divorce – good idea)
      -Socializing – the point of my plan is to keep marriages stronger while they do last, and hopefully last longer. This would make them less susceptible to affairs and other temptations.

  11. Really so we as society should pour billions into adding another DMV type agency to our lives and reconstruct the marriage contract under a 10-year premise and that will solve all the trouble. And, you totally ignore the valid points of abuse that I forecast by shuffling it off to “oh some legistlature and billions of dollars will just plug that gaping hole in my theory.” And that’s on the legal side.
    On the emotional side: I have to agree with Kyle on this one – and that was part of my point: a 10-year contract doesn’t solve the emotional hurt. It just gives an exit strategy and adds a shorter layer of instability to the situation at hand. Marriages, I believe, need a life time commitment.You don’t plan to summit Everest with anything less than a full-blown “all in.” You don’t sit as a Supreme Court justice with anything less. The $hit show that marriage can require (babies, children, illness, death, and fat-a$$es) needs more than 10 years. And much like life – maybe the marriage has a life-expectancy – but you don’t know how long that is until you get there.

  12. Morghan – all valid arguments. I ague that billions of dollars invested in saving marriage would indeed be a financial investment for tax payers- fewer divorces (reduced burden on the courts), happier healthier adults (less health care expenses and more productive workers), and better kids all around, which would stem countless societal issues and related costs — crime, literacy, health, etc., etc.

    On the emotional side, I see where you’re coming from with that all-or-nothing mentality, but again, that is where we are now in marriage and it JUST ISN’T WORKING. The current model based on all-or-nothing encourages a) absurd weddings, b) people building lives based on the forever and ever — e.g. women relinquishing their financial independence, to the detriment of the entire family, and c) divorces that blindside one or both parties and result in acrimonious and expensive divorces — again to the detriment to the entire family.

    PLEASE, critics! Offer a better solution! One that hasn’t been harped on for decades — to zero change! PLEASE!

    1. My parents are about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Not everyone is unhappy in their marriage Emma. And not everyone will get divorced.

      Billions of dollars have already been spent on trying to safe guard people – particularly the weaker of the spouses (weaker financially or from a violence perspective). There is caselaw and statutes in defining how to handle the current process. In fact, New York No Fault almost didn’t pass because it was viewed as a danger to domestic violence victims.

      I agree that these are worthwhile discussions in a way (it is almost like talking about why a third party can’t win in a political sphere – it is academic), but I do not think that people need an additional option to escape their marriage. Maybe they need mandatory counseling and a waiting period before they get married. States used to force people to have a blood test. Maybe they need to have a mandatory consultation with a lawyer about prenups.

      Even if I pretend that I agree that we should artificially limit marriage commitments to 10 years, then what does it look like when that relationship terminates? It won’t just be a graceful “nice to know ya!” Prenups are overturned (often), life plans change (“oh, I thought you brought the condom”). And franky, most people I see are never 100% certain that they even want a divorce – leaving them wide open to the same type of nasty, emotional divorce that we see today. The property rights, estate rights, federal rights and protections that are provided to a spouse by marriage should not be so lightly undone – particularly in situations where that spouse might not even be aware that the marriage is over (and saying well they know how to count to 10 isn’t good enough).

      Let’s look at you: suppose you had entered into a 10 year contract for your marriage. When you started off, I bet you had different thoughts about the kind of person you were marrying. I bet you would have not blinked at agreeing to joint 50/50 custody. Sell the marital property we acquired? Sure – why wouldn’t I want to do that? Do YOU think that YOU would have been comfortable with the terms you might have agreed to 10 years ago?

  13. I think the whole idea of marriage conjures up so many expectations for people, that it makes the idea of marriage into something other than it is. I married the person with whom I enjoyed hanging with all the time, whom I also loved, and whom I couldn’t imagine being without. We had a tiny wedding (28 people), and no honeymoon. We didn’t think about the future much. We didn’t really think about the where and how and why of it all. Ironically, it helped that each of us had lost a parent in childhood, and our remaining parents didn’t have crazy expectations of us.

    1. Congrats to your parents Morghan and all the other happily married people out there. No one is trying to take anything away from them. In fact – if you read what I write – we all want to be LIKE them!

      I’m talking to the tens of millions of couples who have and will divorce. What is your answer?

      MORE therapy?! Couples have been trying that for decades, to no avail.

      Delayed divorces? Already happening in several states — whether formally, or like in NY, where things just take forever and ever. While admittedly tough to pinpoint the reason behind trends, there are not clear lines drawn between processing times and divorce rates:

      You said it yourself, we’re already throwing money trying to protect the weak. Nothing weaker than someone living in denial and making personal and financial decisions based on fantasy. My model shakes up our whole paradigm and simply accepts what is already happening – divorce rates are high and stuck; fewer and fewer people believe in marriage. You’re suggesting already-tried-and-failed band aids for THE most critical institution in our lives — marriage. And people do care about this and are voting for a change by turning their backs on marriage. Unlike third-party politics that no one really cares about except a few wonks.

