A story by writer Matt Richtel in today’s New York Times floats an unconventional idea: Seeing as how half of marriages fail, should we be more realistic about how we approach marriage? For example, maybe a “marriage contract” for a set number of years, which Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were rumored to have signed, isn’t a bad idea for the rest of us.
In Mexico City, the Times reports, lawmakers proposed the idea of short-term, renewable marriage contracts. Some would only last two years. The concept was swiftly struck down, though.
What about, the writer says, a 20-year marriage contract, leaving plenty of time to raise children? Experts answered thusly:
[Stephanie Coontz, the research director at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit collection of relationship researchers] doesn’t think a 20-year contract would make for happier marriages, but she believes there is value in asking people to consider and regularly assess their commitment, not necessarily based on a timetable but around life events: when you have kids, one spouse gets a new job or starts to work more hours, a family member dies, the kids leave home.
All these moments, she said, are when the marriage is most vulnerable.
“My advice would be to suggest a reup every five years, or before every major transition in life,” Dr. Coontz said, “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”
Or is more of a paradigm shift in order?
Virginia Rutter, an associate professor of sociology at Framingham State University in Massachusetts, told me the 20-year marriage proposal is “incredibly conservative.” As in: still too dogmatic. She says it presupposes people want to build their marriages around having children.
Her solution takes yet another step toward eliminating the ideal, religious and platonic.
“Ban all performative weddings, ban all crazy expenditures,” she said. “Ban the marriage pages in The New York Times. Ban those things that turn otherwise sensible people to start buying into that fantasy.”
It’s probably safe to say that the traditional idea of a till-death-do-us-part marriage isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But what do you think? Should we adjust our expectations of how long a marriage will last based on current statistics of people marrying later and the trend of older couples in their 50s and 60s getting divorced more often? Tell us in the poll below:
Follow Sexcerpts on Twitter!: @Sexcerpts_SK