Want to have a successful marriage? Never mind all that how-to stuff about improving communication and adding a spark to your sex life and never going to bed mad and all the rest – that's fine for what it's worth, but there may be something even more fundamental to the success of your marriage.
(Yes, I know, I'm Ms. Unabashedly, Unapologetically Single-at-Heart and single for life, so I'll tell you at the end why I'm writing about this.)
The secret to a great marriage is deciding what you want your marriage to be about – and don't just give me that gauzy, dreamy poetry about love. Be practical. Be specific. For example: Maybe you just want to try it out. Or, admit it – maybe you really do want to marry for money. Or maybe you care about the kids or about companionship, and you don't give a hoot about the sexual intimacy. Or maybe you know you don't want to be monogamous. Or maybe you want the most committed, faithful, traditional version of marriage imaginable.
Whatever you want from your marriage, just be sure you are on the same page as your potential spouse (or your current one, if you are interested in redefining your marriage). Then put it in writing. Make it legal. Because that's what marriage really is – a legal contract!
If you and your spouse get out of your marriage what you two decided together was what you actually wanted from your marriage, then guess what? Your marriage is a success! It doesn't matter if other people turn up their noses at the kind of marriage you choose – it's your marriage, not theirs.
All of this is what I learned from a book by Susan Pease Gadoua (fellow Psych Today blogger) and Vicki Larson (terrific journalist), The New "I Do": Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels. I reviewed the book for another site and will post the link when it is published. There's a lot to the book, but here, I just want to share with you the 7 kinds of marriages they describe.
Do-It-Yourself Marriages: 7 Possibilities
#1 Starter marriage: Couples want to try out marriage for a pre-determined amount of time, without having kids. They sign legal contracts. Before the time is up, they decide whether to split or to renew their marriage or move on to a different kind of marriage.
#2 Companionship marriage: This is another marriage that is not about children. Couples marry for friendship, to have someone to socialize with and to do other things together. It is not about passion or romance.
#3 Parenting marriage: This model of marriage is all about the children. A romantic connection need not be part of the package. Two people commit to raising kids together and providing a great home for them. They promise to stay together only until all of their children become independent. Of course, they can always decide to stay together even after that, but the forever assumption is not part of their marital contract from the start.
#4 Safety marriage: Some people marry for money. Others marry for health insurance or for financial security while they pursue their passions or an education or they marry for some other instrumental reason. Don't get all judgy! It is not gold-digging or exploitation if each spouse gets something out of the arrangement and each explicitly agrees to it from the outset.
#5 Living alone together marriage: This marriage is for people who say they need their space, and mean it, literally. Each spouse has a place of his or her own. They are committed to the relationship but want a measure of autonomy, too.
#6 Open marriage: Spouses have other partners but they are not sneaking around. They are practicing "consensual non-monogamy." They want a stable marriage but not a monogamous one. The "consensual" part means they've agreed to it.
#7 Covenant marriage: Whereas all of the other versions of "the new 'I do'" relax the constraints or assumptions of the prevailing model of marriage, covenant marriage ups the ante. It is only for unions of one man and one woman. The marriages are harder to get into (premarital counseling is a requirement) and harder to get out of (there are few legitimate grounds for divorce, and couples who do not meet those criteria but still want to divorce have to wait two years to do so). Three states offer covenant marriages – Louisiana, Arizona, and Arkansas.
The Awesome Alternative?
If you love living single and believe it is the best life for you even if you did meet someone amazing, or even if you just don't want to be married right now, there is an awesome alternative to all of those types of marriage – single life! Live it fully, joyfully, and unapologetically!
Know that, among all of the wonderfully insightful points the authors make in the book, there were a few that were not true. Despite the prevailing mythology on the matter, scientific research does not show that getting married makes people happier or healthier. And, the flip side of being married is not being alone. In fact, on the average, single people are more connected to other people than married people are, and people who marry typically become more insular than they were when they were single.
When I was doing the research for my new book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I got very interested in people who just love their own space, but also want to be part of a committed couple. So if they find the person who is right for them, they live in their own places. Many who do this are married, and some even have kids. The couples are sometimes called Dual Dwelling Duos and their arrangement is sometimes called Living Apart Together (LAT). I found something terrific that Vicki Larson had written about that, so I asked if I could quote it. Then, when she was passing through Santa Barbara, we met in person. I was impressed and found more of her writing that I really liked (this, for example). I confess that at first, I only bought her book because I thought I should – she was so gracious about letting me quote her and then I had a great time with her in person. What do I care about any kind of "I Do"? (I don't.) But once I got the book I discovered that it included a chapter on couples living apart together, and then another chapter on people who really want kids, and do not want to raise their kids on their own, so they partner with someone else as co-parents and not as romantic partners. I have a whole section in How We Live Now about that, too.
[Notes: (1) There are lots of great conversations going on at the Community of Single People. The other administrators and I have tried to accept everyone who has asked to be a Facebook member so far, so if you asked for membership but never heard back, my best guess is that you do not have a Facebook account and you do have to have one to join a Facebook group. (2) At long last, I've set up a Twitter account, @belladepaulo. I hope to start tweeting soon. I'll be looking for interesting people to follow, especially people who are interested in singles' issues and single life.]