Marriage is rarely ‘until death do us part’

Here’s how we imagine marriage will be: We stand before the people who matter to us — parents, relatives, friends — and we vow to love, honor and cherish our beloved “until death do us part.”   ST_2014-11-14_remarriage-01

Except, many of us have replaced “until death do us part” with “for as long as our love shall last” or something along those lines, which has made some people nervous. “They have divorce in mind — they’re wary. It’s just realism,” says the Rev. Bonnie Nixon, a Torrance, California, non-denominational minister.

What’s wrong with realism — isn’t that better than some fairytale version of marriage? Because the latest stats indicate that “until death do us part” isn’t what a good portion of us experience. According to the Pew Research Center, four out of 10 new marriages last year included at least one partner who had been married before, and a good percentage who haven’t yet are interested in doing so.

Which seems to indicate that, no, marriage is not going away anytime soon.

But the new report also highlights an important fact that conservatives would do be smart to pay attention to — the people who are having second and third marriages tend to be those with high school diplomas only:

Newlyweds with just a high school diploma are almost twice as likely as those with a bachelor’s degree to be entering their third marriage (9% vs. 5%, respectively). Some 8% of newlyweds without a high school diploma have been married at least twice before.

So rather than make divorce harder for couples with small children, and rather than spend millions on promoting marriage as a way to get people out of poverty (which doesn’t work, by the way), why not put that energy into helping people get college degrees? Or, better yet, give each would-be divorced couple a copy of The New I Do and  help them transform their marriage into a Parenting Marriage. Just a thought …

 

A new way to save your marriage for yourself — and your kids

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What do you do when you feel that the love you once shared with your mate has disappeared with no possibility of revival, but you adore your children and can’t imagine spending even one day apart from them?

Until now, the options have been:

1. Stay miserable in your marriage in service of giving your kids a stable home;
2. Work “harder” on the marriage in therapy and convince yourself that if you can somehow see your spouse differently or tap into the part of you that fell in love with him or her, you’ll be fine;
3. Have an illicit affair that makes being home seem more tolerable;
4. Divorce and just accept that you can’t see your kids every day (but feel consoled that you get to talk to them on a daily basis).

Maintaining a romantic bond for years on end is challenging, but adding kids to the mix and keeping a romantic connection the entire length of the relationship is extremely challenging, if not impossible (even with all the great advice books out there on the topic).

Admittedly, there is no good choice when your marriage is over. There are just less-bad options.

The alternative The New I Do proposes doesn’t offer a cure-all for the troubled relationship, but it does provide a better lifestyle option for what we believe matters most — the children. It’s called a Parenting Marriage and it is pretty much what it sounds like: A non-romantic union centered around raising healthy kids.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s not what marriage is supposed to be about.” Others of you might be thinking, “That’s what we already do. How is this Parenting Marriage different from traditional marriage?”

A Parenting Marriage is different in some significant ways, not the least of which is that it’s a conscious choice the couple makes together, as we saw San Francisco Valerie and Clark Tate do in last week’s post, not simply a holding pattern they have fallen into.

Couples stay stuck in a bad marriage for a few reasons. Sometimes they want to avoid having a difficult conversation about their marital blahs for fear of hurting their spouse. Yet, the hurt and devastation caused by not talking (and having the cliché nightmare ending) is far worse.

Another reason is that it’s not socially acceptable to stray from the love-based model that lasts forever. In fact, we deem a marriage “successful” by how long it lasts. How ironic that we hold those who have unhappy and unconscious marriages as acceptable or even normal, but we ostracize those who create conscious agreements to change the purpose of their marriage.

Another reason is that there has never before been a map or language to help people create a Parenting Marriage. It’s like the difference between having GPS and not having it: couples might eventually find a place that feels right in their couplehood, but with this marital GPS, they can see exactly where they want to go and how to get there.

Marriage is changing in so many ways these days and the rigid paradigm of Ozzie and Harriet is going by the wayside at breakneck speeds.

People are beginning to realize that they have the option to stay single or to get divorced without shame; they have the option to marry later or marry several times without shame. Now, couples are starting to see that they can renegotiate the terms of their marriage without shame.

While a Parenting Marriage isn’t right for every couple, it’s certainly worth looking into.

Here are the key elements:

1. Both spouses agree and accept (and this acceptance is crucial) that the marriage they used to have is over. That is, the love-based relationship is over.
2. Both spouses agree that the primary purpose of their marriage now is to be good co-parents and raise healthy kids in as stable an environment as possible.
3. Together, both spouses will tell the kids honestly and openly about the changing nature of the marriage so that they don’t have to wonder.
(Note that some couples need a temporary break—a time-out, if you will. One couple lived apart for 18 months.)
4. Both spouses agree on the terms of their new marriage. Examples include one sleeping upstairs, the other downstairs; agreeing on a schedule of time with the kids; agreeing to separate financial obligations other than those that impact the family (mortgage, insurance payments, etc.); agreeing that in their free time, they can go anywhere, see anyone and do anything they wish; that each can have another relationship but that no one is introduced to the kids without prior permission.

 

A Parenting Marriage in action

One of the most controversial marital models in The New I Do is no doubt the Parenting Marriage (although some might say the Open Marriage or the Safety Marriage — we’ll let you decide!)

What makes the Parenting Marriage hard to understand for some is that we ask you to choose the best person to co-parent with, not the best romantic partner,  soul mate, The One, or  the person who is going to “complete” you. You marry someone with the same values and goals about parenting and children, and who is as hand-on dedicated to being the best parent he or she can be. If you want to give your children the love, support and stability they need to thrive, marrying for love is not the way to go. All you have to do is look at the high divorce rate to know that’s true.  uncoupling

Children do not need their parents to love each other. But they absolutely need their parents to not fight with each other. As child psychologist Naeema Jiwani, says, “Compared with conventional parenting where the mother and father have to constantly be ‘in love’ in front of their child, co-parenting doesn’t include the ‘strain’ of marriage.’”

And, as we point out in our book, you can restructure the marriage you are already into a Parenting Marriage. We’ve spoken to couples who have done that, and done it well. And many have done it with Susan’s help.

So this week’s story on Nightline, about San Francisco couple Valerie and Clark Tate, caught our eye (earlier this year, they told their story to the New York Times‘ Unhitched column). They have transformed their marriage into a Parenting Marriage for the sake of their son. Read on:

 

In front of all their friends and their 10-year-old son, Clark and Valerie Tate came together for a special ceremony on a California beach.

But this couple wasn’t renewing their vows. They were “uncoupling.”

In a new age ritual that might only be found in San Francisco, Clark and Valerie took the wedding rings they exchanged 14 years ago and gave them back to each other.

“These rings do not symbolize who we are to each other anymore,” Clark said.

“So we’re releasing them,” Valerie added.

They no longer consider each other husband and wife, not even romantic partners, but they have decided to continue living together in the same house in order to raise their son Jonah together.

In other words, it might be the most amicable divorce-non-divorce in history.

“We grieved a lot of our relationship so long ago, this is just sort of marking the time,” Valerie said.

Divorce often gets ugly and expensive. Even actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin decided to “consciously uncouple” earlier this year.

The Tates, who went with their own version of “uncoupling,” believed this was a way to break up their marriage without animosity, but it required an unconventional approach — Clark and Valerie still live together in the same house, with separate bedrooms, and maintain joint assets, but have an open marriage, meaning they date other people.

Read the rest of the story here, watch the video here and then tell us what you think.

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!