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Fixed-term marriage - Suffering From Elation
A Survivor's Tale
Fixed-term marriage

I've had that theory for a year or so now; in fact I remember discussing it with mum back when I was single for a while. I quite like the way this writer expresses it. In essence, people should have the option of entering into fixed-term marriages. The renewal (if you decide to renew) at the end of the first five-year term offers an opportunity for another wedding-esque party too, bonus! ;)

The current format suffers from a number of weaknesses:

- It's tied in with religion, but is the only formal system of legal couple committment available to the public, secular or otherwise.

- It doesn't take into account the idea that people change throughout their lives, and may change in different directions.

- It breeds familiarity... and contempt. I read the 'Ask Bossy' blog a lot and I can't tell you how many of the letters are a husband writing in to say his wife 'let herself go' (or vice versa) after the first couple of years of marriage, and became a boring, fat, sexually uninspired person who naps in an easy chair in front of the TV for 6 hours an evening. I notice this attitude a lot from other women: it's like the WEDDING is the be-all-end-all, and after that you can just relax. The wooing is done. You don't need to try anymore. I find that sad... A contract would act like a five-yearly performance review, reminding each partner (because we're human and even with the best intentions, we sometimes forget) to pay attention to how they treat their spouse and how they live their lives. It doesn't just end when you walk down the aisle.

- Because of the ties with religion of the current format, gays can't marry. Under this system, they could.

- Divorces would be less emotionally impacting on the partners AND their children if they didn't come with a stigma of FAILURE. Actually, under this system the divorce rate would plummet. Without the pressure to stay with someone for the REST OF YOUR LIIIIIFE I think people would make an effort to keep things working smoothly 'til the end of their contract, especially if kids were involved.

I just think it'd be kind of awesome - but what would I know? I'm not married, nor have I ever been. I don't hate the institution like some of my secular friends; I think it's a lovely concept, I'd just like to see a little more logic paired with the romance.
21 have fought ~ fight the power!
From: dawnstar_au Date: April 24th, 2009 01:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. This does appear to be a very intriguing concept and brings up quite a number of good points. I concur that this would be a viable way forward.

I particulary like the removal of the concept of failure as indeed this bit does hurt more than any other in the break up process.

Also means weddings can be less insanely expensive as you get the possibility of throwing a new and exciting party each renewal (should you choose to). No more of this 'once in a lifetime' rubbish
rosequoll From: rosequoll Date: April 24th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this. Seeeeriously. It's awesome. :D
leggz From: leggz Date: April 24th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with these two - the idea is absolutely terrific. From all of the reading I've done on marriage and love and relationships I'm led to believe that most relationships have a five year 'expiry date' anyhow.
This would be an excellent solution to an increasing problem. Love it. :]
sighthoundlady From: sighthoundlady Date: April 24th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Just my two cents but I think the five year contract thing is a horrible idea. It misses the whole idea of marriage being forever, through sickness and in health, through the good times and the bad. Because there will be bad. If you have children with somebody and decide to separate it doesn’t matter if you aren’t calling it divorce or not, you are still seeing the destruction of a family unit. Children of divorced parents are far more likely to live in poverty and face severe financial hardship as a result of the break up of the family. It cost far more money to maintain two separate households then it does one, that’s just economics, plain and simple. If a couple isn’t willing to commit to the true meaning of marriage then they shouldn’t embark on the venture. I’ve always viewed it as a vow that binds two people together and though I know it doesn’t happen like this but the premise should always be to work hard to make it work. We all get old, we all will start to loose our looks. It’s very sad to think a partner could decide they’d rather trade in their spouse when the contract is up, for a younger version or perhaps another partner who has not gone through the normal changes a woman’s body goes through with child bearing. “Sorry baby, I know you’ve borne me 5 children but you just aren’t doing it for me anymore, so I’m dumping you!” That sounds shallow and short cited and misses the true meaning of love and devotion. It’s not ALL about sex.
tania From: tania Date: April 24th, 2009 03:21 am (UTC) (Link)
It’s very sad to think a partner could decide they’d rather trade in their spouse when the contract is up, for a younger version or perhaps another partner who has not gone through the normal changes a woman’s body goes through with child bearing. “Sorry baby, I know you’ve borne me 5 children but you just aren’t doing it for me anymore, so I’m dumping you!”

