We all know that the statistics on marriages in our country are not terrific. In spite of countless books and articles advising couples on how to be and stay happily married, approximately 40 to 50 percent of marriages still end in divorce.
I've thought about this a lot. (Actually, I think about everything a lot, including whether to put on my left or right sock first.) What amazes me is that, in spite of the obvious difficulty many, if not most, people have in staying married, the principles of marriage, as voiced in the so-called wedding vows, have stayed pretty much the same for hundreds of years.
Let's face it, if a company made a car with the same failure rate as American marriages, it would quickly go out of business. And yet we insist on holding on to our clearly obsolete marriage vows, and then wonder why so many of us can't stay together.
Well, someone has got to take the bull by the horns. So I'd humbly like to suggest a few, really minor, modifications to the vows, simply to make them easier to fulfill.
I think one of the hardest, at least for men, is that one about "forsaking all others": you know, the pledge of fidelity. Lots of people have trouble with this one. My suggestion is to make a slight change. Instead of "forsaking all others," why not make it "forsaking most others"? Or even "forsaking the vast majority of others." I think it's the "all" that causes the problems.
Then there's the "love, honor and cherish" part. This is already different from what it used to be for brides. Women used to be expected to say, "Love, honor and obey." Of course, ultimately so many women said, "Obey? Yeah, right!" that both members of the couple started saying what the man had been saying, i.e., pledging to "cherish," as well as love and honor.
However, this certainly didn't slow the rate of divorce. The problem is that all that loving, honoring and cherishing seems so easy during the ceremony itself, when she is in her beautiful gown and he is in his tuxedo and everyone is sitting there crying. But it's a whole different story when he's in his undershirt and she's in her sweatpants, and they've been together, bickering, for 25 years.
So why not be more realistic, and pledge what we really expect from each other years later: to be, well, tolerated.
Then there's the "for better or worse" portion of the vows. That's a tough one for many couples. The "better" part is a snap. It's the "worse" that causes the problems because it turns out that there is often quite a bit of "worse." And why should we be expected to put up with it? So let's just change that part of the vows to say, "as long as things are okay"? As for the "richer or poorer" and "sickness and health" part, forget about it. Who wants to think about poverty and disease at a time like this? Let's just can that part altogether.
And, finally, there's that terrifying ending, the part that keeps many a man (and no small number of women) away from the altar. I'm talking about that "‘til death do you part" part or the more modern "as long as you both shall live." What a bummer! First of all, it reminds the couple at this wonderful, wonderful moment that even if it does last, it doesn't last forever. And it also says, hey, you may be 21 and 19 years old, you may have no idea what you're doing in your life, you may switch careers five times, but right now, today, you are agreeing that you are going to stay with this person for the rest of your (or her or his) life.
Come on! Let's make it more realistic and change it to something like "for three years, subject to renewal," or even "at least until next Thursday."
I know it's probably a fantasy, but I can imagine some day in the future hearing a minister intone, "Do you, Bob, forsaking most others, vow to tolerate Jane, as long as things are okay or at least until next Thursday?" and "Do you, Jane,..."