Marriage is dead

When I got married at age 28, it was the right thing for me to do. It was also my only option.

After all, I loved my husband and yearned to have children with him. Something powerful in me called out to partner with this man in a formal, meaningful way — feelings I shared with most human beings on this planet. And if you are a human being in America today, there is one path to take:

Declare your beloved a soulmate, spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding, and commit for the rest of your lives.

The perverse thing about that model is that it is largely fantasy, and contradicts the way most of us actually live. The reality is that there is a very excellent chance you will divorce — a fact that has held true for decades. You also likely had one or more meaningful long-term committed relationships before you got married, and, once split from your “soulmate” will go on to have meaningful, long-term relationships afterwards. Maybe you even had one or a few while you were hitched. Who am I to judge?

The depths of this fallacy run deep. The average cost of a wedding continues to tickbloody weading cake up (as does the size of the ole engagement ring), yet every year the divorce rate stays roughly the same — even as we dump money into couples’ therapy, relationship books and sex toys in vain attempts to thwart the inevitable. Even as we work towards more civilized divorce practices (prenups, no-fault, mediation), the cost of spiting up grows more expensive. We say and spend as if we believe in the heaven-sent, lifelong love, but in practice we live by completely different rules.

I’ve been through each dramatic stage of trying to save a marriage. It seemed like the more I hung on to the glory of our first, heady years together — not to mention those few hours of that romantic, expensive wedding — the better my chances of fulfilling the status-quo marriage model. From birth I set out to live the contemporary marriage fantasy, even though the way I lived my life was completely different. After all, before I met my husband, I had one serious love – so significant that I moved to Bulgaria for the guy. And before that amour was a year-long relationship in college. I never believed in soulmates, and as a child of divorce, I knew first-hand the odds of lifelong marriage. But without any other obvious path to take, and a lack of imagination, my husband and I signed on for the Ozzy and Harriet dream.

My story illustrates how today’s definition of marriage is a joke for those of us who do tie the knot. The real, screaming signal that marriage is passé is that fewer and fewer people are getting married — including white, middle class men and women. In 1960, 72% of American adults were married; by 2010 that figured dropped to just 52%, and in that span the number of people who never married nearly doubled to 27%. Don’t take it from me: 40% of people in this country say the institution is obsolete.

Marriage in America is dead.

That’s the bad news.

The good news (which is actually more bad news), is that marriage is awesome. Study after study show that people who are married are happier, richer, healthier, live longer, have more sex. Kids who grow up in two-parent households fare better, and society as a whole thrives when people are in committed monogamous relationships. Which is why people have been getting married since Adam and Eve were demurely covering their junk with fig leaves.

But as with any element of life — work, sex, religion, politics — habits and attitudes evolve. The marriage-for-love model is a very new, less than 200 years old by most measures. And by most measures, it has past its prime.

We need marriage. As individuals, parents, children and members of society, we need marriage to work. But the model as it stands is broken.

We need a new marriage model.

Here is the answer.



**My 10-year marriage contract has been mentioned in:**

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,, 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.

4 thoughts on “Marriage is dead

  1. Yes, I am no longer sure I believe in the institution of marriage anymore as it’s currently constructed (although I definitely did when I got married) because we do live so much longer now and don’t really “need” each other for survival. I will post my thoughts about my futuristic version of marriage once you post yours :)

    However, if you enter into the marriage state as it is now you should do so believing in the vows that you take and actually abiding by them. Therefore, I most certainly do judge if someone has extra-marital relationships… that is not what either parties signed up for (an open marriage is a totally different story) and the one that is betrayed is literally traumatized. This is not a melodramatic overstatement. And anyway, what happened to integrity? And an actual set belief on what is right and wrong? Lying and cheating on someone who loves you and whom you probably still love is wrong. Either address the problems in the marriage or end it if you are so miserable. Yes, I know it’s hard to confront problems. But cheating is the cowards way out (or just a way for them to have their cake and eat it too since they probably don’t actually want out). Downplaying the effect on the betrayed spouse and the consequences and selfishness that leads to having an affair is extremely irritating to me. It is this attitude that cheating is no big deal that leads to so much cheating.

    I’ll get down from my soapbox now… :)

  2. I had hope that you knew what you were talking about until your conclusion. That proved to me that you didn’t mean a word of what you wrote prior.

  3. The most common source of problems in relationships is that the couple misinterpreted their mutual feelings of attraction as love. This normally results in the couple trying to keep up appearances after about 5 years, wondering where the ‘love’ went, and staying together for the kids’ sake.

    It is important to know that attraction is an emotional feeling that may fade, while love is a promise that has nothing to do with attraction. Love is a promise to do 4 things. For the man:

    1. To accept everything that he knows and does not know about you before you are married.

    2. To accept you regardless of what happens in the unknown future as you both age – for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health for as long as you both shall live. Even if you are disfigured by an accident or crippled by illness, he promises to accept you.

    3. To forgive you later. Since neither of you is perfect, you both depend on each others’ forgiveness.

    4. To encourage you to improve. This 4th one gives purpose to your relationship – otherwise it will get boring.

    If you are both ready to make and keep these promises to each-other, then you are ready to love. When you keep them, you demonstrate your love for each-other. After you formally make your promises at your wedding, you complete or consummate these promises with sexual intercourse. Every time that you subsequently have sexual intercourse, you reinforce your promises – it is truly a wonderful and mutually satisfying physical, mental and emotional experience.

    Source: Attraction is a feeling. Love is a Promise. by Grenville Phillips, president of Walbrent College. (

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