How to Have the Marriage You Want

Explore the new "I Do!"

Posted Jan 08, 2015

Marriage isn’t easy no matter the who, where, or when.  You have only to look at divorce statistics to know this. Or, simply observe your married and divorced friends’ marriages.

Most of us have been raised with the “until death do us part” marriage model. Its expectation and formula haven’t worked so well for decades. Although the divorce rate has dropped since it peaked in the 1970s and 80s, expecting to have a blissful 30- or 40-year marriage in the 21st century is unrealistic without careful inspection and intentional effort.

I think everyone agrees that marriages in the 40s and 50s when the majority of women stayed home, and men went to work, and feminism was tagged an “illness” (in a 1947 bestseller called The Modern Woman: The Lost Sex) are a thing of the past.  With the many changes in society (women marrying later, having careers, helping to support the family, sometimes being the primary breadwinner), the marriage model as we knew it is more obsolete than ever before.  

“Couples are tweaking the institution to fit their needs even if looks pretty much like a traditional marriage from the outside,” note authors Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson in their book, The New “I Do:” Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels.

On the inside, however, many marriages, established or brand new, might have better long-term survival rates if approached pragmatically, as unromantic as that sounds. The theories, logic, and covenants Gadoua and Larson propose for those in long term marriages who may be having difficulties and for those about to marry are valuable insurance policies that will likely pay huge dividends.   

As Gadoua and Larson concede, even today, most newlyweds believe they marry for forever. Nonetheless, 74 percent of the women surveyed in “Newlywed Women’s Marital Expectations: Lifelong Monogamy?” (a study published in The Journal of Divorce and Remarriage) say they would not be surprised if their marriage didn’t last.

A report, Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia concludes, “…the shapers of our popular culture—including the twentysomethings themselves—need to be brought into a meaningful conversation on ways that the institutions they represent can renew the terms of relationships, marriage, and parenthood among twentysomethings in the United States…”

The New “I Do!” does just that.

Thinking Outside the Marriage “Box”

In order for any marriage to survive today, society—and yes, you—needs to stop clinging to some nostalgic past. The New “I Do!” redefines marriage to match “what people are already doing” and presents seven clearly defined marriage models that are more in line with a changed society and individual expectations.

Within the different types of marriage explored, you find helpful tools to evaluate what you want and what someone has or is willing (or not) to offer:

  • Starter Marriage
  • Companionship Marriage
  • Parenting Marriage
  • Living Alone Together
  • Covenant Marriage
  • Safety Marriage
  • Open Marriage

For each model, a series of comprehensive points to consider and discuss are included. A sampling of the sections: “What’s Good About a xx Marriage,” “What’s Not So Good,” “How to Make a xx Marriage Work,” and perhaps, most important, “Is an xx Marriage Right for Me?”

These explorations make you think about why you are marrying someone (or remaining in the marriage) and deliver a firm foundation beyond “love” with which to evaluate your choice. Models help couples face the reality that “until death do us part” is no longer the credo couples should be following or that even works today.

When I explained The Starter Marriage to an unmarried 28-year-old who lives with his girlfriend, he said, “Renewing the Starter Marriage contract after two years (as the authors recommend), makes good sense. People change.”

Couples might want to check-in on a monthly basis to ascertain both are keeping to the contract. In a sample Starter Marriage contract, for instance, both parties, among many other items:

  • We agree not to make purchases over $200 without both our knowledge and agreement.
  • We agree to share equally all household expenses from our joint checking account.
  • In the event that either of us lose our jobs, we agree to reassess our financial situation and savings agreement.

The financial statements are of great value, as are statements that refer to household chores, sex, health, monogamy, career, education, free time, and even a section on pets, dividing possessions if the marriage contract is not renewed or agreeing to switch to a Parenting Contract should you decide to have children before the Starter Marriage contract expires.

If you are looking for security, you might want to consider a Safety Marriage, defined by the authors as “an equitable exchange: One spouse is financially secure—that doesn’t mean he or she is wealthy—and the other has something else to bring to the marital table, like sex, house-keeping, culinary skills, providing and raising children, or an ability to care take. It can be an exchange of anything the couple agrees on, material or immaterial.” The Safety Marriage could offend you, but it works for many.

Whether you decide you want security or to be married but live in separate homes (Living Alone Together), the contracts are a brilliant means to avoid conflict and help keep any marriage on solid ground. All the contracts leave room for change, yours or your partner’s, and allow for alterations if something in your married life is not working out.

When you read the suggested prompts and scripts, you realize that most of us go into marriage rather blindly even after living together. The New “I Do” removes the blinders and focuses both parties by turning attention to what to think about and questions to ask yourself and the person who may become your future partner.

No matter how long you have been married whether or not you have a contract or model on paper, you can change to a different way of being together rather than divorcing. For instance, you might want to switch to an Open marriage to fill your sexual desires rather than break up your family. The proposed permutations work for couples starting out and for couples bumbling along unhappily. Gadoua and Larson provide ample fodder, as their subtitle suggests, for “Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels” in the 21st century.

Related: No Romance, No Marriage, Just a Baby, Please; Fewer Marriages, Fewer Babies, No Wonder!


Campbell, Kelly, Wright, David W. and Floresa, Carlos. “Newlywed Women’s Marital Expectations: Lifelong Monogamy?” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 2012.

Gadoua, Susan Pease and Larson, Vicki. The New “I Do:” Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels.” Berkley, CA: Seal Press, 2014.

Hymowitz, Virginia Kay, Carroll, Jason S., Wilcox, W. Bradford  and Kaye, Kelleen. Knot Yet: “The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.” The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, 2013.

Lundberg, Ferdinand and Farnham, Marynia F.  The Modern Woman: The Lost Sex. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers; 6th Printing edition (1947)

Miller, Claire Cain. “The Divorce Surge is Over, But the Myth Lives On.” The New York Times, December 2, 2014, p. A23.

Copyright @ 2014 by Susan Newman

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