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What If All Marriages Lasted Exactly 5 Years?

January 13, 2010

This is an odd question for me to pose, I know. Let me preface:

I read a short story a few years ago about a near-future America where the divorce rate has climbed up to 80%. Infidelity is seen as a major cause for the collapse of the marital institution. As a drastic measure, the government mandates that everyone must cheat once every few years (correct me if I’m misremembering this). The idea is that since everyone has to sleep with someone else every few years, they get it out of their system and are able to focus on their marriage for the majority of the time. The risque nature of an affair is gone. It becomes something on par with filling out your taxes.

Anyway, I was reading the comments on my post on Monday about my wandering eye, and someone mentioned the scientific insight that the hormonal rush that gives us the feeling of being “in love” disappears after about 2 years. This got me thinking about the institution of marriage, the premise of making a choice to mate for life. And thus, in the vein of the short story I outlined above:

What if the government mandated that all marriages lasted exactly 5 years? No more, no less.

I want to preface what follows with the fact that I view the institution of marriage in the highest regard. My parents have been married for nearly 32 years, and I’d say their marriage is stronger than ever. I’ve had the honor of seeing their love change and grow and adapt. It’s a wonderful thing.

But put that aside for a minute (if you can). Let’s just assume this happens. Congress passes the bill tomorrow, and that’s just the way it is. All current marriages are given 5 years starting tomorrow. (Why 5 years? That’s just the number I chose.) How do you feel? Whether you’re single or engaged or newly married or long-time married, how do you feel?

Is any part of you–dare I say–relieved? I mean, you no longer have to keep this going for the rest of your life. You get 5 good years. You know the limits, and so you cherish the time you have. You get to chase someone new every 5 years if you want, so maybe you spend more time appreciating what you have instead of wondering if there’s someone better out there. And if you make a mistake and realize that you married the wrong person, it’s okay. You have a get-out-of-jail-free card in a few years.

As a single person, would this make you less likely or more likely to get married? Remember, the choice to stay married after 5 years is not yours. It is illegal. It becomes the societal norm.

I do see this being a problem with child rearing. I’m not sure that growing up in that type of world would be healthy for children. That’s no slight against single mothers and fathers. It’s more about the constant change that would occur. So many different parental figures for a child to juggle and comprehend. Would it feel like the proverbial village or like a loud, crowded room?

I’m really curious what you all think about this. Put yourself in that place. The bill is passed tomorrow. You have 5 years. How do you feel? What do you do? I have no problem with anonymous comments today if that’s safer for you.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 8:16 am

    Firstly, interesting idea. There are people who already do this and claim it’s good for their marriage, swingers. It’s a pretty large community. Personally, I’d be less focused on who I got to sleep with and who my husband slept with. We’ve talked about this, but it is not in me to share. I am his. He is mine. It would defeat me on an astronomical level. I wouldn’t recover.

    When you mentioned this type of society not being healthy for children, I completely agree and another random thought came into mind. When America was originally being settled and expanded, many religious colonies began to sprout up. The Quakers, the Shakers (who didn’t believe in marriage or procreating. Sister/brother love), and some more extreme than others. One extreme colony (I cannot remember the name) believed in partnering and procreating simply for the sake of producing the most superior children possible. A new breed of people was the goal. If she was attractive and he was strong, they mated. If someone else came along with another fine attribute, that pair was broken and a new one created. Eventually, all the children would be related.

    The picture you paint (as well as this religious colony) feel very Brave New World to me. I would not care for it.

  2. Nisa permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:17 am

    I’ll tell ya what. If the Government ever thought about doing that, I’d denounce that sort of Government and move elsewhere. Marriage and family is the glue that keeps society together. Destroy it and you destroy society im(notsohumble)o. 😉

    Besides, I would hate it. I’ve been married for almost nine years to my best friend.

  3. January 13, 2010 9:19 am

    I would loathe this. Not only do I agree with Harley May, that it’s not in me to share, but I would find myself…guarded during those five years. I wouldn’t be able to completely give myself to another person knowing that there was a definitive end point. I would weigh and measure my words, which is totally out of character for me, I wouldn’t want to fall in love and, in short, I’d lose myself somewhere in wanting to be an amazing wife to someone and not being able to do it.

    As a single person I can say, without a doubt, that I would choose to stay single.

  4. Dionne permalink
    January 13, 2010 10:03 am

    It would never work. Sorry, the idea is so preposterous i can’t, nay, won’t give it a full length answer.

