Is marriage supposed to be forever?

I’ve been extremely busy lately servicing my consulting and freelance clients and little-by-little, working on building my fitness start-up company. Interwoven into that has been settling in with my fiance’ after moving in together earlier this year, working on finishing my MBA, and wedding planning. In the midst of everything, my fiance’ received the unexpected news of a job offer in Texas last week, which would require an almost immediate move of our lives to South Texas that we have accepted. With all of this happening, I think to myself a lot about how couples stand the test of time. How exactly does a couple communicate and react in ways that will navigate life’s ups and downs? Because we all know ups and downs happen whether we like it or not! It’s just whether we are prepared to handle it or not.

Before we got engaged, we had talked about marriage and what it means to each of us. I come from a divorced family and while his parents are still together, he shares my great fear of divorce and wanting to enter into something with our eyes wide open, and with honesty and transparency about our expectations of each other, as well as crisis plans for when things go upside down. We’ve talked about why we want to marry each other, besides the love we share because we obviously love each other a ton and wouldn’t be doing this otherwise. But actually, why do we choose each other. What marriage means in terms of what does marriage look like, act like, etc. Who marriage is for. Are we doing this for us, for parents, because society tells us so, or what? What are we going to do when things get bad, because we are imperfect humans that make mistakes. What expectations do we have for each other in those times. What do I love that he does for me that makes me feel good and vice versa, so hopefully we can do more of that. And so on. Not your typical Friday night conversation over a delicious, dark craft beer, which is the only way I personally think these conversations should happen, but hey, we’re boundary pushers!

I never follow celebrity news and gossip but when I heard about the “conscious uncoupling” announcement from Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin I was intrigued. Is it ridiculous that my fiance’ and I’s thoughts about divorce are so filled with fear and negativity? Should we not be looking at our coming marriage as forever but for this period of our lives? The idea that a couple can go through a process of healing and separation in a positive way sounds so appealing, healthy, ideal in an utopian world, and one that I would definitely want to use should I find myself in that position. It makes me ask myself if relationship separations have to be painful and traumatic or is that also an effect of societal expectations and pressure?

My experience of divorce was spent watching my parents argue, point fingers, place blame, talk horribly about each other, participate in court battles, put us kids in the middle, etc. The “research” behind conscious uncoupling (I put it in quotes because I don’t know the validity of the claims) seems to make logical sense in that we are living longer than ever, so it is reasonable to think that marriage today would be different than it was back then. For my parents case, it felt like it was more due to a mismatch and lack of communication about who they are and what they want in life. They simply were completely different than each other and wanted different things out of life.

What I can’t wrap my mind around though is the thought that if all of this is true, then when we say, “I do.” in spring of next year, are we saying it for better or worse for forever or for better or worse in the time that we spend together, whatever that may be? My first reaction to that is that this doesn’t feel right to enter into a commitment thinking that it’s temporary. That seems like you’re setting yourself up for failure. It also makes me question if whether my negative reaction is due to the societal training I’ve been given that marriage is forever and when it ends in divorce it’s nasty and no fun. If you go into a marriage thinking that it’s for a finite period of time from the onset, then I think you probably shouldn’t be marrying that person. But to honor the eyes wide open practice, I do think it’s realistic to look at what you’ll do as a couple when things go awry. How will you treat each other? What are the steps you’ll take when you’re both at an impasse? What do you guys consider the final breaking point and what do you have to do as a couple before you’ll ever agree to severing the relationship?

When I start to peel the onion on this topic, it feels much more complex and layered than whether marriage is forever or not and whether divorce needs to be a positive or negative experience. I see on the surface you have divorce and how you chose to go about it, whether that’s negative or positive. This is where the conscious uncoupling comes into play. Underneath that you have the marriage in two parts: the interactions while married and why you entered into marriage in the first place. This feels crucial to my fiance and I and is why we’ve talked so extensively about all of this. If you entered into a marriage because you felt like you’re supposed to at a certain age or because your parents pressured you, then it doesn’t matter how you treat each other or handle divorce – It’s all going to not work because the intentions were never there to begin with. Underneath the marriage, there’s what people are hard wired to do. This is the heart of who we are and why we do and say the things we do. This stuff is hard to change/influence but can be if the person has a willingness and self-awareness strong enough to do so, which is rare I think. It also can be shifted if the person was never acting like their true heart to begin with. Sometimes we cover our true heart and feelings to protect ourselves out of fear of being hurt. When you’re able to remove that fear, you blossom into the person you truly are. Beneath that you have familial wiring, which is influence by the people who are around us and raise us. At the bottom we have our biological tendencies. This is biologically who we are wired to be in terms of genders. Enter “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.”

I see all of these areas as being hazy and living in the grey area, completely dependent on people’s personal beliefs and experiences. But when you start to break it down piece by piece, it’s easy to see how difficult relationships are because people are just complex beings with so many past influences and experiences living and breathing in our present moments and actions. This could possibly be why the divorce rate is so high.

So for my fiance’ and I, we understand and take stock of all these levels of influence and still, whether naively or not, choose to enter into a life of marriage with one another because of the greater person we both help each other to be, along with the love and fun stuff like making each other laugh hysterically.

I, of course, have no answers to any of these questions and am no closer to knowing whether conscious uncoupling is the right way or even possible. I’m going to enter in this living experiment officially next year and I’m sure will learn so many lessons and see things how I’ve never seen them before throughout our marriage. But, I do feel like we’ve tried to do our best to set ourselves up for success by at least being transparent and honest about our shortcomings, strengths and desires in the hopes that we will better navigate the hard times ahead of us.

I am extremely interested to hear from you on the this topic. What do you think is the crucial factor in whether a marriage is successful or not? And, do you think marriage is meant to be forever? If not, is it okay to go into a marriage thinking it’s temporary?

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