      A 10 year contract is not about getting OUT of marriage. It is about encouraging people to GET married, to have MORE meaningful marriages while they last, have more AMICABLE divorces when they happen, and give us a platform to embrace our marriages as POSITIVE chapters, after the fact.

      This is not unlike the evolution of careers — just a couple decades ago you would have been considered a loser if you did not stick it out to get the gold watch at the end of a 40-year corporate career. Those days are gone, and many of us would argue that while this shift to more self-employment, frequent job and career changes has gone through growing pains for individuals and society, it is simply a stage of the economy and our culture that we must embrace. Most people have. No different for marriage.

      As for me – no, I would not have signed a 10- Year Marriage Contract when I married. Like you, I got hitched under the la-la-land fantasy definition of marriage, spent way too much on a wedding (not like you, O wise eloper!), and kidded myself that there was no way we would split. As I wrote, I was naive. I absolutely WOULD sign a contract today, knowing what I know and seeing what I see around me (which was around me 10 years ago, but I chose to ignore).

      As for your clients who are not 100% signed on to divorce – I wonder if many of them walk into your office in shock – still clinging to the lifelong-marriage ideal that they’ve had for their whole lives. Totally normal and human. But if we all embraced these likely outcomes of marriage, and simply lived our lives accepting that things can and often do end, we may be able to accept changes with more clarity, acceptance and less animosity.

      Now one thing we can agree on: MANDATORY PRENUPS. First step?

      1. Mandatory prenups would be very easy to implement – just make it part of the licensing requirement – extra forms that you met with a marriage counselor and a lawyer submitted with whatever other paperwork (birth certificates, social security card, oh and your divorce judgment if this is your second marriage).

        Really the whole argument you make is just silly. The outcome will be the same: people will hit the 10 years and a custody/property/support action will have to take place. Or they will hit a mark earlier or later and that will take place (assuming your theory allows for earlier or later escape plans).

        People should have these discussions before getting married regardless. Having a ten year date to talk about it then only adds a level of administration that I think is impossible and leaves gaps for abuse. Talk about your marriage daily. Talk about your expectations before you get in the marriage.

        And PS. I see no reason why the wedding industry would change whatsoever – except they will have a new market: the 10 year vow renewal. Gag.

        1. And PS. I believe that the people who have positive marriages will continue to have them and the people who have amicable divorces are a certain type of (limited) couple and I don’t think that changes with a limited contract. I think a limited time-frame introduces a level of uncertainty. My parents talk about their marriage – they vowed to work at it every day. Not once every 10 years.

          You aren’t shaking up paradigms, you are simply proposing further government involvement in administering to 10-year marriage contracts. And not for nothing, but there is a huge contingent of people who simply would never agree to this because they have religious beliefs about marriage (an area you have wisely left out of the discussion).

          Overall, I don’t see how a limited contract instills more confidence in marriage. You want to encourage people to talk about their marriage and forge a union that is better before they enter into it. Now is the time to widely spread information about the rights people have as a married person – what are the benefits of marriage – particularly when some people in our society are still being denied those rights.

  14. Whatever happened to the good ol’ “he knocked me up so we got married” idea? It seemed to work fine for many members of my family. Kids these days. They’re so complicated. :)

  15. Morghan, I hear you saying that we should keep doing what has been done: advocate for therapy, communication and education. Preaching: Couples SHOULD talk about the marriage beforehand, they SHOULD commit to daily communication, we SHOULD publicize the merits of healthy marriage and divorce. If I bylined every article and book on relationships and marriage in the past 40 years I’d be a billionaire. I’d also be a laughing stock since the numbers don’t lie when it comes to marriage and divorce — THEY STINK! All that preaching and lecturing and educating did jack. The takeaway from your diatribe – Things are just fine as they are! Let’s keep doing more of the same and expect different results! Disagree.

    Re: religious opposition. No need to even mention it. The religious right has been fighting the status quo of marriage since the beginning of this country: monogamy, gender equality, no-fault divorce, gay marriage — they always insist it infringes on their rights and we progress anyway. Old, boring story.

    Something has to give re: the wedding industrial complex. It just can’t keep growing at its current rate. This could be the welcomed straw. The reality check. Just like communicating in a relationship – of course everyone should be communicating all the time. They don’t. Once per decade isn’t enough (duh), but once every 10 years is better than never. Culture and norms evolve and change. Nothing will make marriage change overnight. But sometimes things need a nudge and shove to move the needle. Again, all I hear is criticism of my idea, but zero practical solutions. Oh, forgot. You like things just how they are — but would like more education.

