Even when standing at the altar, assume marriage isn’t for eternity. Instead, assume someday you might want out. And not just you. That person standing there with you, too.
In that world, we’ll have happier marriages. With more honest communication and expectations. And happier divorces, as well. No failure. No gloom. Just a normal, expected outcome. In our modern world, half of marriages end in divorce. We know that. We know divorced people. We couldn’t care less. Do we go around shaming people thinking of divorce? Or ostracizing divorcees? Or worrying that a divorcing friend is going to Hell? This is just stating the obvious, right? Still, we have a hard time embracing that “till death do us part” is a Santa Claus fantasy for grownups. And an often harmful one.
If we can admit that marriage is rarely forever, we’ll save so many from stress, anguish, and the guilt-ridden and shame-inducing delusion that divorce is a failure. It’s not. It’s typical.
I’m not saying that happy couples should break up. If you find a soulmate for life, congrats. I’m jealous. But if you’re an average human and don’t (or can admit you probably won’t) find that forever love, then get rid of the pressure to remain content with just one partner for your whole life. What do you have to gain?
This is not cold or unromantic. We genuinely love our partners when we say “I do.” Many of us still love them even when it’s time for divorce. Just…not in the same way. Or maybe we don’t love them anymore. That’s not an indictable offense. These are normal life changes — not crimes or sins — and they’re no reason to turn feelings of guilt and shame into fire aimed at a partner. On the contrary, the commonality and inevitability of such life changes is reason to keep breakups amicable, fair, and even loving.
This is also not making moral or value judgements on the sanctity of marriage, the importance of commitment, or the necessity to continuously work on our relationships. It’s just trying to provide a common-sense answer to a common-sense question: Should marriage be expected to continue forever?
Forever is a long time. If we get hitched at, say, 30, and live to say, 80, why, that’s 50 years.
How many relationships — how many anythings — last 50 years? How many business partnerships? How many people live in the same house for 50 years? The same city? How many close friends stay close friends that long?
I know, most consider marriage more important and sacred than such things. Which is even more reason to view marriage with deep honesty and compassion. If something’s really sacred, why lie to ourselves about it? The truth remains: Even happy, successful marriages — with couples that do the work and collaborate, forgive, and recommit — even they probably aren’t going to be content for 50 years.
And that’s OK. Successful or otherwise, marriages should just…end successfully. They often do. We see examples of famed “conscious uncouplings” like that of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, but also of everyday folks who quietly and amicably move on. Even with children. Kids today are surrounded by divorce: their social networks are filled with single parents and kids of split families. It’s normal to them. Of course, kids are unhappy if mom and dad break up, but, if handled properly, they’re not shocked, scandalized, or scarred.
Forever is a nearly unattainable objective, born of bygone eras when marriages were business deals brokered for merging families, finances, or bloodlines, or when “till death do us part” was a much briefer journey, when people in their 50s and 60s slowed down and retired from energetic activity, to sit in rocking chairs waiting for the undertaker. But happily, those days are gone. We’re going to live to be 80, 90, 100, with, if we’re lucky, active brains and bodies pretty much to the end. We should be free to pursue happiness throughout our long, healthy lives.
That often means allowing ourselves to start over. Fresh beginnings. Second, third, or fourth chances. Unconstrained by antiquated notions about contracts for life. It’s OK to want that. It’s OK to go for it.
Still, even in modernity, we keep telling ourselves that divorce is a failure or needs to be a war. But for what, exactly? Judging our lives based on criteria created eons ago by people who thought the sun revolved around the Earth?
I hope marriages last forever. I just know they usually don’t. And I’m good with that. We’re messy humans. That’s just who we are. And pretending otherwise can do more harm than good.
In today’s world, “till death do us part” may be the dumbest oath ever. Let’s stop saying it.
This post originally appeared on Fatherly. Reposted with permission from the author.