I’m changing my mind (again) about marriage. As I prepare for the Great Year Workshop in which Love in all its forms is central to making a life you believe in, I’ve been turning to an unlikely source for relationship inspiration: marriage.
Many and maybe even most marriages dissolve well before the death-before-parting deadline. It seems obvious to me it’s because we believe in our bones the myth that fulfillment requires finding a Forever Soulmate who will also be our Best Friend, Financial Partner, Sexual Satisfier, Roommate, Companion, and Co-Parent. Maybe more importantly, many of us feel we must fill all those roles for our mate as well, and we try our best— and our best doesn’t do it.
Even if we know this Romantic Love Forever Myth is unattainable, we can’t help but judge our relationships through its narrow framework. It’s pervasive. I’m not alone in believing the power of this myth to be the source of most failed marriages, but I went ahead and tried, twice, and was surprised when both of my marriages fell apart.
Their endings were so painful I decided marriage might not have much to offer at all.
I bring you some good news about marriage. I comes from a new Colleague of mine, Susan Pease Gadoua who, with her co-author Vicki Larson, offers a survey of successful marriages and how they work. Not surprisingly they are built around carefully crafted agreements that involve clearly defined roles. The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels serves up seven tested and refined models for marriages that are better set up for success than our haggard mythical mess. I think they are models for any couple defining the terms of their commitment to each other, regardless of marriage.
(By the way, I met Susan a few weeks ago and read her book and immediately realized she’s the perfect guide to creating loving relationships of all types during our Great Year Workshop. Save your spot now, even just for Susan’s part!)
Beyond the “Spouse” Roles in Marriage
Here I present overlooked and under-rated marriage proposals from The New I Do using the Pilot Fire method of roles and goals: “As a (role), I want (goal). I tried to keep these fictional examples accurate to the real-life examples in the book.
As a Newbie with little relationship experience, I want to learn what marriage could mean for me without the pressure of a forever commitment or children— yet. A Starter Marriage model lets me and my partner agree to not have children and automatically expires in a few years. That way we can explore what works and doesn’t work within the context of marriage. If we decide we want continue, we can “upgrade” to a different type of marriage.
As a Parent, I want help raising children with someone dedicated primarily to making a safe, secure, and stimulating family home. A Parenting Marriage is an financial and logistical agreement focused on raising children as best we can. All other needs are secondary and can be met outside the relationship as long as they don’t jeopardize meeting the needs of our family. Once our kids are raised into adulthood, we will celebrate our parenting project, and the marriage will end, respectfully.
As a Companion I want someone I can travel with, live with, and share a few common interests. I’m don’t want to build a family with someone, or a lot of romance. I want to know there is someone stable to come home to who will care for me as I get older and need help. I’m eager to offer the same. A Companionship Marriage gives me a sense of security and a commitment to a long loving and deep friendship without the pressure to maintain passion.
As a Passionate Independent, I really want to get married as long as we don’t live together. I love my time alone, and I what to keep my finances separate. I totally trust my sweetheart so if I’m feeling insecure, we just talk it through. Besides, the spaces between seeing my lover make me even more passionate about our relationship. A Living Alone Together Marriage allows us our independence plus a serious commitment to intimacy and equity.
As a Covenant Commiter I am so much more serious about marriage than almost anyone I know. I want to make sure my spouse is in it for life, we use our belief system to solidify our commitment to stay together, and we vow to our community to build a family that contributes to the values we all share. That’s why I prefer a Covenant Marriage. We pre-process our commitment with qualified counselors, and the particular laws that bind us make it much harder to divorce. Good! I’m in this forever.
As a Security Seeker, I want to offer financial stability to someone who will live with me and take care of me. I’m happy to support a passionate artist or writer or even a great chef who alone might never bring in enough money for a decent life by offering a secure monetary arrangement with a legal agreement to mutual benefit. The clarity of our relationship is defined primarily through business terms. The model of a Safety Marriage suits us both.
As a Lover at Heart, I know my partner and I can’t and needn’t be the other’s sole source of sexual satisfaction. An Open Marriage agreement lets us commit to our highest priorities of trust, support, proactive communication, and mutual respect while maintaining the freedom to explore excitement outside our relationship. Our rules include keeping no secrets about sex. That helps us process occasional conflicts and insecurities. Safe sex practices are a must!
If you are considering marriage, read The New I Do, a rare mix of reality and optimism when it comes to committed relationships. I’m guessing you will change your mind about marriage as well.
Or Maybe Divorce!
And remember, divorce is a totally viable life choice as well. If you have been through divorce and are eager to make a new life, Susan is an expert on the changing nature of relationships and will lead exercises about Love for people ready for Reinvention After Divorce, January 23-25 in San Francisco.
NOTE: My one criticism of their book is that the authors confuse Love with romantic love, maybe intentionally. This is a mistake in my opinion. They need to be treated very separately. Romantic love is the crush feeling you get usually at the beginning of a relationship when a lover seems extra smart, extra sexy, and extra sweet— maybe perfect. I love romantic love, even though it almost never lasts, not just because it feels so good. For all it’s overhype, romantic love makes it easier to drop our defenses and become vulnerable with our lovers, a state necessary to grow the seeds of trust. We may not learn to completely trust our romantic lovers, but we get to practice it.
In contrast, Love, in Pilot Fire parlance, is the energy we give to support the personal growth of others (and ourselves). All of the roles above require this Love, and trust, even borne of romance, is a key ingredient. With trust at its core, Love, in my experience, can last forever.
The number for how many marriages end before death is hard to estimate. One of the commenters below points this out so I changed “half of marriages” Many and maybe most” because the numbers are somewhere between 30-51%. My point is that with so many people unhappy with marriage (enough that a significant proportion prefer to go through a painful divorce than stay married) it might be time to reinvent marriage to be more satisfying to people who do it.