Society has an unusual obsession with the infinite and eternal that manifests in certain ideas or institutions. Many of us believe in the existence of an afterlife in order to defy what we perceive as a fixed ending. Similarly, the belief in the institution of marriage opposes the bounds of finality to maintain an “everlasting” love and connection. However, this idolization of marriage and the level of commitment we strive for has perpetuated an unsuccessful tradition that needs to be updated in order to limit the emotional strain and distress of couples.
The first recorded marriage ceremony took place in 2350 B.C. and the original intent of the marital process was to forge alliances between families for economic or political purposes. However, this meant that a large majority of marriages were arranged. Today, marriage is mainly centered around the idea of love; yet the same outdated structure of eternal commitment has more or less remained identical throughout time, despite the drastic ways society’s view on marriage has evolved.
At the very least we have clearly progressed away from the idea of economic or political gain through marriage. A recent survey reported that the majority of people believed love as opposed to financial stability was a more important reason for marriage; thus, the logical next step would be to account for this evolution by updating this antiquated tradition to foster love and happiness and create healthier relationships. Under the current system, 42 to 45 percent of marriages in America end in divorce or separation, and around 100 divorces take place every hour because marriage was never intended to create happiness or encourage love; it was simply made for fiscal and political purposes.
The blame cannot be placed solely on the outdated system of marriage though, because as time passed, marriage transformed into an unhealthy fixation.
Beginning in the 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, women were given the idea that marriage was their only role in life. It became a fundamental step in order to be accepted into society because, for women at the time, there was nothing beyond finding a suitable husband and having children to look after for the remainder of their lives, regardless of any emotional discontent.
While women are no longer groomed solely for marriage, a similar mentality surrounding the importance of marriage remains today and upholds the same social pressures since it is often labeled as one of the major milestones in life.
To make matters worse, there is now an added layer of unreasonable expectations that were created by various forms of media that frame marriage as this effortless declaration of love between two people who share an undeniable and seemingly invincible connection. Thus, couples who felt pressured to tie the knot under the guise of glamorized notions about marriage are rudely awakened to the constant effort that has to be allocated towards navigating the difficulties and conflicts of a lifelong relationship.
Ultimately, these common marriages persist for a short period of time, with the average length of a marriage before divorce being seven years, before the couple decides to go their separate ways.
On the other end of the spectrum, some forms of media have challenged this idealized version of marriage by vilifying it completely, essentially creating a fear surrounding divorce and separation that prevents marriages from happening and keeps unhealthy ones from ending.
Take the film “Marriage Story,” where — for a whole two hours and 17 minutes — the audience watches a couple’s divorce as they traverse through a harrowing legal battle, toxic arguments, and all-around painful heartbreak that would make anyone second-guess subjecting themselves to divorce or even marriage in the first place. Different forms of media that portray similar events are unconsciously highlighting these extreme situations of divorce and marriage that mainly result in an instillation of doubt and dread in current couples as well as future ones. This fear of failure is a potential reason why marriage rates and divorce rates are continuing to plunge to new lows.
These two varying perspectives have created an all-or-nothing mentality where marriage is either this sacred, untouchable tradition or a depressing next step in a relationship that we fear will crash and burn. But what if we were to change the way we view this life-long commitment and update the concept of marriage to further our progression towards healthier relationships?
One interesting and viable solution is the implementation of a marriage contract that expires within five to 10 years and requires the consent of both individuals for its renewal.
Since the cultural meaning behind marriage essentially defines it as an automatic and permanently binding lifelong commitment, it is easy to take this security for granted and let a slew of negative habits create an unhealthy relationship. One of the most common reasons why marriages fall apart, according to a multitude of different articles that popped up after a quick Google search, is a gradual disconnect between partners. Some couples begin to drift away from one another because they are essentially obligated to remain together even if one of them no longer participates in a certain level of vulnerability.
However, the hope is that a marriage renewal will require an evaluation of a relationship through worthwhile communication that could potentially save a marriage. The renewable contract would call for a couple to participate in upkeeping and nurturing their connection through the process of revisiting the functionality of their marriage.
In addition, on the off chance that a couple is incompatible and begins to drift apart despite their best efforts, they can simply decide not to renew their marriage without feeling trapped in the relationship or driven to participate in self-destructive behaviors that would likely result in the explosive legal battles, emotional issues, and toxicity that, as previously mentioned, is showcased and villainized in media. For example, people who experience emotional or sexual dissatisfaction in their marriage can become distant and, rather than communicate these needs to their partner, they turn to infidelity, which is responsible for 20 to 40 percent of divorces.
Despite what the media proposes, a healthy marriage does not simply click into place and remain untouchable after the marriage certificate is signed. Communication and active participation in a marriage are essential, and requiring a renewal is a practical and successful way to bring attention to that.
A renewal would also benefit and protect the well-being of the individuals in a couple or even a family by preventing potential legal battles and feelings of failure. With the current system of divorce, splitting up can be messy. Emotions run high, and things can get complicated and tense due to feelings of loss, failure, or sadness. With this new system, a couple is fully aware that their marriage will come to a close and require renewal after a certain amount of years, so splitting up would no longer be an abrupt and violent disruption but an expected ending — successfully limiting magnified negative emotions.
This is not to say that there will not be any emotional difficulties. The pain that comes with the territory of ending a relationship cannot necessarily be taken away completely, but an amicable goodbye can be one of the best courses of prevention. The mature decision to discuss and acknowledge what is best for both individuals can be difficult and heartbreaking. However, keeping a relationship untarnished by all-consuming feelings of resentment or anger can make it easier for both parties to accept that things simply did not work out while also appreciating the growth and maturation they acquired with the help of one another. Not to mention that preventing resentment in a family context can decrease the chances for custody battles or other harmful behaviors that could affect the emotional well-being and development of children. All in all, a renewable marriage contract would promote healthier behaviors and hopefully give everyone a sense of closure through communication.
While creating a faultless system that attempts to account for every unique and varying instance of marriage is virtually impossible, it has become apparent that the ways we currently view and handle marriage are quickly decreasing in functionality.
It is time to reevaluate this out-of-date tradition. If we truly want to create and foster marriages that are more conducive to our health, it is not unreasonable to change our relationship with them.
Art by Kalo Grimsby for the UC San Diego Guardian.