And yet that's precisely what happens in marriages the way they are now. Setting a 'lifetime rule' hasn't prevented that. I think if you're dealing with someone who is likely to want to 'trade in' for such shallow reasons, they'll do it regardless of the form of marriage they're in, it's as simple as that. You see it all the time.

I'm not advocating that kind of behaviour, just being realistic enough to accept that in some cases, it exists - and it exists RIGHT NOW, under the CURRENT system of marriage. I'm just saying that my theory takes into account people growing apart in ANY way - emotionally too - because people DO keep growing and changing, that is an unavoidable fact of life, and they don't always change in the same direction.

It's certainly not "all about sex", where on earth did that idea come from? People can become emotionally and intellectually lazy with one another as well, it's not merely a sexual thing. Personally I find someone who never does anything but sit staring at the telly all night (or in front of WoW, or whatever) very uninspiring to be around. And I find it sad how many women and men talk about feeling underappreciated in their marriages; intellectually, sexually or romantically.

For those who are well-matched and change in the same ways and work at it to the point where they are able to spend their lifetime together... well, the system I wrote about above covers them too. These contracts are designed to be renewed, and that renewal will be celebrated. :) But the idea here is also not to degenerate as 'failures' those who grow, mature, and realise one day that they have absolutely nothing in common with their partner any more. Because the current system fails badly in that regard.

As for childrearing, I see that as a separate issue to marriage. Plenty of people want to get married but don't want kids; plenty of people want kids but don't want to get married. It's up to individual families to decide whether or not they're fiscally capable of supporting bringing a new life into this world, and if so, both parents should go into it determined to continue to provide financial and emotional support to their kids whether they themselves intend to spend the rest of their lives together or not. With the viciousness of so many disappointing divorces removed from the picture, I think it will be a lot easier for parents to do so.

In essence, I think that my system encourages people to "work harder to make it work", because it reminds them that once you are married, you can't just sit back and cruise. You DO have to work. You have to court, romance and spoil your partner just as much as you did BEFORE they agreed to tie the knot with you. This acknowledges that a relationship is an ongoing process with the capacity for change. :)

Essentially, it's only negative if you see it that way!

Edited at 2009-04-24 03:30 am (UTC)
From: dawnstar_au Date: April 24th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Simpsons Episode Season 20, Episode 15. I happen to be watching this today and it's incredibly fitting to this.
c_eagle From: c_eagle Date: April 24th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
wowwww... kinda like having a lease!
master_haakon From: master_haakon Date: April 24th, 2009 06:10 am (UTC) (Link)
The end of lease inspection could get a bit catty.....
c_eagle From: c_eagle Date: April 25th, 2009 05:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh my! An inspection clause with feline paws! 8>
singingnettle From: singingnettle Date: April 24th, 2009 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the idea makes sense.
stokerbramwell From: stokerbramwell Date: April 24th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC) (Link)
This is only semi-related, but the other night I was watching The Colbert Report and there was a Catholic priest on there advocating the idea of government secular contracts that would have all of the rights of marriage without being marriage in name. These could be entered into by any adults, regardless of gender (and by more than two people) and would essentially separate government and marriage for good and let individual religious and secular institutions decide for themselves how to define it. I thought that was a brilliant idea and that it would solve SO MANY PROBLEMS that it's not even funny.
master_haakon From: master_haakon Date: April 24th, 2009 09:20 am (UTC) (Link)
They do something like that in France, so homosexuals can make their relationship offical. Funnily enough it is quite popular amongst hetrosexual couples.

raphstar From: raphstar Date: April 24th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. This has got to be a first, but I actually disagree with you on this one. I don't think fixed term marriage is a good idea and here's why:

- 1. First of all, while marriage certainly originated as a religious concept, it no longer has to be. Not once was any sort of relgious conotation mentioned in our ceremony. We were married by a civil celebrant. Others can be to. As for homosexuals being able to be married this way, I'm not sure how this is a way around that since the problem seems to be the idea of a recognised union of the people in a same sex couple full stop and fixed term or traditional, that is kind of the idea of marriage.

