- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is the future of marriage a thoughtful, loving, five-year legal contract with an option to renew?

That’s the view of some marriage reformers, who think it’s time to stop asking people to change themselves to fit into the traditional marriage model and instead change the institution.

Old-fashioned marriage, which upholds lifelong monogamy and commitment, “sets up too many people for failure,” co-authors Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson say in their new book, “The New ‘I Do’: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” published by Seal Press.

Since there are already seven models of marriages operating in the United States — including “starter,” “parenting” and “open” marriages — our goal is to “normalize what is already happening,” they write.

The “New ‘I Do’” book comes on the heels of a Time magazine article that cited a survey saying 43 percent of millennial-age adults are open to two-year-long trial marriages.

“Beta” marriage would permit a couple to test and “deglitch” a relationship, and then either formalize it or abandon it without going through a divorce, said the Time article by pop culture writer Jessica Bennett.

Young Americans like the idea of trial marriage because they already think “everything is in beta” and “life is a work in progress,” study author Melissa Lavigne-Delville told Time. “It’s not that [the millennials] are entirely noncommittal,” she said. “It’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

Meanwhile, others are standing up for traditional marriage.

“Easy-exit” marriages and out-of-wedlock childbearing already have deprived children of the stability, love, guidance and financial security that is usually provided in two-parent married households, Chris Gersten, co-chairman of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, said in an article called “Note to Millennials: It’s Not All About You.”

“Our goal must be to strengthen the institution of marriage in order to give more children a chance to be raised” by such married parents, wrote Mr. Gersten, whose group recommends ways to discourage divorce, especially among families with children.

“You don’t deglitch relationships by threatening to leave your partner every two, seven or 10 years,” author Lori Lowe wrote on her blog, “Marriage Gems.” To the contrary, she said, “it’s the nature of commitment itself that allows partners to trust, relax and grow together.”

There’s a “yearning and a hunger” out there about marriage, but “it’s not to know how to make marriage more like buying clothing or test-driving a car,” said Seth Eisenberg, president and chief executive of Pairs Foundation, a relationship-skills education organization based in Florida.

They want to know how to “protect the relationship with the person they fall in love with so they can sustain the commitment and dreams that they have,” said Mr. Eisenberg. “I see people being very willing to do the work of the relationship if they have a road map that gives them the best chance of being successful.”

According to federal data, young Americans are delaying marriage far longer than their parents or grandparents — the median age of marriage is now 29 for men and 27 for women. Today’s young Americans might even become the generation with the lowest marriage rate in U.S. history, the Pew Research Center said in a report.

High rates of cohabiting, unwed childbearing and divorce offer even more evidence that “marriage as we know it is dying,” Ms. Gadoua, a therapist in San Francisco, and Ms. Larson, a longtime journalist, say in their book.

Their solution is to change marriage: “We believe it’s time to be more creative with matrimony by legally bending the institution to meet more of society’s present-day needs,” they say.

Americans already use seven marriage models, they say. Some marriages are primarily for companionship, for example, while others are for financial safety or parenting.

“Starter” marriages are those that are ill-fated and end in a few years as couples realize they are not compatible. Two more marriage models are those in which spouses live alone together or have open unions in which extramarital sex partners are OK.

The seventh marriage model is the difficult-to-divorce “covenant” marriage, which is most like the traditional marriage with its vows of “forsaking all others, until death do us part.”

All of these marriages can be established through time-limited, prenuptial agreements that spell out details such as who will do which domestic chores in the “parenting” marriage or who will visit whom and when in the “live alone together” marriage.

If couples start with time-limited “starter” marriages and decide to stay together, they could choose another marriage model and set up “a new contract and new goals,” Ms. Gadoua and Ms. Larson explained in response to questions from The Washington Times.

“This is truly conscious coupling,” they said.

According to the survey cited in Time of 1,000 under-50 adults — on which Ms. Lavigne-Delville reported for USA Network — many young Americans are open to new marital models.

In addition to the 43 percent who said they could be interested in “beta” marriages, 36 percent liked “real estate” unions that could be renewable after five, seven, 10 and 30 years. About 21 percent were OK with four-year “presidential” marriages that have an option for a four-year “second term.” Ten percent also liked “multiple-partner” marriages, in which different people fulfill “a need in your life.”

Mr. Eisenberg maintained that “the vast, vast majority of Americans from all generations want to be married. They just don’t want to be unhappily married.”

But the way to not be unhappily married is not to take the commitment part out of marriage, he said.

“The way to not be unhappily married is to learn what it takes to be happily married,” he said, “and what I see is people learning what it takes to make their ‘I do’ something that can last for a lifetime.”

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