Cartoon from Make4Fun.com
Just been reading this story out of Germany from a few days ago, where a German politician has proposed limiting marital vows to seven years. Supposedly it’s to make marriage more accommodating and would avoid the seven-year-itch, but as you can imagine it’s garnering all kinds of criticism from conservative and family groups.
At first it struck me as a publicity stunt, but the more I think about it the more it seems like quite a gutsy suggestion. There’s no doubt that the way we look at marriage has changed in recent years; with 34 per cent of marriages in Australia and 50 per cent in the US ending in divorce, fewer people are placing an emphasis on marriage. I wouldn’t say I agree with Gabriele Pauli, but it’s making people think and talk about marriage, and that’s a good thing.
My main problem with the idea is that it could give the impression that commitment is something to be treated lightly; if you think you’re only committing to a person for a given period of time, can you truly invest yourself in that person? And what happens if you agree to a seven year licence and find you don’t want to renew it, but have children in those seven years; you don’t have a messy divorce, but emotionally is it really any different to the scenarios we have now?
I think a lot of the problems we have with commitment stem from this perfect ideal we set for our partners that they can never live up to. You hear this idea of “The One” pop up in movies and TV and real life; a person has to look a certain way, be a certain height. They have to match this idea we have in our heads before we’ll even consider them as a partner. But that doesn’t mean they’re the most compatible person for us; once the early attraction wears off, we find ourselves in a relationship that isn’t sustainable. It’s this idea that we have to be swept off our feet, our heart has to stop and we feel light-headed and in luuurve. Sorry, that’s not love – that’s a myocardial infarction. We’re dooming our relationships to fail before they start.
But I suppose it’s understandable we’d want to be cautious as well; we’ve seen our parents, siblings, friends go through the pain of a separation or a bad break-up; we want to be sure the person meets our standards so we won’t make the same mistakes. And maybe that’s why this idea isn’t such a bad one. It’s not romantic but if two partners know the prospect of a messy divorce doesn’t apply but still have the option of a lifelong partnership, I can see that leading into an increase in marriages and a change in how we look at our prospective partners. It also wouldn’t be replacing traditional marriage as such, just offering another option, so I don’t think it would devalue marriage as much as some are suggesting.
It’s probably ironic that Gabriele Pauli is a two-time divorcee, but you could say that’s given her the inspiration as well. I’m torn on it myself, but I am glad something different is being suggested. I’m part of the generation that’s somewhat jaded with marriage; I’ve only ever considered myself to be in love once and to be honest, I don’t see myself getting married. I don’t define myself by who I’m with; if it happens, great, but I’m not looking for it. And I know there a lot of other people who feel the same way I do. What’s happening is that we’re defining what marriage means in the 21st century, to a generation faced with debt and climate change. I think it’s good that conversation has started.
Anyway, I wonder what you think? Is the idea of lasting love a thing of the past? Leave me a comment and let me know. 😉
One thought on “Love and marriage”
What a provocative topic! It seems kind of bizarre to me to limit marriage to a specific time frame. I do think that marriage has been defined in a certain way for a long, long time. Historically is was often more a business contract than a romantic one. It would be a good idea, IMO, to encourage each potential marriage mate to really consider what kind of contract they wish to enter into and why. Certainly children, financial and social/personal issues should be discussed. I think it would be heartbreaking if, at the end of seven years, one partner wanted to renew and the other did not. “You were OK for 6 1/2 years, but hey, life is short, I want to move on!”
I certainly wouldn’t want someone to feel forced to stay in a living situation that did not delight them, though.
But that brings up another question. What if after, say, 4 years, you determine your partner is intolerable. Do you still have to wait 3 more years to divest yourself of that person? The whole thing is just so strange. In my home state of California (I don’t live there now) they have a “domestic partner agreement” where two people of any gender combination can register and receive benefits such as sharing health insurance, and hospital visitation rights. This seems a better alternative than a time limit.
Your eclectic content continues to inform 🙂
CJ: Eclectic! I like the sound of that! I’ll just have to stop it from going to my head… oh wait, too late. 😛
A lot of it does seem a bit bizarre, but at the same time it’s something new and at least Pauli’s putting the idea out there. Your point about historically marriage being more of a contract or partnership is interesting; perhaps that’s what’s missing with a lot of marriages now. We get so wrapped up in the romantic idea of marriage that we don’t always work out all the practicalities first; there’s nothing wrong with being in love, but perhaps that’s one reason why there’s such bitterness when things turn sour, because we don’t plan for it.
I think legally a couple would still be able to separate before the 7 years; it’s just that they would have the option of not renewing it at the end of the 7. But you’re right, what would happen if one partner wanted to renew but the other didn’t; could they separate on just the word of one partner, without counselling or reconciliation? And what about spousal support, would that apply at the end of the 7 years? There seem to be a few grey areas in the idea and they might be a big problem in the end.
We have similar civil agreements in Aus, though they don’t go quite as far as California (I support full legal unions, so I’d like to see them go a lot further). Legally they seem like a better option, but the problem is they’re still not technically marriage; whether they would go far enough to satisfy people, I’m not sure. I think this whole idea seems to have raised more questions than it’s answered… I might have to do another post! 😉
Btw, my parents have been married for 24 years now, so maybe I’ll just have to follow their lead. 🙂