Is ‘happily ever after’ still relevant in the modern world or should marriages carry an expiry or ‘best before’ date? ‘The death do us part’ label obviously does not seem to be sticking for everyone.   

In the last couple of decades there has been a litany of celebrity marriages falling apart. The latest high-profile couple to sign a separation agreement is none other than the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife of 18 years, Sophie Gregoire. Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth called it quits this year. Still fresh in our memories are Bill and Melinda Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Scott and the list goes on and on. These of course are folks under heavy public scrutiny and invoke a lot of interest but the push and pull to stick together or grow apart gets played out in households across North America and beyond.

Is it time for the legal definition and social construct of marriage to have less pressure for longevity and more emphasis on quality while it lasts? It may ease the pressure for the two people struggling to keep it together for life. It may allow for some breathing room so that they can review their relationship without the stigma of breaking up something pious and precious which they were meant to carry to their graves. Would couples or society benefit from changing the lifetime legal bond to more of a time certain contract which can be renewed or ended depending on how the running is/was?

Traditional marriage had all the elements of a social and economic contract. The concept of men and women being complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depended on a man and a woman, and that children needed a mother, and a father and mutual resources were relevant principles for the longest time. Marriage was seen as the only way and enforced by societal norms. It mandated co-habitation, monogamy, sexual exclusivity, joint economics, and permanence. It gave structure and boundary on how people would show up in family and community systems. There were few measures for quality and happiness.

Life pressures and social norms have changed putting all the above under the stress test of relevance. Same sex and common law relationships are on the rise, gender roles are more fluid with both parties bringing in varying degrees of economic independence and different aptitudes for parenting and household chores. Technology can now help with reproduction and divorce and separation rates are high.  An article in ‘Psychology today’ reports that divorce rates among ages 50-70 years have doubled since 1990; and yet the romantic notion of marriage as a desired lifetime phenomena continues.

‘The story and narrative of happily ever after is very compelling’ says Tracy Wideman, a consultant and a registered, certified counsellor based in Vancouver BC.  The cultural societal expectations and scripts of marriages and weddings are seeded incredibly early on in our psyche and are hard to dislodge. Marriage as a legal entity represented a degree of security, a legitimization and protection of privileges.  ““Although some of them are being disbanded with different ways of understanding and experiencing relationships and break ups, there is still a lot of stigma, negativity and disruption to the broader family systems when a couple separates” She says.

Acc to Wideman, who you are in a relationship can shift over the years and marriages should be allowed to re-imagine themselves. Attachments and good will, strengths and positive aspects can be nurtured and preserved and co-habitation and engagement in each other’s lives can be re-visited. People can use less adversarial terms like sabbaticals and leaves. That may normalize breaks and introduce them as a natural passage of life. The couple can still bring good values to a shift or split in the relationship.  This can take away from the finality and permanence of the union or the break.  There will be lesser judgement and lesser pressure for families and friends to take sides if divorce or separation are not occurring as major legal, social, or traumatic events of life.

There of course need to be legal safeguards on the raising of children and fair economic outcomes for all involved. These can be written right in the contract. It just does not have to be for life. Couples who still have the flame burning and all other ingredients going right for them can renew the contract but those who need to shift aspects can re-write it. Others can just walk away with joy and pride saying “ A job well done for  15, 20 or 25 years” without harboring feelings of remorse, being wounded, diminished, rejected or dejected”.

Call: +1 (604) 358 3436

Call: +1 (604) 358 3436