    Great on your parents and their success. I know them. They are lovely people. But they married 1.5 generations ago and have been together since high school. I can’t relate. How many people can? The world has changed drastically since that type of relationship was the norm. Yet marriage expectations remain stuck in that era. Hence, the problem.

    As for instilling confidence – you know as well as I do how terrifying the idea of marriage is once you’ve felt left down by it. There are lots of models of committed relationships that appeal to me – none of them recognized by the state, and none of them offering me the legal or financial protection of marriage, and frankly – few that would likely satisfy my emotional needs for a relationship. A limited contract does appeal to me because it is about a marriage that reflects how my life really is. How MOST of our lives really are. Based on the feedback I’m getting in the 36 hrs since I posted this, I know I’m not alone. Stay tuned for more!

    So now the question is: Are you free Saturday night, and which would you rather do: Work on advancing legislation mandating prenups, or go out for drinks? Or both at the same time? Muah!

  16. Then get a prenup. Problem solved.

    Check out vicki Larsons piece on Huffpo about gender rolls for a very insightful piece striking at the real reason for divorce rates. I tweeted it.

  17. Prenups have been available since forever and left to their own will, people don’t use them. Again, harping on an old “fix” that has done d!&# to stem the problem.

    Yes Larson makes some good points – mainly that the institution itself is broken! On my fan page, she mentions that her book explores the limited marriage contract as a real, feasible option.

    Tangentially related to Larson, came across this, which says that couples in which he does typical “male” chores – yardwork and the like, and she does the cooking and cleaning, have more sex. More relevant to my alpha male post, but speaks to this as well … http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/PubArticleDBR.jsp?id=1202587225666&Study_Married_couples_who_abide_by_traditional_gender_roles_have_better_sex_lives&slreturn=20130402214556

  18. This is a perfect plan if the essence of marriage was a civil contract. The entire foundation of marriage is a covenant. It is based on a promise that is meant to be unconditional. The reason so many marriages are dissolving is because we’ve reduced it to a contractual agreement.

    When contracts don’t give us what we deserve, we renegotiate. The most successful and fulfilling marriages aren’t based on what they can give, but on what they can give.

    “Till death do us part” implies a promise that lasts a lifetime.

    1. Thanks Justin – that all sounds great, but how do we get more people signed on to that plan? It just isn’t happening, and the reality is that the majority of marriages are indeed civil, not religious.

      1. …but they should be…”religious” (I don’t like that word because it seems so unreachable) God should be at the heart of every marriage…every single union…that is what makes marriages “work” the way God intended them to be. I hear your argument already…I’m sure the statistics for Christian couples divorcing is staggering. I do not believe that every Christian couple has a good and successful marriage…but they COULD if they centered it around Christ and His standards for what marriage should be. He laid it out very clearly in the Bible. The problem with society today is that we are so darn selfish. The idea of giving all of yourself to another person with complete abandon and without demanding something in return is unheard of. Marriage isn’t meant to be easy…life isn’t meant to give us all that we WANT and desire…love is about sacrificing yourself for someone else…and the grace by which we do it will show itself back when that other person can do nothing to show their appreciation and love but by giving it back to you ten-fold. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us?? He asked for nothing more than our hearts…we could screw up, mess up, over and over, and He STILL died on the cross for us – so we could spend eternity with Him. That is covenant – that is what marriage should be about..sacrificing…because when you give so much that you hardly anything left…that is where true love is found. I pray that the church would rise up – because really – the failure of marriages needs to be a responsibility of the church. We need to come around people and teach them TRUTH…the truth that marriage IS a covenant – marriage IS unconditional – marriage IS meant to take and give everything you have FOREVER…when you seek the rewards of Heaven and not of this Earth and all its disappointments…you will finally understand that the struggle..the sacrificing…is really worth UNENDING JOY!

  19. I agree with your premise re. modern marriage being more & more obsolete. But I’m not sure the 10-year idea solves everything. For example, custody disputes. What’s to stop the soon-to-be-ex from falsely accusing the other STBX of child abuse, drug dealing, or whatever else to get full custody of the kiddos? Not seeing how the 10-year contract removes the possibility of drama, which is why so many guys stick with marriages they want out of.

    Love your straight-shooting blog, Emma – keep the hits coming.

