Should You Have a “Ten Year” Marriage Contract?

May 15, 2013

Artificial-...-thankfully-007Is marriage dead?

This week, I’ve been thinking about a two-part series written by Emma Johnson over at Wealthy Single Mommy.

Emma confidently claims that she has proven marriage is dead.  She asserts that marriage as we know it is hardly normal anyway.

She advocates for changing marriage to a ten year contract, wherein both parties establish expectations and choose to renew or not renew their marriage every ten years.

As I read, I was alternately offended, incredulous and frightened by her seemingly cold and loveless recipe for the future of marriage…

…And yet…yet this divorced Mom with a vision for decade-long marriages might be taking more action to save marriage than a lot of us married couples.

Statistically Speaking

The claim Emma makes that marriage is dead rests on her use of statistics.  She claims a “steady, high divorce rate,” rising numbers of people who never marry, and finally “40%” of people who think marriage is obsolete.

It’s true, fewer people are getting married.  But I will take some issue with the narrative of “steady, high divorce rates.”  Although this story has been pounded into our heads – that “half” of marriages end in divorce – the fact is that divorce rates have been on the decline since 1985  (here are stats, if you like.)  Granted, there are still lots of divorces…but not as many.

I liken this narrative to that of “global warming.”  The assumption we’ve been taught is that the Earth is warming, even though global temps have flatlined for 10 years.  It’s really hard to change the common assumptions, even when data changes.

The reason I nitpick at this is because that casually cited stat of 50/50 divorce changes our perception of marriage.  If people believe that half of marriages end disastrously, then it’s no wonder that 4 in 10 of us think the institution is crap.  But if people believed that divorce rates were declining, and the odds were actually in their favor, marriage’s public image just might improve.

Fallacy of Marriage

“My story illustrates how today’s definition of marriage is a joke for those of us who do tie the knot.”

With the above sentence, Emma sums up her argument on the death of marriage.

Her statistics left me incredulous, but this sentence left me offended.  Because I feel that she committed a common logical fallacy in “proving” her case.

Her damning evidence was an anecdote, a “personal story.”  (Plus, she yanked all of us married folk into her story.  Read it again.  She’s saying that your marriage is a joke too.)

Look, every rule has an exception.  You can prove anyone a fool by bringing up a personal story to contradict their claims.  The argument is that if a bunch of people fail at something, and a bunch of other people think something is not worth doing, then that thing is actually not worth doing.  

But everyone who gets divorced used to think marriage was worth doing.  We all read our vows.  We knew what we were getting into.  We weren’t tricked.

Lots of people fail to climb Mount Everest, but there are a few who still consider it worth doing.  I suck beyond belief at sports, but that doesn’t mean I get to determine that sports are “broken.”  An activity’s worth or value is not determined by those who fail at it, or those who never try.

Check Up with the Marriage Counselor

There were a myriad of other issues I took with Emma’s pronouncement of the death of marriage. Yet, the divorced, no-nonsense “ten year” advocate finds me cheering for her.

Read the comments and how she responds.  She is actually trying to save marriage.  She wants people to get married.  She’s trying to keep couples together!  She doesn’t want marriage to die.

Emma’s suggestion of a ten year contract offends my sense of what “marriage” is.   I gasp at how cold and “unromantic” her vision of marriage is.  I grumble and ask why a couple should need a contract to evaluate their expectations and satisfaction with their marriages…

…And then I try to remember the last time I asked my wife if I am meeting her needs.  I strain to try to think about the last “checkup” we had, the last really serious sit-down, hash-it-out, come-to-Jesus meeting we had.  We haven’t been married ten years.  Why can’t I remember it?  When I try to get self-righteous about how good my marriage is, why can’t I remember any verifiable proof that my wife is truly happy with me?

If the idea of a ten year contract offends you, then go find your spouse and ask them how your marriage is doing…right now.

What say you?  Does our vision of marriage need to change in order to save it?

14 responses to Should You Have a “Ten Year” Marriage Contract?

  1. I can definitely see value in the intentionality she suggests. I don’t have a very romantic notion of marriage, and I think that’s a helpful thing. I had way too romantic a notion before and when we married, and I think real life can come as a shock when you go into it like that. If a couple’s decision to remain married is based entirely on the question “are we madly in love right now?” longevity is unlikely.
    Jessica recently posted..Show and Tell: MY Party

  2. Random thoughts—

    1) So basically, I hear you saying “Just because YOU suck at marriage doesn’t mean it won’t work for the rest of us”. Which is little ironic since a lot of gay marriage proponents have said the same thing.

    2) I guess I don’t understand why you say you were “frightened” by her article. So she wants marriages to be on a 10-year plan? Big whoop! Is this woman in any sort of position to actually make that a reality? You said yourself that the statistics don’t back up what she was saying anyway. What exactly “frightened” you about it?

    3) I read the article and I wasn’t really offended by it. I think this was largely because it sounded like her idea of what marriage is “supposed” to look like was a little messed up anyway. Yeah, if the whole focus of your marriage is the big ceremony at the beginning, it’s not healthy. And, actually, the pastor that married my husband and I spoke to us against the notion of “soul mates” during our premarital counselling. Yes, the notion of having one person in all the universe that will truly love you is romantic in theory–but in reality it’s not the healthiest view to have (where does it leave your self-worth if your spouse dies or leaves you? Are you totally unlovable now?).

