As Jill Brooke points out, the words “Till Death Do Us Part” have defined how we look at marriage for generations. But in fact, they are five of the most polarizing words. “Why?” you may ask. Because if you look at the stats, almost 50 percent of you may not stay married to the person you are lovingly gazing at. Instead, there is a possibility you may get tangled in a divorce.
Don’t you think it is unrealistic to have the expectation that love will flourish for a lifetime that now runs into our 80’s and 90’s? We’re living longer than generations before us did, and “till death do us part” could mean 60 or even 70 years together instead of 20 or 30 years. It is very hard to fulfill that promise, till death to us part, for such a long time.
When a marriage lasts decades, it’s a gift, but no longer the norm. However, when people break up because they have had the expectation of forever, deep inside they feel like they failed. Why do we focus on failure rather than acknowledging and celebrating the decades of success?
As Jill Brooke points out, it’s time to say what a success these marriages were for lasting as long as they did and accumulating memories and milestones.
Just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean that you and your ex don’t have a relationship. It just means that it’s changed. You won’t stay married, but you will always be parents to your children. You will always carry your histories.
Stephanie Coontz, one of the great sages and scholars of relationships and the author of Marriage, A History, points out that “by having high expectations that marriage should last, we may work harder,” she said. “But studies have also shown that those people who have the strongest sense that marriage is sanctified and should last forever are most likely to see it as a failure and betrayal and have more anger and disappointment.”
For Jill Brooke, second marriage has now lasted 15 years. “Till Death Do Us Part” were not in the vows. Why has this marriage worked? “Luck, compatibility, a commitment to family and each other,”she writes, “One big reason is that I don’t feel entitled, I feel grateful. That has helped me manage expectations and not take anything for granted, which I believe is essential for long term marriages to stay alive and thrive.”
So may be, as proposed by Vicki Larson, instead of wringing our hands about so-called gray divorces and seeing those long-term marriages as failures, perhaps we should consider marriage as more “till the kids part” than “till death do us part.” The partner we need in our 20s and 30s, when many of us are looking to settle down and raise kids, may not be the partner we need in our 50s, 60s and beyond, when we’re free to explore new passions or reinvigorate the ones we gave up when the kids came along.
Can’t we just be honest about that and move on?