  20. Why wouldn’t we just change divorce laws to be more simple instead? Maybe some education in how to effectively communicate and taking the focus off of the big ceremony and onto the actual relationship? I think you are being overly cynical about marriage. Maybe because of the device of your parents and your own, you don’t see the amazing bond that can occur when a couple works through problems and have a life long commitment. I’ve been married for 10 years and we are closer and more in love then we started But it isn’t just because we view each other as soul mates. That is short cited and ignores that this your partner in all aspects of life which is wonderful but can also be difficult and requires a lot of communication and selflessness and forgiveness on both ends. Ido believe in being pragmatic but why get married if you want an easy exit route? Some countries have a program where people in a long term relationship who live together can register each year so that the couple shares social benefits and has protection like a married couple. If the relationship ends, then there is no need to renew. I’ve met people in the French Polynesia who have been doing this for 20 years.

  21. @Melissa – You want the same government that brought you the Affordable Care Act and Iraq to “change divorce laws to be more simple?” Scared to see that…

  22. Interesting perspective but it also makes me extremely sad. Time limits don’t solve problems. If i dont like washing dishes giving me 1 year to “try it out” wont change my selfish perspective of dishes. it gives me an out…. well i tried… just wasnt meant to be. If you go into a situation to “see how it goes” then there is no commitment at all. Look at it from a job perspective. I entered the teaching field bright eyed and bushy tailed and after “2 years of dating” I made a commitment to my job. It’s what I love to do. Do I pull my hair out and get selfish and wish I could be “single” and without a job? Sure! Move onto something with a bigger paycheck? Uh duh! But my HEART is in it. We too often as a society run our compass off our selfish wants and needs and not off something bigger than ourselves. Being a teacher has taught me how to be humble and caring even when I want to punch someone in the face and I have been able to carry that on in my marriage. I mean im pretty sure EVERYONE has those days where you go uh what did i get myself into?? Is mine gonna last forever? Yeah I dunno but that’s the plan/goal. its the plan with any commitment i would hope. You don’t have kids to “see how it goes.” As a middle school teacher I’m sure many of those contracts would be expired after year 2. No one forced you to get married and if your not sure hey stay single and travel. But I do believe if your marriage is centered not in yourself your chances of making it increase significantly. We are just a bunch of flawed crazy people trying to make the world a better place. Plus who else is gonna be old and fat with me sitting on the front porch? Oh mawwage.

  23. I just finished reading your article on a 10 year marriage. I will have to admit I did not like the concept the first time I read it (primarily because of what I have been taught) however it made perfect sense the second time through.

    I have just been through a divorce and had we used your “plan” from the beginning we would have both moved on with our life years ago, not had the stress and conflict of dividing everything, and perhaps could have been in a new healthy relationship by now.

    I am sure you will get lots of comments both positive and negative from the article but I for one think the concept is good.

  24. Hi,

    If you want a ten year marriage contract, you don’t have a marriage, you have a business contract. Its like being an sexually experienced virgin. Marriage is meant to be for life, sorry yours didn’t work out. I can’t imagine how painful that must be. Marriage is meant to be till death, not on a clock like you are working. A new law won’t change the heart of a person or their ability to commit to a 10, 20 or a 30 year marriage. You could have an amazing marriage for ten years, then one partner says thats enough of this I am moving on. Laws don’t protect us from getting hurt.

    1. Timothy – and staying married for life doesn’t protect us from hurt, either. Look at history. There is a much longer period in which marriages were more akin to business contracts than than on love. You and my other critics keep saying “marriage is forever.” Well, um, no it is not. Hence the high divorce rates.

      Laws don’t change people’s hearts, but they do inspire changed behavior. If you are forced to reconsider your marriage periodically, you will think about it critically, work on the challenging parts, appreciate the good, and recognize frequently that your spouse is free to go every decade — you will be inspired to work to keep them close.

      1. Emma,
        You continually comment that you disagree with “marriage is forever,” yet you have only used yourself and “all other couples” as the basis. I am not married and granted I have never dealt with the heartbreak of a divorce but as a 23 year old Christian girl I tell my boyfriend of 6 YEARS that when we marry there is NO divorce. His parents are trying to divorce but that is not how marriage works. It is not a contract. It is a covenant and not one to be taken lightly. No one said marriage was gonna be rainbows and smiley faces but when you center your marriage around Christ, He takes control of it. I am a product of divorced parents but that doesn’t mean marriage is dead. It never was, but people have skewed what marriage is from something sacred and beautiful to a temporary contract in which they believe if their partner does not comply then they have free reign to terminate. What your idea proposes is a long term relationship. Period.

  25. You’re not wealthy, or even remotely close to it, so why the ridiculous title of your blog? I’m wealthy by any definition or standard.

  26. What you are proposing doesn’t really sound new. Couples who live together pretty much make a commitment until “something changes” already. Their failure rate is approximately 8 out of 10. The devastation that often brings is far reaching-on themselves, their partner and their kids. Then often times, they find someone else only to repeat the same painful experience. 10 year contracts aren’t a solution but an addition to the problem. There is a better way.