-2.I do agree people change but there is never going to be an accurate time frame on how long that takes. What if people find they grow apart in two years on a 5 year contract? What is the point of introducing a different system for the same result?

-3.The idea of people "letting themselves go" I don't think will ever change. It will just be on a timeframe. People will likely be good for the honeymoon period and then for the last year or little bit to make sure the contract is renewed. Kinda like leaving an assignment to the last minute. An unfortunate part of human nature is that I believe it is likely that people "let go" to an extent because they feel comfortable and secure with theor partners. If they don't get to feel that security with one partner, eventually they will go through partners untill they can feel comfortable and secure, or change themselves into something they're not out of fear.

-4. The idea of having a quasi-wedding after every contract renewal sickens me. Not because I don't like weddings, but because to me it is like the idea of Christmas in July - conjuring something to make people spend more money. Seriously - isn't that what valentines day is for? Your partners birthday? Christmas? Your anniversary? The opportunities you have every day to show your partner you love them?

-5. The ongoing "glamorisation" of divorce - everywhere you look in the media, television, movies, newspapers, walking down the street. Everywhere I hear "my FIRST husband I did this and this but the relationship with my second husband was so much better because he bought me a more expensive whatever/took me somewhere better/earns more/is more popular/is better looking". It seems to be becoming increasingly more popular to have a list that you can use to compete with. -I beleive the idea of only having to be married for a fixed term will only perpetuate this so contracts get shorter and people have to be even less accountable for their decisions and will try LESS knowing that it is only for so long untill you can officially dump them anyway.

-6. Sentimentality - irrational,yes but a part of my opinion nonetheless. I have always associated marriage with being secure in the knowledge your partner wants to be with you long term and BECAUSE you can be secure in that knowledge, you can plan things - house, kids, investments etc. How do you buy a house with someone who is only obliged to stay with you five years before they can back out of the relationship that binds you together?? A silly sentiment may be, but there nonetheless...

-7. Consequence - divorce is messy but one thing going for it legally is the fact that there is not an end or begin date to it. Going back to what I said before - what if you want out early? How much MORE messy legally and financially is it going to be to end a fixed term contract? Seems to be paving the way to introduce the concept of alimony to me and a whole other way to sue people and spend more money. I realise we are having a "global economic crisis" but surely there are better ways to stimulate the economy than this???

Anyway... Not the most popular of opinions but my two cents nonetheless... :)
martes From: martes Date: April 24th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds good on paper, probably wouldn't work in the real world just because of human nature. Besides, a lot of people do basicly the same thing already, which is called living together/shacking up.

I can also picture many parent's eyes rolling when, instead of breathlessly saying: "I'm getting married!" Their daughter comes to them and says: "He's agreed to sign a 5-year commitment paper!"

firesplace From: firesplace Date: April 24th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can also picture many parent's eyes rolling when, instead of breathlessly saying: "I'm getting married!" Their daughter comes to them and says: "He's agreed to sign a 5-year commitment paper!"

Hehe, good point! XD
firesplace From: firesplace Date: April 24th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, this is a fascinating idea!

I can see that, for some partners, an X-year contract would be just the thing. And that's awesome; if it works for them, more power to 'em. But I don't see it solving all that many issues.

I agree with other commenters that I would find it hard to commit to things such as a 30-year mortgage when I only have a 5-year tie to the person paying the other half of that bill. Even if it may be legally simple to sever that contract, the other entanglements are still formidable. Car and house loans, retirement assets, investments, bank accounts, pets, posessions, dwellings, and offspring are still extremely tricky things to divide up. Having a short-term marriage doesn't also give you a quick way to disentangle the rest of your life from a partner!

The point that it would make partners 'try harder' in the relationship may be a valid one. For me, I do NOT see marriage as an excuse to let one's self go or to ignore the other party - I'm very aware that the relationship requires continued attention for the rest of our lives. It makes me very happy to have a healthy relationship, so I put some work into making sure it stays that way. It's that simple. If someone doesn't find any day-to-day reward in putting that same kind of effort into their relationship, I'm not sure the prospect of losing it will motivate them that much. If it doesn't bring you any joy, why would you work to keep it?

