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?