Rethinking the Marriage Contract

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With today’s long lifespans, is it time to replace ‘until death do us part’ with a five-year plan? 

By RIKKI DUBOIS

At the time I write this, I’m in my mid-fifties. As I look around, I notice that a good portion of the people I know who are in my age bracket are no longer married to their first spouse; they are on their second or subsequent marriages.

A friend of mine proposed that a marriage contract should be for five years. After this time, the couple can renew their contract for another five years, if they so choose. With each contract, changes can be made. Care of children can be added in when they start a family. Sexual needs can be discussed. For example, if one person no longer wants sex, the couple can consider alternate arrangements for the other person’s needs. If, after a contract expires, the couple feels they have worn out their companionship, they are free to separate. Provisions for the separation/divorce would be established with the writing of each contract. It’s cut and dried, with selling of the home and financial details having already been worked out. 

The “until death do us part” of marriage was established at a time when people lived until their thirties to fifties. If a couple got married in their late teens or early twenties, they were married for about 25 years. This was also at a time when both spouses were partners in every aspect of life as they worked the land together and followed the mantra of early to bed, early to rise.   

Today, it’s normal for people to live until they are 80 or 90 years old. If they got married when they were 20, that means they cohabit for 60 to 70 years. There must be a very special bond for a couple to live together for that long. 

Statistics Canada indicates that the divorce rate is decreasing. In the 1980s, it was 41 percent. It was lower in the 1990s at 37 percent, and in the 2000s was 38 percent. However, this isn’t accounting for common-law relationships. Fewer people are getting officially married and choose to simply cohabit as common-law spouses. Their rates of separation aren’t included in the Statistics Canada results. These statistics also do not show how many married couples separate but do not divorce, either because of the costs or because neither plan to remarry. 

I have discussed this issue with many people over the years and this is what I have come to observe: The person we are in our twenties is not who we are later in life. Our likes and dislikes change. We often end up taking one another for granted. Our spouse’s laugh was cute when we met at 20, but after hearing it for 35 years, it becomes annoying.  

There is another factor that may cause the breakdown of relationships: sexual compatibility. Ever since women established their sexual independence with the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, they have been exploring their bodies and wanting gratification, just like men. And when one party decides they are no longer interested in sex, for whatever reason, they are essentially making the decision that their partner will no longer have sex either. Unless the partner becomes unfaithful or the couple decides to have an open relationship, the only way the partner can fulfill their sexual needs is to leave the relationship.

Are we ready for the five-year plan? I don’t think politicians or religious leaders would be willing to accept this concept. Many still believe marriage should be until death do us part, even with the divorce rate so high. I asked a friend who has been in a committed relationship for eight years if there were any plans to get married and the response I got was, “We don’t need a piece of paper to show our love.” Children born out of wedlock are no longer the scandal they used to be, so getting married to have children is no longer a necessity. 

I believe the trend for the future will be common-law relationships, and only those who follow their religious upbringings will be getting married. Maybe the five-year plan is not such a bad way to go.

rikki_muffywasfluffyRikki Dubois is a transgendered Winnipeg writer. She has two sons in university and is living with her partner, Charlene, and their black Pomeranian named Tux. Her book Muffy was Fluffy helps children understand what it means to be transgendered. Rikki is available to help those who have questions about gender dysphoria and other gender-related issues. Visit her website for contact information or for more examples of her written works.

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