When the idea of legal marriage was first established, it was a way of ensuring that men didn’t take advantage of women. The law was set that if a man was going to sleep with and impregnate a woman, thereby taking away her value to new men, he was bound to removing her burden from her parents and caring for her and her children the rest of his life. If she became sick, ugly, old, or naggy it didn’t matter, because he had bought her and that was that.
It was extremely important for a woman to NEVER sleep with a man before he signed a marriage contract, because otherwise he might sleep with her, impregnate her, and leave her with a bastard child that would be unsupported and unclaimed, and she would have no legal right to get his support.
Women couldn’t support themselves, and it was hard to find a new man to support them should the old one leave, because they already claimed and couldn’t be claimed again. So legally, if the husband did leave, he was required to give her a certificate of divorce. The divorce certificate made her legally back on the market, so that if another man should want to buy her, he could. It legitimized her.
To leave and not give her a divorce certificate, would insure her destitution, because no one would be able to marry her again. Marriage allowed the woman to file a claim against the man for support, because he was her legal husband, so marriage was important. Not supporting or divorcing his legal wife and children was a shameful thing for a man to do. He was reneging on his promise to pay for something he was using. As was a married woman who was sleeping with someone in addition to her husband who didn’t have to foot the bill. Thus, adulteress and divorcee became some of the worst titles people could have.
These logistics (which are still very real in many areas of the world) morphed into culture, and regardless of how much the logistics have changed in the developed world, the culture has remained. Therefore there are large doses of shame dished out for filing a divorce in the modern world, even though women can support themselves, and men are required to take care of children regardless of their relationship with the mother. I think it’s time we redefined a few things for the sake of our personal acceptance, don’t you?
A New Definition of Marriage and Divorce
All my life I was taught that marriage is a lifelong contract, and that breaking that contract would make me a bad person. Sound familiar? A successful marriage is traditionally defined as a long marriage.
“They’ve been together 50 years!”
Everyone applauds in amazement.
“How do they do it?”
But what if those 50 years were miserable? What if they were only married because of the contract? Was it successful then, or was it a 50 year failure? All the value is placed on the contract, not the relationship. And that’s because culturally we’re all still saying “Till death do us part…” regardless of relationship.
So does this make marriage an outdated concept? Should we just not get married at all? We certainly don’t have to anymore. Men are required to support their children whether they’re married or not, and women can not only support themselves, but be seen as valuable even if they’re not a virgin. But I think marriage still has a place in this new society.
I propose that instead of marriage being a contract, it officially becomes a statement. A statement not based on a time period, but rather on a quality relationship.
“We are one unit. There is now an us, not two separate entities that are in a relationship, but a whole new entity that we are both a piece of. We both represent each other now. We make important decisions together, and we’re not on the prowl for new relationships. We are off the market, so it is inappropriate for you to try and woo us. We feel safe with our hearts’ in each other’s hands, and so we can make big purchases like a house, and bring children into this world knowing they will have a family that loves them. We are also going to share the burden now, helping each other however we can. Essentially, if one of us goes up or down, we’re going with them. We trust each other more than anyone else to make life, death, and health decisions for us, and we want each other to receive the remainder of our estate in the case of our death.”
While this is usually why people actually get married now days, it’s not the standard that is held up by society once the marriage is in tact. The contract is. So if one of the partners in a marriage stops loving the other, or makes the home a living hell, or the two just simply change and grow in completely different directions, they are expected to maintain the contract for the contract’s sake. For this reason, when two people get divorced (which happens more often than not), these individuals feel like failures for breaking the contract, and large amounts of shame follow them around. If it had just been a statement, they could make a new statement should they decide to divorce.
“We are no longer one unit. Where there was once an us, we have now grown into two different people. We no longer feel like our values line up, and so we don’t represent each other well. Important decisions are impossible to make together, as we don’t agree anymore. All of this has led to endless fighting and we no longer feel safe with our hearts in each other’s hands. We are going to sell our house, because it’s just a house. We both still love our children and will work together to create a comfortable life for them from two separate homes. We will split up our joint financial responsibilities according to the income stability of each, and make a clean break with any joint agreements. We will rename a new individual to handle life, death, and estate decisions, because we no longer trust that the opposite party has our best interest at heart. We loved our relationship when we were compatible, but we are no longer compatible. We are hurt, different, and looking for positive change in our lives. We believe this decision will be a first step towards that positive change for each of us. Thank you for your support and understanding in this difficult time.”I propose changing #marriage from a contract to a statement. Click To Tweet
This is really why we get divorced anyway, isn’t it? It’s not because we didn’t have what it took to grit it out and make it last 50 years. We just value our quality of life and have the privilege of pursuing it. We can find more compatible people, or spend time alone to pursue our dreams in a way our old spouse wouldn’t have given us room for. Divorce is a HUGE privilege.
Both marriage and divorce are messy, complicated ordeals. I’m not discounting that. I don’t think we should be fickle with our relationships and run out on them for small insignificant reasons. I’m also not saying that divorce doesn’t hurt people, adults and children alike. I have been with my husband for 19 years, and we have had some really hard times, and my parents are divorced, so I know what it feels like to go through that as a child. So please understand that I am not speaking from ignorance.
What I’m saying is that we should value love and emotional health over contracts. We should be with people because we want to be with people, not because we are obligated to be with people. And we should never shame another person for not sticking with a contract because they were unhappy.
The goal in life is not to have a long happy marriage. That’s not what makes you a good or bad person. The goal is to be alive. To always grow and experience new parts of yourself. People love each other best when they are alive. It breeds a genuine, from the core love.
We need to congratulate people who have the courage to change everything in order to reach a healthier place in their life. They have chosen to let go of an old dream, and the entire comfort zone surrounding that dream, and embrace a new one. That requires a lot of strength.Congratulate people who have the courage to change everything to reach a healthier place in life. Click To Tweet
I challenge you to let go of the shame tied to the idea of living “happily ever after”, and instead, focus on loving yourself for anything and everything you are.
Editor’s note: After posting this article I came across the term “conscious uncoupling“, made famous by Gweneth Paltrow’s site Goop, after her divorce. I think it’s a great term and enjoyed their explanation.