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Delia Lloyd Headshot

Should Marriage Have A Sell-By Date?

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TAKING OFF RING
altrendo images via Getty Images

In the months leading up to our wedding some 13 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren't exactly pre-cana classes -- more like a series of "getting-to-know" you sessions -- but they were thought-provoking all the same.

We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn't the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to go to bed angry.

Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: "In my opinion, it's far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced."

That comment came back to me last week when I read that the major left wing political party in Mexico has proposed a change to the civil code that would issue temporary marriage licenses. The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stayed happy. The contracts would also include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

Having lived in Mexico for a bit of time, I'm fairly certain that this bill won't pass muster in the heavily Catholic country. But it's certainly an idea worth taking on board, in Mexico and elsewhere.

I consider myself to be a happily married person. But I also know that I'm a minority. Many of my close friends and family members have split from their partners, some bitterly so. And many of the couples I know who have stayed together clearly regret that decision.

As I've stated before, I'm not pro-divorce. But the statistics speak for themselves. While divorce rates have been dropping over the past 20 years in the U.S., for the average couple marrying for the first time, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent. These days, researchers speak of a "three year glitch" (as opposed to the "seven year itch") in estimating the average time before a couple begins to grow sick of one another.

And still -- curiously, almost blindly -- we continue to idealize marriage.

To be sure, some interesting alternatives to marriage are surfacing on the horizon. Cohabitation has doubled in the U.S. in the last 15 years among 30-44 year olds. In Canada, the new buzzword is LATS, which refers to people who live apart but remain in long-term, committed relationships. According to the 2001 census, one in twelve Canadians falls into this category.

Alongside these innovations -- and for the old-fashioned amongst us -- we could also make marriage, like so many other contracts we enter into, fixed-term and renewable. In today's world, that seems not only practical, but desirable.

Any takers?

Please respond with "I do."