  5. January 13, 2010 10:07 am

    I didn’t sleep all that well last night after writing this post. For some reason it makes me feel dirty. I know you all know that it’s just a hypothetical, but in a way I’m worried that it comes across as something I want. It’s not. It’s something that I think could be interesting for a short story. In reality, I think most people who wanted to get married for life just wouldn’t get married at all (or they’d get married in secret).

    I’d be in that group. I’m not going to marry someone I don’t truly and deeply love, and if I did, I wouldn’t put a clock on it. So I’d have to do it in secret. Would it be hard? I think so. I think it would be harder than a 5-year marriage. But it would be worth it.

    • January 13, 2010 10:24 am

      That is a good story idea, a secret marriage (or love) in a dystopian society. Have you read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale? Excellent if you haven’t.

  6. January 13, 2010 2:20 pm

    So, no. I don’t like it anymore than I like prohibition against divorce. Marriage is an institution of choice in this country and its willing participants would do we’ll to think about what they are signing up for. You (general “you” not Jamey-specific “you”) can have commitment in or out of marriage. Serial monogamy may be a real solution for some people (no judgment there) but it isn’t marriage. And whatever else adults (consenting or otherwise do), children would suffer tremendously under this hypothetical. That said, when I say “marriage”, I unequivocally mean two consenting, unrelated adults, regardless of whether they are the same gender. For whatever that’s worth. (Typed this on my cell phone, so if it is disjointed or has typos, I am blaming the limitations of the technology in my hands.)

    • January 13, 2010 2:22 pm

      So as preposterous as it sounds, what would you do if this bill were passed today?

      • Dionne permalink
        January 13, 2010 2:34 pm

        Jamey,

        I would move to Canada.

        • January 13, 2010 3:06 pm

          If this bill were passed today, I would allow my marriage to expire, but I would neither cheat nor remarry. *Especially* if I had children at that point, I would tell my husband I expected him to stay with me, remain faithful, continue our committed relationship and help raise children (emotionally an financially) without the state’s involvement. Finally, this hypothetical system would absolutely crap all over property and inheritance rights in addition to all of the other points we’ve raised if instituted, as more food for thought.

          • January 13, 2010 3:10 pm

            Which brings us to a certain kernel of truth: the *commitment* that inspires marriage is about love, but the *institution of marriage* is about legal rights and stability more than love.

          • January 13, 2010 6:05 pm

            Indeed, this system would crap all over property and inheritance rights…I’m sure I could figure out how all of that works if I write a short story from this idea.

  7. January 13, 2010 2:36 pm

    What you’re proposing is essentially term-limits for married couples. But instead of at least two terms, you’re giving them just one – and for a period of time less than that given a United States Senator. Under these circumstances, my hunch is that people would be more concerned and preoccupied with securing (i.e. campaigning for) their next relationship, than actually sitting back and enjoying the relationship they are in.

    Congress may also wish to attach a rider to this bill, in which they provide Cold-War-level funding for the nation’s family law courts, as their new law might create issues relating to the child custody and the division of marital assets.

    • January 13, 2010 6:11 pm

      Term limits for marriages…well said. So what are some of the reasons we have term limits on senators and presidents: One, it prevents dynasties and promotes change, hopefully good change. Two, people get used to the status quo. Why bring in someone new who could mess things up when the current guy isn’t doing that bad? (Which is a fallacy–people just fear change.)

      So you think you’d always be looking ahead instead of enjoying what you have? I guess if you feel the need to be in a relationship at all times, that might be the case. But otherwise you could just be single for a while.

      The implications on the economy aren’t all that good, though. Everyone would need a job–you couldn’t have one parent who doesn’t have an income. I don’t think there are enough jobs to go around.

  8. Renee permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:41 pm

    I found my way here from Penelope’s blog. I think your question would have been more interesting if you asked what you initially started your post talking about – required cheating every 5 years. I would not like that requirement, but I would like it more than being forced to end my marriage after 5 years. I’ve been married to my husband almost 2 years, but we’ve been together for 7. The thought of having to dissolve everything we’ve built over 10 years, 3 years from now, is awful. That’s because the foundation of all good marriages is deep and growing friendship. It’s become trite to say you’re married to your best friend, but essentially what your proposing is that the most fulfilling of friendships cannot last longer than 5 years. That sounds terrible for society – how will some people cope with stress or trauma if these key sources of support are eliminated across the board? Men often think about the physical aspects of a relationship first – hence the talk here of physical cheating and of swingers – but friendship is what sustains a marriage. Actually, studies have shown that a lot of MEN who cheat do it because of a lack of emotional connection in their marriages, not because of the thrill of being with another women physically.

