“Incompatibility of temperament between the parties such that they find it impossible to live together as husband and wife” is what Todd Palin, spouse of Sarah Palin, put in the divorce papers. With that, it seems that Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and only the second woman ever to run for Vice-President of the United States, is getting a divorce after 31 years of marriage.
The Palins married in 1988, a month – almost to the day – before the first of my seven five-year marriages. So I relate to challenges of a thirty-one year relationship. And because Sarah Palin is in the news – though it’s none of my business – I’m curious about what happened. Maybe you are too. I think we want to know a little bit because it juicy gossip. But I think we are more interested in whether the same thing is happening in our relationship.
Because of my work, I talk to a lot of women who are divorced…or thinking about it. When it comes to the “why,” I know that it’s seldom one thing that ends a marriage. Yes, there could be a catalyst – like an affair or a big money issue. However, very often that is just “the last straw” in a series of events that troubled the marriage. The affair we hear about could be just the latest one, or there’s an alcohol/drug abuse/domestic violence/hoarding problem. It’s been going on for years.. There were a million promises that weren’t kept. It finally reached a crescendo of intolerance for the partner.
Is the “Forever Marriage” an Impossible Dream?
The fact is that the ’til death do you part” marriage is now longer than anyone ever imagined – even just a generation or two ago. In the olden days, couples who married “until death do you part” were together for twenty or twenty-five years. It was long enough to raise a few kids into young adulthood. Then the man died and the woman lived out her last few years are the mourning widow and kind grandmom. If she married again, chances are that marriage would last an even shorter time.
Those days are long gone.
Thanks to the many fabulous advances in medicine and health, the average life expectancy around the world is about 82 years old. The conventional ‘til death commitment could mean fifty or more years.
Every married person knows how hard it is to live with someone. Life happens, stuff happens, and things change. When they do, emotions run hot and cold, words are said, and feelings get hurt…sometimes deeply. Each one of those things changes you. – even when you love the person.
So who, at age 25 or 30, can honestly make that kind of commitment? They can’t. It’s an unreasonable expectation.
The marriage paradigm that is in place now – and has been for the past two thousand or more years doesn’t work now for at least half of today’s married couples. It’s become an unreasonable edict, an impossible dream.
There’s a better way: The Five-Year Marriage
How it works: Before marrying the first time, a couple makes agreements that stretch over five years, revolving around careers, money, children, responsibilities, etc. At the end of five years, the couple pauses their marriage. They assess what’s changed, in life and in themselves. They talk about how those changes impact their relationship and their future together. Looking at the next five years, they renegotiate old agreements and make new agreements. Then they “spiritually” end that marriage and enter into a new one…for five years.
For the typical couple, the focus of the first five years might be on advancing a careers, buying a house, and/or having a child. They focus on whether both partners will continue to work outside or if one partner becomes a stay-at-home parent? They decide who will oversee bill-paying, how will they save money, split household chores, and more.
At the end of five years, the couple evaluates the relationship in light of their personal and relationship changes. They rethink what they want and how to partner for the next five years. Maybe in the first marriage, they only wanted two children, but now they want more – or vice versa. Or s/he thought s/he wanted to be a stay-at-home mom/dad but misses the career (or the money) and wants to change course.
In the case of Sarah and Todd Palin, when Sarah decided to run for governor and then vice-president, it affected Todd and the marital relationship. It also impacted the whole family. So did the birth of a special needs child. Did they talk about all those changes? Did they get any outside help with the problems – like a family mediator or couples therapist?
When things get wonky in a Five-Year Marriage, after they reevaluate and recontact, they get a fresh start.
If fifty was still the average life span, the ‘til death marriage might still work. It’s a blessing to humankind that our life expectancy is thirty or forty years longer. However, with the extension of life, related things (like marriage) need to adjust to something that is doable in today’s world.
The Five-Year Marriage gives a couple some breathing room. Their dreams and goals get revisited, discussed, and maybe revised. They can reset their expectations. Problems-in-the-making can get resolved before they become marriage-enders. Marriage counseling may be chosen before the couple hates each other and it’s just a “last chance” (often useless) effort.
Yes – marriage is broken! It’s time we shift the paradigm of marriage to one that makes sense in today’s world for modern couples.
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