Marriage – A Renewable Contract
One of Americans greatest failures is their ability to change. Tradition is good, but not when it interferes with the growth of an individual’s freedom or happiness. The falling back on what once was easy, safe and comfortable does not mean – and the facts prove my point – that it will continue to be a viable process. This is not an argument over religion, the Bible, same-sex marriage or civil unions. It is the harsh reality that marriage no longer should be a lifetime contract.
You meet someone, fall in love, you get married, maybe have children, they have grandchildren, you retire, live happily ever after, travel, then die. As one comedian used to say, “Isn’t that special”. But we all know that is the exception rather than the rule. When folks first started getting married, they lived until they were 35, maybe 40. If you were really lucky you could possibly have made it to 50. You probably got together much earlier than we do now – in the Jewish religion you could become a man at 13. Let’s say you delayed the enviable and got married at age 16, avoided all the social upheavals , religious wars and numerous plagues, famines and diseases and passed away at 42. You were married, hopefully happily, 26 years.
In comes the 1950’s. That’s when many traditions began to fall apart. Men and women began to realize that their parents and their grandparents were living in a much different world. Females were assuming a role in society that had been put down by men for thousands of years. Men finally were forced to come clean and admit that their mental and physical superiority to women was utterly false. Sex was becoming more “open” and all Americans were coming out of the shell that kept them in a kind of bondage preventing them from being “more” whole as human beings.
Divorce equaled the marriage rate. The traditional “family” was turned upside down. Women delayed having children making their mark in business. Men were not working in steel mills, mines or in manufacturing anymore and struggle to determine where they were needed most. Advances in health care and medicine have extended our lives until 70 years and more. Economically, the majority of Americans have been put into an ever tightening vise trying to achieve the American dream of success.
People are not more miserable than ever, but do have the options more so now than at any other time in history to do something about it. Only a small minority of Americans have any restrictions on them to live as they please. Religious barriers to divorce are meaningless in the face of a nuns protesting their freedoms, priests being charged and convicted of sex crimes, and followers disagreeing with many of the basic tenants of the Church. Obtaining a “simple” uncontested divorce is as easy in just about every State as it used to be to fly to Reno or Mexico to end a relationship.
The notion of getting and remaining within the legal contract of marriage for life should end. It should be a “renewable contract” let’s say every 10 years. The amount of pressure that would take off people would be enormous. The resulting happiness would renew the entire marriage process. The divorce rate would decrease, taking an unnecessary burden off our legal system. Can you just imagine the positive psychological impact of being able to be married for just 10 years? The lessening of all the arguing, depression, financial angst and involvement of lawyers, judges and mediators.
That would put marriage more in line with the rest of our lives. In the past, someone would be employed at one or two jobs over the course of their career then retire. People are now very typically changing jobs every 2-5 years. It is conceivable that a person, who might retire at age 70, would have not just multiple jobs but multiple careers. Like the of women in the 50’s, the entire notion of careers, retirement and marriage has been turned upside down. Marriage has not kept pace with the times. Men now remain at home without shame and take care of their children. Many men and women work from home. We have entered into and are in the process of a new lifestyle revolution, nothing of which includes a “lifetime” of anything.
I said at the outset of this piece that Americans are resistance to change. That is especially true for marriage. There is nothing to fear. It’s OK for us to admit that the institution has ended and it’s time to move on to a new and better “renewable” system. Families and children will, as they have for decades, learn to adjust and adapt. Religion does not require marriage to exist. And, surprise, surprise – without everyone’s consent the shift away from “traditional” lifetime marriage has already started. “We” just haven’t given it our stamp of approval yet. But just as we now stand on line for $4 coffee, drink “vitamin” water out of designer plastic bottles, seek guidance and advise from our cell phones and buy automobiles that operate on batteries, so to will Americans both seek more and bless changes in the marriage contract. Better late than never.