Susan Pease Gadoua, author of Stronger Day by Day, suggests in a Huffington Post article that the institution of marriage needs an overhaul because to her knowledge no one is asking the intended why they’re getting married. Susan makes a lot of assumptions and generalizations about marriage—to her knowledge. Her plan would be to replace marital unions with contracts such as the 20-year “parenting marriage.
I was going to say this is the dumbest thing ever said about marriage, but Susan isn’t talking about marriage. She’s talking about prenuptial agreements, which already exist—as does the freedom to get as crazy as you want to about them. Unless Susan’s observations are based on cultural preferences from 1965, it’s simply not true that our cultural standard is, as Susan puts it, “forever.” Every state’s divorce statistics and crowded family courts bear this out.
Saying marriage itself needs her kind of overhaul because of the number of marriages that don’t last is like saying we need to widen the roads because texting drivers are plowing into oncoming lanes and adjacent properties. No matter one’s reason for marrying, everyone gets out of a marriage what they put into it—whether that’s honest communication and growth, a pack of lies (overt or covert, conscious or subconscious), or a hope chest of delusions (i.e.: S/he drinks so heavily because s/he’s really thirsty). That’s not just true of the day two people decide to marry or the day they do marry. That’s true of every day they wake up married to each other.
Each person’s answer to the question of “why” isn’t made magically apparent by whipping up a contract. At best a contract would keep “why not” to a minimum. Even in those cases where premarital counseling isn’t received (where often the first question asked is “why”) and/or in cases where the family and friends doesn’t ask, a contract could easily become a legal noose around the neck of the spouse who didn’t or couldn’t have foreseen whatever craziness the other snuck in under the bottom line.
Contracts aren’t fences that keep honest people honest. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be predatory lenders and their ilk. I assume a “parenting marriage” would include details about who will tell the kids about the parents’ upcoming termination of contract and when. That has to be the gift every child wants most for their tenth birthday: a ten-year head start on dealing with their parents’ divorce. Sorry kiddo, I meant “contract termination”—that hurts less, right? Further, how is it any less an emotional bombshell to the spouse who thought everything was going fine only to hear on the eve of the contract terminating that the other spouse wants out?
I married when I was 23 and 28 years old. There is no way in hell I’d let a woman of either age write a contract I’d now have to adhere to or else; but that’s exactly what Susan is suggesting. I left my first marriage for reasons my 23-year-old self never could have imagined, let alone put in a contract. Susan’s own years of wisdom and experience lack one very important component: Not everyone is her. Has she talked to as many successfully married couples as she has divorced people? If so, is she seriously suggesting feedback from the former was overwhelmingly pro-contract?
As an atheist in a 21-year-long marriage, I feel offended by Susan’s notion that the fixed and inelastic nature of a contract would do anything for a marriage other than have an atrophic effect on the two people involved and the union they’ve created. This is tantamount to planting a seedling in a box and pronouncing it a failure when it doesn’t mature through the one hole providing a minimum of sunlight, water, and room for growth. I can’t imagine any religious institution blessing such an arrangement.
Heterosexuals (and homosexuals in the small number of states that allow them to marry) already have their pick of the type and length of marriage they want. Their choice is made when they marry and again every day after that. In those cases where love is not enough, prenuptial agreements are available for the asking. Susan’s suggestion that others should opt for a contractual marriage is a projection of her own needs, which could sooner be met by her coming right out with them rather than hiding them behind her ideas of what anyone else should do.