    1. And couples who marry have a much lower failure rate, and do enjoy the many financial, legal and emotional benefits of marriage. And yet, because the current marriage model is so outdated, fewer people are getting married at all — and to your point — simply living together. What *IS* the better way, in your opinion?

  27. You cannot call a 10 year contract a marriage. A successful marriage is a result of a man and a woman being honest with each other and sharing themselves with one another. If you know the relationship is going to end then how will you be able to be honest and vulnerable with your spouse. A 10 year contract is an attempt to use the sacred life long commitment of marriage and make it modern and convenient. The 10 year contract is selfish and focuses only on how the other person can benefit you. The 10 year contract also would have devastating effects on children because they would automatically have the negative consequences of divorce thrust upon them. Marriage is very challenging, but it should not be altered just because we can’t do it the way God intended it to be.

    1. Judah – That may be one way that some people (and some people’s God) accept marriage to be. Obviously, the majority of people don’t see it that way. In fact, I argue that model is dated — just as every marriage model has run its course through history — and now is a time for change.

  28. My first impression after reading this article- wow. Interesting concept, I think? But i do think you should remember nothing’s ever as good as it seems on paper, and a 10-year marriage contract would be no exception. I’d wager to say it would create even more insecurities for couples than current marriage does, and possibly more insecurities for people who choose long term relationships instead of marriage too, because of its suddenness. You can’t just put a cut off on interpersonal relationships and open them to being legislated.
    I also find it interesting you put so much value in ‘marriage goals,’ like kids, companionship, etc. I’ve never seen marriage as goal orieniated- its not a job, not somethin to brin you personal gain by whatever means. To me, marriage is about giving- giving your spouse happiness and trust and care. It’s a gift, it doesn’t expect anything in return. That’s what love is- a gift, an clearly a risk. It makes it special, yet fleeting. And if you aren’t getting married for love, then why are you? Because then you’re missing the point.
    At my job I work with young kids all day- elementary and some pre-school. The biggest thing i have to remind them to do is simply to leave things alone. Some are picky eaters and don’t like snack, so I tell them, don’t complain, just don’t have any. Others won’t want to play games with the class, so they simply don’t have to join in. Sometimes when they’re given stuff- a craft, a little toy, etc, they won’t like it and will start tearing it up. So I remind them again- if you don’t like it, leave it alone, because someone else enjoys it.

  29. I’m very intrigued by this concept. Some would work to make the following decade better,others would digress and be planning to get the hello out. Maybe it would work?

  30. Anne, darling, please propose a marriage model or remedy that will be more appetizing and long-lasting that has not already been been tried and failed. I’m all years. Yay for you that you find comfort and guidance in your faith. Not everyone shares this. What about the rest of us?


  31. This really breaks my heart! It’s further evidence to me that we need a major attitude adjustment regarding marriage, because by definition it certainly includes no fine print or contingency plan. Honoring this kind of lasting, binding marital contract is all the more powerful and sacred now, in times where as Emma states, we expect frequent change and expect nothing to last.

    Granted I’ve been married only four years, I signed on for the “forever-and-ever” marriage knowing that it sucks sometimes and will be insanely challenging at times no matter WHOM I marry, and will continually bring me to my knees in humility if I let it do what it’s designed to do. But that’s commitment–I married Tim because I want to live life alongside him and fight the hard fight to grow up with him and to put our union first before my often pretty selfish personal agenda…. to make sure that any way I or my desires/plans/goals change and develop in the coming years, they always include him. Because that’s what he & I knowingly agreed to, and as I personally understand marriage at least, nothing short of the extreme (like abuse) could ever justifiably (for me) make me throw up my hands and say, “you know, we tried, but it’s time to move on and that’s ok.”

    Marriage has such incredible potential for good when both parties join together, committed the “forever-and-ever” way, to create a new family–either with kids or just the two of you. Would I ever throw in the towel with my hypothetical kids if it just “wasn’t working” anymore, or because we just “grew apart?” No, because they’re my family, they’re a part of me, and that is forever. Likewise, my husband is a part of me, although our bond may be less natural and therefore exponentially more fragile. But it is absolutely worth fighting for! The vows we took four years ago were really scary (“til death?” Really? what if one of us is paralyzed or disfigured or something? Or he turns into someone that’s really really hard for me to love?), but they were very serious, and even if I wish someday even momentarily that I could take them back, ending the contract would mean to me that I missed the point.

    And just think and what divorce is doing, and what a 10-year interval question mark would do, to our kids! Divorce ALWAYS has a deep and lasting impact on children, even when they’re of-age and out of the house when it happens. I’m obviously a big fan of marriage and all its huge benefits when it is properly revered and worked at, but I would say, if you can’t sign on for FOREVER with someone, then don’t kid yourself, your partner or your families–don’t sign at all.

