Should Marriage Come with an Expiration Date?

Parents holding young daughter's hands

Marriages aren’t like fine wines. They are not harvested in vineyards and they do not always get better with age. However, many marriages far exceed any expiration date. According to a recent article by Matt Richtel, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and columnist, modern marriages—which divorce at rates upward of 50%—may benefit from an exit strategy after, say, five, 10, or 20 years. Richtel said that many marriage contracts already exist. Prenuptial agreements are rampant among the wealthy, some couples who live together make paperless commitments to each other, and many celebrities and politicians have legalized business/marriage agreements. In fact, the idea of contractual marriage has been picked up in Mexico, where lawmakers recently introduced the idea of renewable marriages. Good idea or bad, the law didn’t pass.

But should it have? Should the institution of marriage be updated to keep pace with other cultural advances in areas such as medicine and technology? This was the question that Richtel asked several marriage therapists, psychologists, and divorce attorneys. The responses were varied. Author and professor Pepper Schwartz commented that marriage has been getting picked apart for decades and needs to be fully examined. Today’s marriages have less connection to religion and family, which creates a weaker support system, and modern technology encourages people to expect instant gratification from marriage. Schwartz said something like a 20-year marriage contract is an option, and that nuptial contracts including dowries and financial arrangements are not new.

Dr. Robert E. Emery, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, says the problem with marriage is the expectation of longevity that it comes with. Children of divorced parents bear the immediate emotional devastation of losing one parent, or having their family rhythm disrupted. If the possibility of divorce was anticipated, and marriages were not supposed to last past a certain point, it would be more culturally acceptable and emotionally tolerable. Emery says the best way to approach marriage is to understand that it is not a union filled with unlimited sex with someone who is beyond perfect, but rather an investment of every available resource that can reap emotional, sexual, and physical rewards. “There are good reasons to be romantic about marriage,” Emery said. “The big benefit of marriage is precisely the commitment over the long term.”

Richtel, Matt. Till death, or 20 years, do us part. (n.d.): n. pag. The New York Times. 28 Sept. 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.

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  • heiddie

    October 15th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Marriage is just like anything else. This is something that if you ignore it and hope for the best, then that’s not so much what you will get. This is a relationship that has to be nurtured and cherished. You give up on that and the whole thing is over. I for one am willing to do a little bit better than that for my husband and my family.

  • MsBest

    October 20th, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly

  • Judy

    October 15th, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Wow…Just what we needed.Marriages with an expiry date now!When millions of people have had marriages that last a lifetime why is it that they need an expiration date now?When the problem is with the people that do not let a marriage work and have different expectations then why should the institution of marriage itself suffer and undergo this crazy change?!

  • Adrianne

    October 15th, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    It’s dangerous to assume chidren raised in an environment that anticipates divorce might be healthier for it, or that societal presures against divorce are what is damaging to children. The damage comes from losing a primary caregiver and source of fundemental stability (the home environment as is).

    Even children raised in unhealthy homes resist the idea of change. Their brains have, literally, not developed the necessary tools for longterm over short-term thinking. Telling them mommy or daddy will be going away but that’s okay, or this is better for them in the longterm, does not compute. All they hear is “mommy or daddy is going away”, which equates to “the person responsibile for my survival and on whom I depend completely in this overwhemling world, is going away”.

    Divorce is a reality and many kids survive it just fine with the proper support and co-parenting, but coping with core insecurity and instability is an adult function, and an adult responsibility. Don’t put kids in an environment that forces them to think and act like adults before their brains are finished growing in adulthood.

  • coleman

    October 15th, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Hello people!
    getting married is not like buying milk!
    Milk has a shelf life, marriage shouldn’t.
    And you shouldn’t enter into it with the expectation that it does.

  • Judy P

    October 16th, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    “the problem with marriage is the expectation of longevity that it comes with.”

    This is a problem with marriage? That’s what I happen to like about marriage, knowing that the commitment to one another should be for a lifetime and that this is an institution that I should be able to depend on for me and for my family forever. If one is not in it for the same long haul, then perhaps they should just live together instead of entering into marriage with each other.

  • VC

    October 16th, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    While an expiration date for marriage might seem insane to some people,a not-forever kind of an agreement in the couple’s minds is not a bad thing after all. If the marriage lasts then that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t then it can and will cause a lot of heartache,which I believe can be avoided with the rational idea that it may or may not last forever,right from the beginning.

  • Patricia

    October 17th, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Sad to say we live in a world with quick fixes. If something doesn’t work, find a quick fix! Hey divorce is expensive, why don’t we have an expiry date? What’s next? Will these people also then not bring innocent children into this world? Marriage is sacred and if you can’t respect that, then please don’t engage into getting married. People don’t respect that, hence the high divorce rate. Its time to go back to basics, and take responsibility not too make harsh decisions that put you in a person’s bed!

  • benson

    October 17th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    You can’t just let a marriage go and think that it will take care of itself. It needs some TLC to grow and flourish. But to just say that you should be able to trade yours in for a newer model if you are kind of tired of it, well, then, I think that’s just being fairly selfish if you ask me.

  • MsBest

    October 20th, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    Marriage is a commitment!!! You have to be committed to making it the best you can and that both parties. You don’t just give up when times get hard or changes and difficulties arise. You commit to doing the work it requires. You commit to giving you all and fighting for the survival of you marriage. You committ to being loving and understand and most of all you must communicate and compromise. In marriage it is important to remember you bond by Love to this person and Love never dies. A true marriage based on the proper principles can survive. You became one and must work as one.

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