How To Stay Married By Changing The Rules
Traditional marriage models don’t work for everyone. But who says they have to?
One of the benefits of cleaning out my inbox was finding an email from a year ago I had totally forgotten about. It linked to a CNN article in which I was interviewed—“In January, ‘ex’ marks the spot.Two other divorce experts (a psychiatrist and an attorney) and I shared that January is one of our busiest times of the year (along with September).
Family law attorneys have called January “Divorce Month” for years. In fact, the first Monday of January—when the bulk of the calls from would-be divorcees come in—is even dubbed “Divorce Day,” or “D-Day” for short.
After the holiday season, when family obligations have been met, when both spouses have had enough pain and hurt, or when the one who’s contemplated divorce for a while wants to start the new year in a more authentic way (one that doesn’t include their spouse), January seems like the perfect time to put the dissolution wheels in motion. Thus, unhappy couples transition straight from the holiday season to the divorce season.
While it might make society feel better and more secure if fewer couples filed for divorce, it wouldn’t improve the quality of these troubled marriages: It would only prolong the agony and postpone the inevitable.
But there’s a third alternative that, until now, has not been well-explored and that just might provide the relief husbands and wives are looking for: Stay married but change the rules.
A Marriage of Independence
In our recently released book entitled, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, my co-author, Vicki Larson, and I propose getting away from purely love-based marriages and revisiting purpose-driven marriages.
What we found in our research is that the couples that went from a tepid or unhappy love-based marriage to a Living Apart Together (LAT) Marriage; a Parenting Marriage; or even an Open Marriage fared quite well in many ways. Staying married, for example, protected these couples from the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce, and it was also a win for their children, other family members, and friends.
Let’s explore some of the facets of these alternatives:
- Living Apart Together entails couples living in separate homes, so there will be more expenses, and more logistics to manage. But it also means that each spouse has a space to get away to. They can maintain a sense of independence, and even have down time from parental duties.
- In a Parenting Marriage, couples simply change their job description from romantic partner to co-parent. Disentangling emotions and expectations in a more platonic relationship can be tricky, yet not having to fight over who keeps the house or how much time each parent gets with the kids, combined with keeping the household intact for something larger than yourself (your kids) can make the experience much more manageable than divorce.
- The most radical, and definitely the trickiest, option is that of opening up your marriage to other people. I know that many of you reading this will recoil at this idea, but, in our research, we spoke with several couples that swear it was this radical step that saved their marriage. In some cases, the pairs kept their unions open for the duration; in other cases, the couple got what they needed and closed their nuptials back up. Either way, an Open Marriage is not for the faint of heart (or the jealous).
If you’re interested in creating a Living Apart Together relationship; a Parenting Marriage; or an Open Marriage, here are just 5 of the more than 50 qualities we’ve identified that you’d need to have in place in your relationship for it to work:
- You like and trust each other.
- You communicate well.
- You feel the benefits of this choice outweigh the costs.
- You make the choice together as a team.
- You don’t need others to like or agree with your choice.
We believe that marriage is trending away from a “traditional” model that isn’t working for far too many, toward creative solutions that don’t entail divorce. (We offer four additional alternatives in the book as well—Starter, Safety, Companionship, and Covenant.)
[Susan Pease Padua]