The New Millennial Marriage: Idealistic or Realistic?

Studies show that 45 to 55% of people will stray at some point in their marriage. Some marriages may appear monogamous on the surface, but have secret affairs. Some have affairs and recover, moving on to a more committed type of marriage. Some partners negotiate a more fluid type of monogamy with outside partners or sexual agreements that do not threaten their emotional monogamy. The integrity of the relationship is maintained through emotional commitment, not sexual exclusivity.

This passage excerpted from an article entitled The Future of Marriage by Tammy Nelson, PhD, in a Huffpost Divorce section is both a stark reality and a breath of fresh air. The reality gleaned from the cited statistic is that monogamy is hard pressed these days. Over half of marriages or more, depending upon whether the “some marriages” that “appear monogamous” are included in those statistics, involve cheating, straying, non-monogamy–pick a term that appears descriptive or indicting as you please. The hopeful part is the elasticity potential of marriage as a lasting institution–if the participants acknowledge the nature of marriage as a constant set of negotiable points, as a pact of two (most often the case nationally) with constituent parts of emotionality, physicality, mentality and spirituality, and that all of those constitutional needs are not met in one person.

In addition to a more fluid definition of marriage, the article also addresses a concomitant fluidity about divorce, which reflects current trends of “conscious uncoupling” and “divorcing with integrity,” what the doctor asserts is a possibility given the trend toward mediation and out of court options. She states that “Divorce can be heartbreaking, for both partners,” and so, implicitly, couples would want to seek more civil ways, less heartbreaking ways to divorce, she states.

Though Dr. Nelson may be right about the trends toward mediation and less combative ways of de-coupling, most probably due to financial considerations than the foresight to avoid heartbreaking battles, I am dubious of her prognostication about kinder, gentler divorces.

Having been a divorce lawyer for over two decades, I know divorce is devastating, whether the divorce is consensual or non-consensual. Divorce is like death, includes the same stages of shock, denial, anger and acceptance, in most cases. It IS a death of a relationship, a marriage, an expectation, a family, a future, and a life envisioned and lived. Facilitating hundreds of divorces in 24 years, I cannot deny there is heartbreak, but there is also hatred, fear, insurmountable loss, guilt, sense of failure, vengeance and often temporary insanity, among a host of other human emotions.

Divorces destroy men, women and children, a little or a lot. They often leave permanent scars. And it is not only because people do not know how to behave. It just may be due in part to the delusion of what marriage promises historically but not currently–a life-long betrothal of two, dipped in everlasting love and sacrifice. The probability of two people growing in the same direction with static needs is, well, hovering still at about 50%, which has been the steady first-time divorce rate for at least the last ten years of my practicing law.

The ideology of marriage is endorsed socially through media imagery, parental lore and financial incentives permeating the laws of the land (tax and insurance). Perhaps the broken promise of societal “norms” and the deception of popular television and magazine images are reasons for the incendiary explosion that divorce is oftentimes. Until that ideology changes, divorces will be experienced as they are–the death of a dream.

So, I agree with the doctor that there needs to be revisions to the myth of marriage; it needs adjusting to reflect the realities and trends she outlines in her article. Perhaps a revised marriage concept will lead to corresponding divorce expectations and thereby less destruction. But it’s not there yet.

The article is interesting; the following passages are particularly intriguing, even if perhaps a stretch:

In the future, in order to avoid this, marriage will be defined by shorter, more renewable contracts, in five year increments, or smaller two year contracts with options to renew. These agreements will be revisited at the end of their lease, and either renewed or ended, depending on how the requirements and expectations of the contract are being fulfilled. Both partners will make the decision to stay and renew or both will agree to move on. We renew our license every four years, why not renew our marriage contract?

In the future, gay marriage will have been legal for decades. More arrangements between couples will include open marriages with sexual agreements, polyamory will be more common and perhaps even polygamy will be visited in the legal system.

More of us will be bisexual, transexual and even more sexually androgonous than ever before. More babies will be born without clear gender identity and will not have surgery to assign a sex. We will judge less on sexual identity and more on how we treat one another

Since the majority of her predictions are based on a definition of marriage, she must be right about that definition or the conclusions she draws from those premises fail. Is she right about the five components of marriage?

12 Replies to “The New Millennial Marriage: Idealistic or Realistic?”

  1. For years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen to me that it’s time to change the marriage contract into renewable contracts.

    1. You apparently have support on that. I remember 5 or 6 years ago giving my students a proposal project to solve the divorce problem in California and a couple of groups came up with the marriage contract renewable then.

  2. Your words “death of a dream” says it all. People should enter it with the best intentions regardless of the outcome and be able to grow and adjust. It is unreasonable to think the growth that occurs withing anyone is going to be in parallel with any other thing other than a tree. People grow apart, even in astrological progressions, people’s astrological compatibility changes with the years, and yet some make it through a life time together. They say married men live longer, there must be something to it very positive.

  3. Still have to point out, that over half of people do not stray according to the statistics sighted. What about the ones who don’t? Are they just in Iowa or is this really closer to the norm, not straying that is?

    1. There must be a way, but doesn’t it seem like a hard thing to quantify? How many do you have to survey and how are the questions framed: Do you cheat? Straying, does it include lusting in your heart, like Jimmy Carter, or kissing or pinching someone’s ass or is it just sex? How much sex? Does a blow job constitute cheating? Is it something you know when you see it?

  4. I can only say anyone knows in their heart when they are doing the wrong thing.
    Betraying a betrothal is not hard to define considering the potential reaction of the one betrayed, therein lies your boundaries.
    Laws, morals and such are all extensions of what is in the heart, that voice that speaks to us, even the worst among us.
    Mitigating circumstances, trying to pigeon hole and label acts and betrayals in all their shades with a legal code, all backed by a man with a gun and a lock up, why most justice is injustice perhaps.
    It’s choice, even in a biblical sense, at least to me, between loyalty and integrity, to being otherwise. The bottom line is you are left with how you feel about yourself. That is the real clincher I think, your self image, the truth you have to face about yourself.

    1. I believe laws and morals are not necessarily derive from the heart. Many are merely organizing and so calculations of the mind. Also, many laws and morals are not enduring absolutes but relative to specific times. Adultery is not punishable by death so much any more in most parts of the world.

  5. I was considering the whole process of mitigating moralities with law from the time of the Hammurabi’s code. In other words it’s like trying to catch air and paint it green. The concepts in the heart were such that it demanded a code when enough of us gathered in one spot to warrant it. What do we do with a murderer among us?
    Was trying to elude to that feeling, that voice that speaks. The consciousness that knows those simple acts of lying, cheating and stealing are a feeling that we interpret as a wrong thing. What is that feeling? Where does it come from? The heart? I was thinking it would, I don’t know what else to call it. Words are so limiting and again, it’s a label.
    My idea was to say it is always an attempt, like trying to catch a cloud or give them names as they go by so you can recall them later.
    Don’t know if that makes sense.

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