    It sounded more to me like while she thought she was speaking against marriage itself, what she was actually going off on was the unrealistic expectations that folks get about marriage–much of which I actually kind of agreed with her about.

    • You get it exactly, Abby! That’s the precise conclusion I came to, and why I walked away cheering even though I don’t agree with her concept of marriage. Ironically, she’s advocating against other commonly held misconceptions about marriage.

      As for the word ” frightened,” I wouldn’t underestimate the influence one person can have, for better or worse. :)

  3. The spirit of her suggestion, to make marriage a sober-minded decision based on trust and commitment, rather than basing it on the giddy, feel-good moment is great. However, because you can always trust humans to become Pharisees, I could see the contract idea becoming yet another way for lawyers to fill their pockets to create the contract as well as end the marriage :-D . Plus, I think that these days contracts of all kinds are being broken. I remember about five years ago, when housing prices took a nose dive, there were people walking away from their house loans even if they could afford the mortgage payments because they didn’t want to live in a house that was “overpriced.” My pastor commented that a couple who makes that kind of decision about a relatively “minor” issue might be more likely to make that decision regarding their spouse.

    If Christian couples aren’t understanding that marriage is a sacred covenant that is far more serious than any business contract and involves being sure you trust the other person with your life, then either pastors are not doing their job, or couples aren’t listening. When God was preparing me for marriage, after a serious of disastrous relationships, He basically told me that the passages in Ephesians and other places about submitting to your husband was another way of saying that I needed to be dead sure that I trusted the man with my life before making any commitment to him. And I would encourage couples to at least take a yearly check up to make sure that they feel your love. Anniversaries are a great time to do that.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Saying Goodbye to Nana

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful posts and the comments. I want to take issue with the idea that my notion is unromantic. The institution of marriage has not been expected to be romantic except for the past 200 years or so — shortly after which everything fell apart. The institution of marriage has changed and evolved as the cultures and people who use it change and evolve. If the majority of a population finds an institution obsolete, it is time for an overhaul.

    • Thanks for showing up! I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that was very cool of you.

  5. Hi,
    A very interesting thought. Maybe we don’t have to be legalistic and make a contract but certainly we need to be aware how our marriage is doing – and that is through time together, deep discussions and maybe even recommitting to a better relationship.
    We are coming up to 42 years – yes highs and lows but never did either of us consider not being together. We worked it out.
    Thanks for a very interesting topic.
    Janis Cox recently posted..WEDNESDAY’S WORD – Worship

  6. The first thing that came to mind when you mentioned her idea of 10 year marriage was that it would take the security out of it. Sure, if your marriage was on the rocks you might stick it out for a few more years (great!) but if it is going well, and then 10 yrs comes up… then what? You have to re-evaluate everything again? It just seems so wrong and icky. It seems it would add unneeded stress to a great marriage. Part of the point of marriage is that you stick together through that good and the bad, highs and lows, (remember those vows?) to do life together. I’m glad what Abby said is right: it’s a good thing that she can’t actually change anything! I’m grateful for the way marriage is now. One thing is true, however: something needs to change, because we are giving up way to easily.
    Karin recently posted..1 Year Old!

  7. My understanding is that “half of marriages end in divorce” is a quick way of stating that there are approximately half as many divorces as marriages in a given year. Checking the linked statistics, this hold true from 1975 onwards. While the rate of divorce counted against the population has declined since 1985, so has the rate of marriage. Fewer people getting married combined with the same rate of divorce per marriage would support Emma’s point I believe.

    I appreciate Emma’s honest examination of the subject of marriage and I agree with much of her analysis. The idea of 10 marriage contracts is interesting. I’m uncertain how effective it would be in reality. I can imagine many dissatisfied spouses waiting it out and splitting up rather than really talking about it. Perhaps it would be a good catalyst for discussion between those planning on staying together anyway. So I’m doubtful it would keep more couples together. However it seems like one of Emma’s goals is getting more people married in the first place. The 10 year marriage might do that by lowering the commitment.

    I do think that marriage is in decline in our country. I suspect the solution may be in relieving marriage from the burden of being the “be all, end all” of relationships.

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  9. I took a look at the marriage and divorce statistics that you put up and I would like to point something out. First off what you say is true about the rate of divorce declining since 1985, but so too is the rate of marriage. In fact, just a quick look over the list you can see that divorce rate does in fact hover around half that of marriage rate. In fact, the very last statistic indicates that the divorce rate is actually higher than 50%. While I know that much of these statistics are skewed due to some people have multiple divorces and marriages that doesn’t make this any less of a problem. I have a more detailed description of a possible answer at my blog:
    The long story short though:
    Abolish federal marriage(of course anyone already holding a marriage contract would be grandfathered in, don’t panic)
    Create a new, purely financial contract similar to a prenuptial agreement, detailing resource distribution, visitation rights of possible children, clearly defined expectations of the contract, ect…
    This way a marriage can be made in a church without necessitating a financial co-existence if that is not desired. Or a financial co-existence can be defined without needing to make life long vows. The contract could be held between a married couple, but other times it wouldn’t necessarily have to be. That way a lifelong vow of love, is a vow of love, not a means of legal tax evasion.