Contemplating Divorce

Whether you should stay or go

What If Marriage Had a Natural End?

Would an expiration date make marriage stronger or weaker?

A few years ago, Brad Pitt rocked the world when he announced that his marriage to Jennifer Aniston was over. When pressed for a reason as to why he was ending their union, he said he simply felt that the relationship was complete. Although rumors abounded about Angelina Jolie already being on the scene with Brad, those suspicions were never proven true.

Al and Tipper Gore shocked us this past summer with news that, after 40 years together, their marriage was over. Once again, there were no public scandals, but those close to them said they had subtle cracks in their nuptial foundation. They, too, said that they felt the relationship was complete.

While there is no shortage of marital dissolutions in this country due to affairs or some other kind of wrongdoing, those that end for "no apparent reason," really throw us. It's as if we need there to be a reason so we can feel a sense of control over our own environment.

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If there is no person, place or thing that we can point to as the cause of the downfall in the relationship, that means that anybody's marriage is subject to terminate at any time "just because." This notion puts all of us on edge a bit.

We humans are constantly seeking security and permanence. It's why we make marriage contracts that are legally binding; it's why we make people take vows that they will stay in their marriage; and, it's why we instill notions of " 'til death do us part," and "happily ever after."

But, what if there really is no tangible reason? What if marriages have life spans just like all living entities do? What if we took away the judgment that their marriage "failed" (a term that really irks me) and saw it as just being complete, having run its course?

After all, we don't characterize loved ones who die as "failing to stay alive." Why, then, can't we step back and accept that it's okay to see unions end sometimes? Rather than setting people up to fail by giving them an unending sentence, why don't we provide expiration or renewal dates so that those who want or need out, can do so with dignity?

Our new marriage contract might read like this:

In the Name of God, we, John J. Finkleheimer and Susan B. Anthony, hereby, before these witnesses, are joined in holy matrimony, from this day forward until death the marriage expires on June 12, 2020.

At that time, we, John J. Finkleheimer and Susan B. Anthony, would have the option to renew our vows for a term to be determined on or before that date, or to go our separate ways.

The pros of this option might be:

1) This type of agreement could potentially significantly reduce the cost (emotionally, mentally and financially) of divorce;

2) People might put a continued effort into keeping the union healthy and alive knowing that their vow renewal was contingent on this effort;

3) The institution of marriage might be made stronger in that those who are not marriage material would not stay married.

The cons of this option might be:

1) As always, the greatest complication of marriages that don't last is that there are often children involved (but what's it like now?)

2) People might not take the commitment of marriage seriously (but do they now?)

3) Many might say it's not "marriage" because marriage is meant to be forever (but is it now?)

 

Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W., is the author of Contemplating Divorce and Stronger Day by Day.

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