Till death do us part, or just till con­tract ends?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

Is the fu­ture of mar­riage a thought­ful, loving, five-year le­gal con­tract … with an op­tion to re­new?

That’s the view of some mar­riage re­form­ers, who think it’s time to stop ask­ing peo­ple to change them­selves to fit into the tra­di­tional mar­riage model and in­stead change the in­sti­tu­tion.

Old-fash­ioned mar­riage, which up­holds life­long monogamy and com­mit­ment, “sets up too many peo­ple for fail­ure,” co-au­thors Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Lar­son say in their new book, “The New ‘I Do’: Re­shap­ing Mar­riage for Skep­tics, Re­al­ists and Rebels,” pub­lished by Seal Press.

Since there are al­ready seven mod­els of mar­riages op­er­at­ing in the United States — in­clud­ing “starter,” “parenting” and “open” mar­riages — our goal is to “nor­mal­ize what is al­ready hap­pen­ing,” they write.

The “New ‘I Do’” book comes on the heels of a Time mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle that cited a survey say­ing 43 per­cent of mil­len­nial-age adults are open to two-year-long trial mar­riages.

“Beta” mar­riage would per­mit a cou­ple to test and “deglitch” a re­la­tion­ship, and then ei­ther for­mal­ize it or aban­don it with­out go­ing through a di­vorce, said the Time ar­ti­cle by pop cul­ture writer Jessica Ben­nett.

Young Americans like the idea of trial mar­riage be­cause they al­ready think “ev­ery­thing is in beta” and “life is a work in progress,” study au­thor Melissa Lav­i­gne-Delville told Time. “It’s not that [the mil­len­ni­als] are en­tirely non­com­mit­tal,” she said. “It’s just that they’re nim­ble and open to change.”

Mean­while, oth­ers are stand­ing up for tra­di­tional mar­riage.

“Easy-exit” mar­riages and out-of-wed­lock child­bear­ing al­ready have de­prived chil­dren of the sta­bil­ity, love, guid­ance and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity that is usu­ally pro­vided in two­par­ent mar­ried house­holds, Chris Ger­sten, co-chair­man of the Coali­tion for Di­vorce Re­form, said in an ar­ti­cle called “Note to Mil­len­ni­als: It’s Not All About You.”

“Our goal must be to strengthen the in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage in or­der to give more chil­dren a chance to be raised” by such mar­ried par­ents, wrote Mr. Ger­sten, whose group rec­om­mends ways to dis­cour­age di­vorce, es­pe­cially among fam­i­lies with chil­dren.

“You don’t deglitch re­la­tion­ships by threat­en­ing to leave your part­ner ev­ery two, seven or 10 years,” au­thor Lori Lowe wrote on her blog, “Mar­riage Gems.” To the con­trary, she said, “it’s the na­ture of com­mit­ment it­self that al­lows part­ners to trust, re­lax and grow to­gether.”

There’s a “yearn­ing and a hunger” out there about mar­riage, but “it’s not to know how to make mar­riage more like buy­ing cloth­ing or test-driv­ing a car,” said Seth Eisen­berg, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Pairs Foun­da­tion, a re­la­tion­ship-skills ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Florida.

They want to know how to “pro­tect the re­la­tion­ship with the per­son they fall in love with so they can sus­tain the com­mit­ment and dreams that they have,” said Mr. Eisen­berg. “I see peo­ple be­ing very will­ing to do the work of the re­la­tion­ship if they have a road map that gives them the best chance of be­ing suc­cess­ful.”

Ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data, young Americans are de­lay­ing mar­riage far longer than their par­ents or grand­par­ents — the me­dian age of mar­riage is now 29 for men and 27 for women. To­day’s young Americans might even be­come the gen­er­a­tion with the low­est mar­riage rate in U.S. his­tory, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter said in a re­port.

High rates of co­hab­it­ing, un­wed child­bear­ing and di­vorce of­fer even more ev­i­dence that “mar­riage as we know it is dy­ing,” Ms. Gadoua, a ther­a­pist in San Francisco, and Ms. Lar­son, a long­time jour­nal­ist, say in their book.

Their so­lu­tion is to change mar­riage: “We be­lieve it’s time to be more cre­ative with mat­ri­mony by legally bend­ing the in­sti­tu­tion to meet more of so­ci­ety’s present-day needs,” they say.

Americans al­ready use seven mar­riage mod­els, they say. Some mar­riages are pri­mar­ily for com­pan­ion­ship, for ex­am­ple, while oth­ers are for fi­nan­cial safety or parenting.

“Starter” mar­riages are those that are ill-fated and end in a few years as cou­ples re­al­ize they are not com­pat­i­ble. Two more mar­riage mod­els are those in which spouses live alone to­gether or have open unions in which ex­tra­mar­i­tal sex part­ners are OK.

The sev­enth mar­riage model is the dif­fi­cult-to-di­vorce “covenant” mar­riage, which is most like the tra­di­tional mar­riage with its vows of “for­sak­ing all oth­ers, un­til death do us part.”

All of th­ese mar­riages can be es­tab­lished through time-limited, prenup­tial agree­ments that spell out de­tails such as who will do which do­mes­tic chores in the “parenting” mar­riage or who will visit whom and when in the “live alone to­gether” mar­riage.

If cou­ples start with time-limited “starter” mar­riages and de­cide to stay to­gether, they could choose another mar­riage model and set up “a new con­tract and new goals,” Ms. Gadoua and Ms. Lar­son ex­plained in re­sponse to ques­tions from The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“This is truly con­scious cou­pling,” they said.

Ac­cord­ing to the survey cited in Time of 1,000 un­der-50 adults — on which Ms. Lav­i­gne-Delville re­ported for USA Net­work — many young Americans are open to new mar­i­tal mod­els.

In ad­di­tion to the 43 per­cent who said they could be in­ter­ested in “beta” mar­riages, 36 per­cent liked “real es­tate” unions that could be re­new­able after five, seven, 10 and 30 years. About 21 per­cent were OK with four-year “pres­i­den­tial” mar­riages that have an op­tion for a four-year “sec­ond term.” Ten per­cent also liked “mul­ti­ple-part­ner” mar­riages, in which dif­fer­ent peo­ple ful­fill “a need in your life.”

Mr. Eisen­berg main­tained that “the vast, vast majority of Americans from all gen­er­a­tions want to be mar­ried. They just don’t want to be un­hap­pily mar­ried.”

But the way to not be un­hap­pily mar­ried is not to take the com­mit­ment part out of mar­riage, he said.

“The way to not be un­hap­pily mar­ried is to learn what it takes to be hap­pily mar­ried,” he said, “and what I see is peo­ple learn­ing what it takes to make their ‘I do’ some­thing that can last for a lifetime.”

Young Americans like the idea of trial mar­riage be­cause they al­ready think “ev­ery­thing is in

beta” and “life is a work in progress,” study au­thor Melissa Lav­i­gne-Delville told Time.

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