    1. I do want to be sensitive to any of you who have experienced divorce–things happen, and I’m in no way casting judgment here or making light of what must have been/be an immensely difficult decision and a very painful event! What bothers me is watching what should be the exception become the rule, and hearing views promoted that will only serve to further a growing problem. Marriage is not what needs to change, but we and our attitude towards it.

      The solution that I would suggest: BE the change. Let’s model lasting commitment in our own relationships and make it the norm again.

  32. I completely disagree with this idea. I am 24 and have only been married a few months, but I know that is not what marriage is supposed to be. Both of my parents are still married and so are my husbands. Honestly, there is only one person in my entire family that has been divorced in my lifetime (and that person is a very distant cousin). When I went into our marriage, I told my husband that divorce is not an option. As a christian, I don’t take marriage lightly. I knew that I only wanted to get married once and with that in mind, I knew I better be completely sure that I picked the right person. Marriage is a covenant before God. It is not a contract. Honestly, if marriage was a 10 year contract, I wouldn’t want to do it. Also, it seems like what you are talking about is stuff that couples should be talking about before they get married anyway. They should talk about whether they want children, or who will handle the finances, and all of that. I know I did. Why do you have to have a contract to talk about those things? Engaged couples should talk about what they want out of marriage before they get married. You don’t need a contract to talk about everything you said that the 10 year contract should be about. I thought that was common sense. If the person who want to enter marriage with does not want to talk about those things and communicate with you, then don’t marry them! It’s as simple as that. Also, this plan doesn’t consider that people change. What you want at the beginning of those ten years, might not at all be what you want at the end. That’s why people should communicate their changing needs to their spouse often. If you don’t communicate it, then it’s your own fault for not trying. You also say that it would make divorce more amicable, but I don’t see how that works either. If your ending a marriage, it’s probably not going to be completely amicable, whether or not you had discussed what would happen in a divorce before marriage or not. Nobody goes into marriage thinking they will get divorced. Nobody should go into marriage thinking they will have an out in ten years. That would be like saying, oh I feel like I want to get married, but it’s ok if I’m not sure because I can get out of it in ten years anyway. I think that the ten year marriage contract would just add more government involvement than there needs to be. You can already talk about whatever you want to get out of your marriage with our spouse at any point before or during your marriage! You can already get a divorce whenever you feel like you want one! Why do you need a contract to do these things??? All i know is that if the only way my future spouse would talk to me about issues like that is if we had to for a contract, then I wouldn’t marry them anyway.

    1. Morgan, while I agree with you on some points, I hope you can see how using the covenant-before-God reasoning has no bearing (why should it?) on a large percentage of couples who do not share your faith, and may only serve to alienate people in your audience.

    1. Brent – I’ve become aware of some of these laws. My notion is certainly not new, but amazing how hungry the populous seems to be for new marriage models.

  33. Hi, My parents just ended their 5 year marriage contract. Both of them has re-married five times under 5 year marriage term contract. I have now 5 step fathers and 5 step mothers and 10 step brothers and sisters. Marriage has become a “business-like” contract and individual responsibility ends after each contracts. By the way, my mother surname has changed at least fives times, so she included a new provision in her up-coming 6th marriage contract to adopt her maiden surname from her 3rd mother with 10th year marriage contract with her husband who just finish his 10th year marriage contract from previous marriage….. From: lost kid :-)

  34. Great article.Couldn’t agree more.I think society would function better if there was an option of a 5 or 10 year fixed term marriage contract with a compulsory pre nup.I’ve been married and divorced.Divorce ruins people financially and emotionally.Time to be realistic about modern society.Unfortunately I can’t see those in power having enough courage to do it for quite some time yet.I’d sign a contract to marry for a 5 year term tomorrow but never again a lifetime.

  35. Wouldn’t it be wise to actually look at marriage statistics? They weren’t always 50% divorce. So what has changed? Two things, birth control and premarital living.

    76-80% of couples who cohabitate before marriage get divorced.
    0-3% of couples who use Natural Family Planning (no artificial pills or methods)

    Maybe this is where we went wrong. Couples who still follow the code God gave us are having successful marriages far more than those who don’t. Coincidence? I think not.

