Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

M Words

Editorial. Focuses on the failure of marriages in the United
States. Options for couples who do not want marriage; Reason for marriage

girlfriend's nametattooed on his arm. "I can't see that," said the
comedian. "I can see marrying someone, even having a couple of kids. But
not a tattoo--it's so permanent."

There will be more than 2 million marriages in the United States
this year, and more than half will end in divorce. Getting married is
like throwing a coin high into the air, watching it spin for a long while
and betting one's entire future on which way it will eventually land.
Heads: golf and cuddling and shuffleboard until Alzheimer's or death.
Tails: tears and accusations and a custody battle, with the house going
to the lawyers.

The problem is that the marriage contract isn't worth the paper
it's written on. Prenuptial agreements are now harder to break than
marriage contracts. Marriage is no longer a vehicle for permanent
commitment, because it's too easy to change one's mind. As singer Paul
Simon might have said, there are 50 ways to leave your spouse.

So what can couples do who want to stay together forever? I say,
let's create a new institution--call it moorage, maybe, after the way we
secure a ship to a dock. And let's create a moorage contract, one that's
really binding. All it will take to get things going are a few committed
couples, acting on their own, jotting down some special words on a piece
of paper, loving each other and standing by what they write.

Knowing that you've just entered into a permanent arrangement keeps
you working hard to make that arrangement work. Stresses and strains are
inevitable in a relationship. With a high level of commitment, people get
through rough times--often with marvelous times ahead, born in part of
the stresses a couple has shared and conquered.

Moorage isn't for everyone, of course. We also need to recognize
the short-term commitment--yes, mereage--rather than trying to fold it
into the institution of marriage. And for those who are willing to commit
to raising children through the age of majority but who aren't interested
in that lifetime thing, we probably need yet another type of
contract--moreage, perhaps?

The real reason marriage doesn't work is because it can't encompass
the full range of legitimate relationships people have forged in recent
decades. These various relationships are quite real, and we need ways to
accommodate them.

Robert Epstein is editor in chief of Psychology Today, University
Research Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at
Alliant International University, and Director Emeritus of the Cambridge
Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts. He earned his Ph.D. in
psychology at Harvard University.