When we obtain a marriage license and get married, we do so without an expiration date; we opt into "forever after," with no renewal date in mind.
What would be different in our relationships if we entered into the commitment of marriage with a 5-year or a 10-year option to renew? Would the perception of the "business of marriage" harness or hinder our power to remain committed?
A child of divorce myself, it has always seemed counterproductive to me that we enter into a contract with another person that we believe will last forever. I love the idea, and I am married over three decades myself; yet, as a transformational coach, one thing that I know for sure is that we all change—and if that is our truth, then is forever a given?
If we assume something will always be there, do we tend to it with the same rapture and care we would if we felt an evaluation of sorts was pending?
A recent discussion with a girlfriend unearthed some of the ideas that I am sharing in this post.
With a quick flick of a pen, we enter into investments, business deals, leases, and mortgages. We sign contracts when we rent apartments, and when we decide to buy our homes. Seeking a commitment of employment? Perhaps you have a three-year deal or a one-year opt-in for additional benefits in place.
Most of the contracts we sign have end dates attached to them. We lease an apartment for a year, sublet for six months, lock in employment for two years, lease our cars for three years, and even purchase a home with a 15- or 30-year agreement to pay. At the end of our lease, or our employment agreement, we then have the option to renew, to terminate, or to renegotiate our deal.
Why? Life changes. We pivot.
So, why is marriage such a different agreement? Or, the bigger question: If there was an option to renew, what—if anything—would be different in how we view divorce and our ability to thrive within our marriages? Could this new perception of a marriage that is not entered into for eternity actually support us in working more productively together over time?
While I don't claim to have all the answers, here are a few top-of-mind hacks that surface when we reframe our traditional stance on marriage:
It is often a lack of communication that leads to the initial unwind of a marriage. We think we know what our spouse is feeling, or what’s on his or her mind; yet, over time, we all change. The concept of renewing our marriage after a set number of years opens the door to continued communication from an "in the moment" vantage point.
We measure growth.
As humans, we are more likely to take action when there is an expiration date looming. We may assume less, take nothing for granted, and respond differently to the daily to-dos of married life. When we are in motion, we are less likely to bore one another, and more likely to remain engaged and mindful of success. When we measure growth, we relinquish the fairy tale of marriage and step into the reality of working on our relationships. Just like a business contract, once we sign on the dotted line, the work itself is ahead of us. There is no autopilot.
Gratitude breeds renewed energy.
Taking your partner for granted? Having an option for renewal may actually infuse our thoughts, adding inspiration into our day-to-day. Divorce has for many become an easy way to let go of what is not working—perhaps without actually doing the work involved to resolve issues. This mindfulness tweak places us at the center of our own reality. Are we enjoying today? Where are we abundant? Are we doing the work involved to honor the contract we signed? Are we appreciative of what we already have?
Marriage is a business.
I said it! You are not Cinderella and Prince Charming. This is a business. The business of love. The business of trust. The business of respect. The business of friendship. The business of living your life in unison with someone else that is a completely separate person from you! You and your spouse are separate members of the board of directors of your own marriage.
You both get to vote; you both get a say in decisions. You will never be one person—because you are two people, from different backgrounds, different parents, and different experiences. In the same way you would embrace diversity in the workplace, you need to honor diversity within the confines of your marriage. It is that independence, that ability to be who you are and still be Mr. & Mrs., that will allow you to be a shareholder in the business of your marriage.
Can this make the difference? Is an option for renewal enough to change the fate of a rocky marriage? Not always. Yet, this shift in perspective enables each of us to enter into the "business of marriage" with a renewed focus on communication, and an updated outlook and mindset on gratitude, energy, success, and self-esteem.
If we remain committed to forever by celebrating every moment in the moment, we become committed to the daily success of our marriage and to the growth that leads us toward wanting to renew for more. Or not...