    • January 13, 2010 6:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment–it’s always good to get new perspectives. This was a unique question because (a) it’ll never happen and (b) the way I wrote it doesn’t really reflect how I feel–I just wanted to see what people would say about it without being too inflammatory.

      You touch on the idea of building a relationship, that union, that commitment. That’s a great point. Although things might be more “exciting” (I often write about the “chase,” which, although it grows old, is, admittedly, pretty fun) if you had to start anew every 5 years, everything you built goes away. And you have to start over. That would be exhausting. And as people have discussed on this blog, love grows and changes, and you have to work on it. The first two years of your marriage are totally different from your 10th and 15th and 50th years. New doesn’t necessarily mean better at all.

      I hadn’t heard of that study. It’s saying that men cheat because they lose the emotional connection in their marriage. Why is that? And why men? What does the study say about why women cheat?

      • Renee permalink
        January 14, 2010 8:41 am

        Thanks for your response. The study just happened to focus on men. My instinct is that there is probably an emotional cause when most women cheat, too.

        Here is the article about the study:
        http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/10/03/o.why.men.cheat/

        And a key excerpt:
        What’s the number one reason men cheat? Ninety-two percent of men said it wasn’t primarily about the sex.

        “The majority said it was an emotional disconnection, specifically a sense of feeling underappreciated. A lack of thoughtful gestures,” Gary says. “Men are very emotional beings. They just don’t look like that. Or they don’t seem like that. Or they don’t tell you that.”

        Josh says he cheated on his wife, Jennifer, because he felt underappreciated at home and started feeling insecure. “That insecurity was really the catalyst,” he says. “I didn’t feel comfortable going to the one person in the world I should be going to, which is my wife.”

        • Dionne permalink
          January 14, 2010 10:31 am

          I think I’ve read this study before. Thanks for sharing that. I agree completely that it stems from emotional security vs insecurity. Thanks for sharing!

        • January 14, 2010 11:16 am

          Hm. That’s interesting. In some regards, I see that and understand it. It makes sense.

          The only problem with that survey is that the data is based on what men actually tell the researcher (opposed to some quantifiable measurement). Men certainly are emotional beings, but what those men said seemed like more like an excuse than an actual reason. Like, when Man A gets a flirtatious e-mail from the woman three cubicles over, does he respond because he doesn’t feel emotionally supported at home? Or does he respond because he has an erection?

  9. Renee permalink
    January 13, 2010 6:46 pm

    *you’re* in the middle, not “your.” A typo on my part.

  10. Kai permalink
    January 14, 2010 1:37 am

    The first thing that pops in my head is sexual transmitted diseases. OMG! Think about all the new STDs that would evolve from this law. Gross!

    Kids would have unstable families. No one would have an unbalance mind set. I don’t think people would be comfortable sharing their inner selves for any deep connection. All the money, time, and energy one would have to spend to reestablish a close connection/relationship with the new spouse would be tremendous in a 5 year period. There’s only so much one can learn about a new friend within 24 hours, let alone a spouse one is going to spend the next 5 years with and with possibility of a kid or two. Marriage would not be desirable, so might as well have lots of orgies. I think people would be more daring in sexual activities. They would probably do it in the park, libraries, etc.

    Personally, I would not want to ever get married. I won’t even be thinking about it. It would be too much work. Heck, I don’t think I would ever want to get out of the house if I live in that kind of society. Too much germs.

    5 years marriage. 5 thumbs down.

    • January 14, 2010 11:05 am

      So you think that people would sleep around more given that arrangement (because they’d be sleeping with someone new every five years, potentially)? I think that people would actually sleep around less.

      There’s no question about the kids. They wouldn’t grow up in the healthiest of situations, not at all.

  11. Kai permalink
    January 14, 2010 12:24 pm

    I was also thinking about the kids’ perspective of sexual activity. Monkey see, monkey do. Kids see what their parents doing, they will do it too. Kids, at some point of their innocent, carefree lives, will know what is Mommy and Daddy are doing behind the closed bedroom door. Kids are our future. When one dies, life is still going and one’s knowledge dies with one when it’s not written down or passed on to the next generation. Eventually, the meaning and value of love or deep connection is lost if such law is to become reality.

    So yes, I think people, including their kids, would sleep around more. We already have a percentage of pregnancy and abortion in the 10 to 17 age group of St. Louis city higher than the state’s. It doesn’t need to be a rising statistic.

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