So, for me personally, I'm not sure the idea appeals. I rather like the idea of being securely committed to my partner for a lifetime, just because I love him and want to be with him for as long as I can imagine. I enjoy saying we're "married", rather than "contractually obligated". But if it works for someone - well, good luck to them! =D
stardustshine From: stardustshine Date: April 24th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure I don't need to state my religious beliefs on the subject, but even leaving that aside, I still have objections, the main of which is this - the legal terms have very little to do with the emotion involved. You can't dictate people's emotions through legal terms. I don't think it really matters that much whether you have a fixed date or not. If two people mutually conclude that they are no longer interested in being married, how can does it hurt more or less to say "well, it was never meant to be permanent anyway." Similarly, do you think it would alleviate any of the hurt or anguish in a case where one partner wanted to terminate upon the five years and one who wanted to continue? Would the partner who's still emotionally invested really benefit from the other partner saying "Hey, I never promised to be around forever," or even worse, open them to the possibility that the person only stayed with them as long as they did because they were contractually obligated to? How could any legal agreement possibly ease the pain of hearing your partner say, "I've grown apart from you and I feel we're no longer suited to each other. I'm sticking around until the lease is up, but after that, goodbye." Does it really decrease the sense of failure if you stand up believing that you are committing for life, just because the law says it's okay to quit at the five year mark? And if you go in with the intention that you are only going to be together for five years, period, then what is the point of getting married at all, and why should we attach any legal benefits to the process? Will a child really be hurt less by saying "Mommy and daddy's contract was up, and daddy didn't want to renew, so we're going to stop being a family now. Here's the custody schedule."

I also feel your point regarding people who "stop trying" after marriage, and the idea that they would feel more like they still had to work for it if they new their relationship could and at any time, is flawed. Anybody who feels they don't have to work at a marriage is a fool, especially with the ease and commonness of divorces today. In fact, that is the underlying problem with marriage today, is this idea that one spouse OWES loyalty and affection to the other. People with this thought process have forgotten what it means to love. The point of marriage is not to make me happy, it is to make my spouse happy, and vice versa. People don't need a five-year performance review to know that they are unhappy or to tell their partner that they are unhappy. I don't think the underlying issue is that nothing makes them stop and say "I am unhappy." I don't think they need a five-year deadline to say "My spouse is unhappy, and if I don't do something they will leave me." I don't think somebody who cheats would not cheat just because their contract is going to run out anyway. And, most importantly, I think the kind of person who thinks they can just stop trying after marriage has underlying emotional issues that wouldn't be changed by the terms of their agreement. The expression of those issues would just be different. I expect such a person would become anxious, clingy, paranoid, and increasingly hysterical as the renewal date approached. No, the issue is not the perceived permanancy of marriage, it is a failure of education as to what it means to be married. Too many people, women in particular, are given the idea that once they catch a husband, they can sit back and relax, and that if the husband breaks his vows and goes off with someone else, then they have been cruelly betrayed and are without reserve the injured party. In reality, each spouse is at fault, and neither mistake is justifiable. The cheater has broken vows, has betrayed the promise he made, but likewise has the cheatee failed in her obligations to love, cherish, and respect her mate, by taking him for granted and abusing his promise to love her unconditionally by pushing it to the extreme.
stardustshine From: stardustshine Date: April 24th, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course, this is not always the case. Some cheaters cheat not because they are driven to it, but because they have their own issues. In such a case, I don't think the contract would stop him/her.

The only possible benefit I can see is the possibility that it MIGHT contract the years of soul-searching, argument, and suffering that occurs before a divorce actually happens, by giving the departing party an "easy out."

I also see it making more prominent the possibily that in an unequal relationship, one spouse would tyranize over the other with the threat of "I only promised to be around for five years and if you don't shape up I'll be gone." But even that threat is equally available with divorce.

In essence, it seems to me a pointless distinction. Marriage is, at its core, a commitment of the heart. You can't tell the heart to stop loving someone just because your contract term is up. Legal definitions are 100% irrelevant to the happiness or ultimate commitment of the parties involved. If anything, I think such an arrangement would make life much more confusing; I don't want somebody who's only promised to be in my life for five years making, for example, medical or financial decisions that would then affect me for the rest of my life.

