Making Marriage Better

When it comes to the current discussion about marriage equality, there’s one topic that seems to be overlooked. Improvement. How we can make marriage better.

It seems that in our push to achieve equality, we may be overlooking, and even ignoring, opportunities that exist to make marriage a better, stronger and more relevant institution in the 21st century.

Change and marriage go together like, well a horse and carriage. Constant change, evolution and yes, improvement are at the very heart of the institution of marriage. What once used to be an imposed, patriarchal, transactional occurrence has been radically transformed. It’s now one of our most powerful cultural symbols. It’s based on free choice, commitment and love. Allowing same sex couples to get married is simply a continuation of a long history of change and improvement.

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While it’s fundamentally important for same sex couples to have equal access to this institution, it seems as good a time as any to discuss whether this institution that we’re wanting to join, could benefit from some further improvements (other than our participation in it).

As it stands at the moment, marriage (of the heterosexual kind) has a divorce rate of roughly 50%. That means that one out of two couples that recites the ’till death do us part’ vows, chooses the escape clause before that fateful event takes place. Unfortunately practice doesn’t make perfect as divorce statistics actually increase for subsequent marriages.

A 50% failure rate of an institution we’re fighting to join is a huge issue. So why are we not talking about it? Is it because we’ve just become so used to it that it no longer rates as newsworthy? Or is it because we think (hope) that it won’t apply to us?…Whatever the answer, ignoring an issue in the hope it simply goes away by itself is not the best approach to be taking.

Let’s talk about it, raise some ideas, get people thinking and hopefully together, we can come up with some changes and improvements to make marriage even better. Here are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

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Make it time based

Is there anything in life that you enter into for life? Education takes 12 years. You get a car loan, that’s 5 years. Even a 25-30 year mortgage has an end date. So, why is marriage the sole exception and the one thing that we’re expected to commit to for the rest of our lives?

It doesn’t really make sense. Life is about change and growth. The person you were in your 20s, will be vastly different (hopefully, at least) than the person you’ll be in your 40s. This isn’t a bad thing or something to try and avoid. If anything, it should be encouraged.

Personal growth is a natural by product of change. Yet marriage is currently set up as being anti-change. We’re essentially making two people promise to love, look after and honour each other until they die, irrespective of how they, or their partner, changes during this time. That doesn’t seem logical.

So why not remove the ‘forever’ clause from marriage? Let’s make it time based instead. Both parties agree to whatever time frame suits them. It can be one year, or 10, or even just a few months. Then you get married, and stay married, for that time. Lo and behold, the divorce rate drops. In fact, divorce becomes almost obsolete. Obviously it needs to remain an option in cases where it may be needed, but why would you get divorced if your marriage license is up for renewal next year anyway?

By making it time based, it may also stay at the forefront of people’s minds more. It’s easy to take someone for granted if you’re operating on the assumption that you’re going to be with them forever. Not having that certainty of forever though, may make people appreciate each other a bit more, and put a bit more work into themselves and their marriages. Not a bad thing either, right?

Pre-nup, pre-nup, pre-nup

It might not be sexy and romantic, but neither is losing your house, superannuation or children in an acrimonious divorce. A pre-nuptial agreement is basically a legal document that states who gets what in the event of the marriage ending. At the moment, they seem to be the domain of the rich, famous and powerful. They should be mandatory for everyone getting married.

That way, at the end of the agreed upon term of the marriage, there are no unpleasant surprises. Each party knows what they’re entitled to and what they’re going to get.

You’d also factor in things such as children into the pre-nup. That way neither party is left high and dry and with kids. Even though marriages could work for a fixed term, children are forever. It’s only fair and reasonable to make long-term plans to ensure they’re looked after and provided for until they reach adulthood and can look after themselves.

Pre-nups also help take the sting out of what is already a pretty prickly time in your life. The emotional impact of a marriage dissolving is traumatic enough without having to fight over assets. Having a predetermined and mutually agreed upon outcome will at least provide a certain degree of certainty and hopefully comfort, in an otherwise painful time.

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Pass a test before you apply

I find it amazing that so many newlyweds know so little about each other. You’d think people who are about to enter into a lifelong commitment with one another would talk about concepts such as having children, fidelity, even household chores before getting married. It seems this isn’t always the case.

All engaged couples should be required sit a test which they both have to pass. The test asks them questions about their partner that they need to be able to answer. There are no right or wrong answers, just matching ones. You get asked what your favourite colour is, and your partner answers the same question as well. You pass when both of you answer the same questions in the same way.

There should also be be questions about more serious matters, such as each other’s communication styles. If you’re the kind of person who needs to be alone for a while when you get angry, your partner a) needs to know about this, b) understand how to give you the space you need and c) know how to raise the matter after enough time has passed so that it can be dealt with and resolved. Mismatched communication styles are one of the most potentially toxic causes for misunderstandings in relationships.