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 An astonishing 40 percent of people polled by Pew say the institution of marriage is obsolete.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.
**This post has been picked up by these media:**
- Woman’s Day
- Ryan Seacrest on 102.7 KIIS FM
- The Huffington Post
- CafeMom’s The Stir
- Huffington Post
- The Frisky (Spin Media)
- Detroit’s Mojo in the Morning
- Minneapolis’s WCCO CBS Radio
- The Queensland Times
- Denver’s Mix 100
Other stories in this project:
- Marriage is dead
- One spouse is not enough
- Let’s stop celebrating wedding anniversaries
- What if your failed marriage was really a success?
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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.