Finally, it is my general philosophy that lowering expectations because they seem unreachable does mankind a disservice, becuase I believe that the level of work people put into something is proportionate to what is expected of them. I believe that most people will work harder to reach a goal that seems unreachable than to reach a goal that they think they can manage. People who look at such an expectation and say "that's impossible" will not succeed no matter how far you lower the bar, while in taking the challenge away from others, you rob them of the chance to acheive excellence. People who will still try their hardest and give their all, even when their all is not required, to meet a low expectation, thus acheiving and exceeding it and ultimately reaching their true potential, are rare indeed. I'm not sure this thought is perfectly applicable in this situation, since I neither believe that marriage for life is an unreachable goal, nor that those who feel it is should attempt it, but I do believe that giving people an easy way out is not the way to solve any problem.
From: haakonspet Date: April 25th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I think Handfashing (a pagan thing of committing to each other for 1 year and a day and then depending on your interpretation either going through that until death/end of the relationship, or renewing for a more permanent commitment) or a marriage arrangement that makes it easier to enter and exit without the associated "failure" label would be nice.

The French have a system that started out initially aimed at non-traditional unions and has been embraced by a lot of people - it is a civil marriage (not religious event) that is basically paperwork and a similar arrangement to dissolve the union. It is done quite easily.

I also think that one of the points mentioned in the article is the fact that alot of people work at their relationship to get to the wedding, and then stop - they stop communicating their feelings, they stop working on the relationship and themselves. This I think is the biggest crux of the issue of marriages failing - people feel that getting the piece of paper means all of the work is done.

Even though the Master and I don't have the piece of paper (yet, possibly), we are for all intents and purposes married, and we still work on our relationship, work through the issues we have, work with each other, and we also give each other the space we need to be individuals as well.

I think that the old school way of marriage occurring after the first child was born is a better one, admittedly it was done to ensure that the couple could procreate, but, it also gave the couple time to work out if they were compatible.

I hope my rambling makes sense.
freetuningfork From: freetuningfork Date: April 25th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I hate this idea that you should be looking at your spouse or partner and asking "do they meet my needs?" I don't, and it's not because I'm hopelessly naive or submitting myself to divine will. For one, I think it's a breach of the trust that your partner puts in you when they agree to stick around (almost) no matter what. But most of all, keeping your options open makes you dissatisfied. Choosing, and then sticking with your choice, makes you happy. This is the so-called paradox of choice.

Yes, some people suck at marriage. But why should you make life decisions based on the fear that getting married will turn you into some hideous slob? Is there a tiny voice inside you saying, "oh, if I could just trick some man into making a commitment then I could stay home all day eating chips and watching Judge Judy"? Do you secretly think that getting married will solve all your problems? Are you just interested in being a princess for a day? If not, that boring fat couch-snoozer is just not on the cards for you.

People do change, but only in some ways. You don't change from being an intelligent and generous person into an unthinking jerk. I don't have a checklist for a suitable life partner - so my satisfaction with my partner does not depend on them keeping the same hobbies or appearance or income level or fun levels. Besides, you tend to adapt to each other anyway. And, assuming your partner is a decent person, the better you are to them the better they are to you.

Realistically, you have already made a life-altering commitment because simply cohabiting with someone closes down a lot of possibilities. It's so easy to slide into shared finances or ownership of property without really thinking about it. Breaking up these kinds of de facto relationships is not necessarily any easier than divorcing - unless it's about fear of paperwork?
stonelizard From: stonelizard Date: April 27th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm - interesting theory! It does sound plausible. I am sure many people would relish the oppertunity to opt out if possible after the 5 years :) Sounds much healthier than staying in a doomed marriage.

I have been very fortunate. Known my other half for 9 years, married for a year and a half. Both of us are continuing to improve ourselves as time passes, rather than getting complacent. You have to work hard for your partner and for yourself, whether it is to keep trim, keep interesting and do fun stuff. Yes we have our really lazy slobby days but we counteract them with trips for meals, museums, cinema.... and I believe our marriage will succeed as we both try hard for each other. As you said, the marriage is NOT a be all and end all to life, it is just a starting point.
21 have fought ~ fight the power!