  36. My advice to any one who might be thinking of contacting a spell caster,is to contact Metodo i know he the only real spell caster i think still leaves his methods will speak and make you believe. I am not really that kind of person that disclose much about myself experience especially on the internet but today i am going to make an to exception I really never intended to say to anybody that i used a spell to get what i wanted in life not cos i am ashamed of it but cos some may never believe cos its seem like something that can never happen. All it take is to find the real and right spell caster. Am that kind of person that have always thought that marrying a rich man will set me free in financially as a matter of fact i have been married to to four different men all for money i guess after every divorce with every one of them i didn’t as much as i expected even when there was no prenuptial agreement signed. But When i met my firth to be husband,i never expected i will fall for him so much i mean he was so charming cute and for the first time he made me feel safe like he will always be here for me not matter what happens. For the first time i was in love. Maybe i don’t know what love is cos i never felt it for any one my ex husband the only detail i can give is that my heart literally beats fast when he was around me, anytime he ran his finger through my hair. I always knew my past will come to hurt me no matter what i do but i never gave it to much thought cos i never thought i will meet this kind of man. At the time i meant him ,it was not a while before the relationship became serious cos i bet he loved me also. We moved in together and our relationship just blosoomed. He was gentle with me always i mean my life was a fairy tale for a moment. But then again my past life that was to be left in the closet got out. I was so much in love to not tell him about my pasted life i just wanted to left him know like this was the person i use to be but cos of him i changed .He brought me to the light. I guess that was not the case he grew mad at me and thought i was going to do the same thing to him just like my exes. I don’t know if it was that in the last 4 years i have been married four time to four different men cos of their bank statement that made him mad of was that i didn’t tell him all this while. All the same after a while of not speaking with me he moved out. I thought he was going to call i just wanted to give him space i mean my friends suggested i did that but time few by with no call no text the only time he came back to our house was to pick his remaining things. The first man i have ever loved was walking out of my life just like a mist that comes and go i wanted him back to show him that he changed me to show him with him am a different person,He kept saying he would not want the same thing to happen to him just like my exes i believed he still loved he though he never said but that thought made me contact Metodo the spell caster for help. I saw positive comments about him and someone said she has actually seen, that is come in contact with him during the time he helped her. Was not really sure what to believe i just thought i was desperate i need help right away or i was going to lose my dream man for life. Like honestly i was not going to travel for over thirteen hours or so to look for metodo in were he leaves cos one i din’t know anybody there and two my run my private spa so i had little all not time and it will be an expensive thing to do. I could not also get the materials he needed to cast the spell so i had to ask him to get them for me so i can give him the money to pay for them. Within the first seven week he sent me a some candle with some hand written don’t really know what to call it but will say words to recite at night at the right hour. At that time within the seven days, Stephen started coming around all the time i mean i don’t think it was coincidental cos really it wasn’t. I believed what Metodo was doing was working. Just after those seven day i received a parcel with something he gave me instruction on how to use. This is no lie in anyway Stephen and i are back together now he is no slave to anything cos of the spell he is just the way he was before the spell only made him love me more and never talk or think about my past life. Not everybody will believe this more over its just something on the internet but my heart knows every of this word that formed this entire comment is true. Living Metodo contact for those who believes me and needs help metodoacamufortress @ yahoo. com

  37. Wow! Hot-button issue! I’m shocked at the mostly loquacious nay-sayers that bothered to comment on your article.

    I read your article and wanted to comment that my ex hub and I actually had this very conversation as we were unraveling our marriage. It made sense to us then, and still does to me, for all the reasons you’ve discussed here. People view this idea as a threat to marriage–it’s actually the total opposite, IMHO. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and putting it out there for us other WealthySingleMommies :-)
    And PS: If you want “forever” just have kids with someone–I’m not married to that man I said “I do” to anymore, but he’s forever in my life–many times a week right now via co-parenting, and always will be as long as we share offspring we both love–and even if we are not romantically or domestically linked, we are still co-parents, and friends, and continue to grow and learn from our interactions with one another.

  38. I stumbled across this article as I was looking for marriage contracts. I was curious about what is written and what is actually being agreed to. I was wondering whether these contracts actually spell things out and whether there was a lot of variation between one contract and another.

    I first ran across the idea of the limited term marriage in a novelization of a Star Trek movie (Wrath of Khan I think) where it talked about James Kirk having had a 5 year marriage contract. It got me thinking. The book didn’t say that this was the way everyone did it, but that it was clearly an option. What really came through was that in a world that had to accommodate so many different cultures, including those from another planet, the laws governing things like marriage had to be flexible.

    While we don’t currently live in a world that has to accommodate space aliens and their cultures, we do live in a world and, judging from the context of the blog, a country with many cultures. I think the laws need to allow for flexibility in marriage contracts. Not to set off another firecracker, but that flexibility should accommodate not only different lengths of time, but also different beliefs, different gender combinations, different numbers of participants, and different conditions of all sorts.

    Giving credit to Lawmom’s suggestion about making prenups required, the kinds of things found in a prenup should be a required part of any marriage contract. It should have clauses about what happens to property, sure, but most importantly it must spell out the plan for children, and do so in a compassionate way that takes into account that children must have rights.

