Should marriage have an expiration date?

A few years ago, Brad Pitt rocked the world when he announced that his marriage to Jennifer Aniston was over. When pressed for a reason as to why he was ending their union, he said he simply felt that the relationship was complete. Although rumors abounded that Angelina Jolie was already on the scene with Brad, those suspicions were never proven true. marital contract

When Al and Tipper Gore announced that, after 40 years together, their marriage was over, many were shocked. Once again, there were no public scandals, but those close to them said they had subtle cracks in their nuptial foundation.

While there is no shortage of marital dissolutions in this country because of affairs or some other kind of wrongdoing, those that end for no apparent reason, really throw us. It’s as if we need some sort of reason so we can feel a sense of control over our own environment. If there is no person, place or thing that we can point to as the cause of the downfall of a marriage, that means that anybody’s marriage is subject to terminate at any time “just because.” This notion puts all of us on edge a bit.

We are constantly seeking security and permanence. It’s why we make marriage contracts that are legally binding, it’s why we make people take vows that they will stay in their marriage, and it’s why we instill notions of  until death do us part and happily ever after.

Is that sense of permanence just an illusion?

What if marriages have life spans just like all living entities do? What if we took away the judgment that a marriage “failed” and saw it as just being complete? After all, we don’t characterize loved ones who die as “failing to stay alive.” Why, then, can’t we step back and accept that it’s OK to accept that unions end sometimes? Rather than setting up people to fail by giving them an unending sentence, why don’t we provide expiration or renewal dates so that those who want or need out, can do so with dignity?

The pros might be:

  • It could potentially significantly reduce the cost (emotionally, mentally and financially) of divorce
  • People might put a continued effort into keeping the union healthy and alive knowing that their vow renewal was contingent on this effort;
  • The institution of marriage might be made stronger in that those who are not marriage material would not stay married.

The cons might be:

  • As always, the greatest complication of marriages that don’t last is that there are often children involved (but what’s it like now?)
  • People might not take the commitment of marriage seriously (but do they now?)
  • Many might say it’s not “marriage” because marriage is meant to be forever (but is it now?)

What do you think?