    Also, it’s important to note what Holly said when she pointed out that the reports of 50% and escalating divorce rates in the USA are basically mythical. The data does not exist to draw a solid conclusion, but what I’m reading indicates that the data which does exist suggests that the divorce rate has been dropping for decades (after a large increase brought on by some changing laws around 1980).

    Still, for whatever divorce problem that exists, I’m quite certain that it will not be “solved” completely by any measures suggested here, my own included. That’s because we are human. We makes mistakes. We change.

    Even with the flexibility, some of us will still sign up for the lifelong option. I did. I think it’s a great option, but I understand that it is not for everyone.

  39. I skipped many of the comments simply because I think this is a wonderful idea. It would only require the ability to negotiate about child support / rearing BEFORE the first child arrives.

    This is the ONLY portion of this whole idea that is currently unfeasible. Change that one simple fact, and I truthfully think most marriages would work out FAR better. The breadwinner, be it male or female, would have incentive to provide a good life for the children, should they have any, with the safety of knowing they would not be financially destroyed by a breakup.

    The only missing piece right now is being able to negotiate amounts and terms of child support and rearing before children arrive. Add that simple piece of legislation, and you remove 90%+ of the child support cases from the system.

    Educated people would benefit, and the foolish would suffer, but that is always the case.

    Fantastic idea, please make this law!!!

  40. I’ve been thinking about this a long time and I agree. I’d use a five-year contract, but that may be my age (just north of 50). But I arrived at this conclusion a different way.

    What business do you know that gives a partner a contract for life, with no fear of cancellation? It never happens, because the constant knowledge that we can be replaced keeps us working hard at the business relationship. We keep our pricing sharp, and all we expect is that we won’t be replaced when another vendor comes along that is a penny cheaper, My soon-to-be ex seems to have developed an old-fashioned union mentality (not saying that about all unions; just one’s where they believe this job is their job is a right that can’t be taken away). She’s in for life, so she doesn’t have to be nice to me. And she would probably say the same thing about me.

    I already planned to do this next time, specifically because I want the marriage to work. If you know you can be replaced, and you don’t WANT to be replaced, what better incentive to work a little harder, and do whatever is needed to keep it going?

  41. Bravo, Emma! My fiancé and I couldn’t agree more. We have been discussing this concept for a couple of years now – a five-year marriage contract with unlimited five-year options that both parties must agree to exercise or the contract ends. Both my fiancé and I have been married–and divorced–once before and we believe that the biggest problem in marriage is complacency. We will do this, not to make it easier to walk away, but rather to guard against the complacency that plagues so many marriages. No more getting fat, becoming miserable to your partner, being lazy, argumentative, sloppy, etc., etc., etc. We truly believe we have found our soulmates, but neither of us is so naive as to believe that we are better than the 60% of Americans (ourselves included) who thought they married the loves of their lives only to find themselves mired in a nasty divorce some years later. I want to be reminded every day that marriage is not a guarantee and it must be nurtured and maintained every day. Just like a fire, if you fail to feed it, it will die. Let’s keep the dialog going…this is how change happens!

    1. I’m with Leslie! Rather than seeing it as an “out” down the road, I see the 10-year contract as a way to be really intentional about my marriage, both in the day-to-day and through different life stages. I feel like I chose to marry my husband for all the right reasons, but marriage is such a different dynamic than dating and what I’ve come to realize is that those initial reasons for being together were a good start, but not enough in and of themselves to sustain a marriage. For us, being happily married requires a lot of effort. We have to work at keeping the passion and friendship alive, collaborating without compromising our autonomous selves (marriage is a venn diagram), and conflicting well (same team, different perspectives) . In addition, two things made all the difference for us early on:
      1) marriage counseling the first year of marriage with an incredible therapist who focused on getting to the root of things through individual work and dealing with family-of-origin dynamics. She helped us clean up the emotional debris we had each accumulated so as not to project it on each other and gave us the tools necessary to navigate married life. (I’m now a big proponent of replacing premarital counseling with counseling during the 1st year of marriage or at least combining the two. It’s a personal preference, but premarital counseling would not have been very effective for me since I was still so starry-eyed at that point and thought my husband and I’s relationship would be the exception to the rule [it wasn’t]. I also think finding the right therapist is crucial).
      2) Sitting down about a year into our marriage and actually defining our purpose for being together, with a commitment to revisit and revise every year. Now that we’ve experienced married life, our goals have changed. They are now a mix of the romantic and practical:
      -companionship (friendship/passion)
      -emotional support (being there for each other and treating the other person with respect)
      -having a family
      -pooling our resources (both time and money) for a better quality of life
      Giving a little clarity to what we’re about has allowed me to keep the priorities of the relationship in focus and given me motivation to work toward the bigger picture.
      No marriage is bulletproof and they end for many different reasons but I agree that allowing complacency to set in spells trouble. What a great thing a contract can be to address that!

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