By Greg Griffin
I’m intrigued by the recent article in Time Magazine suggesting that millennials try out a “beta marriage” model instead of marriage as we have understood it through the ages. Like many of us, millennials too see life as a series of multiple choice options, all within their control. Frankly, they also view their right to choose as their privilege, as some sort of right or entitlement.
In brief, the article suggests that couples interested in marrying define and agree beforehand the conditions and type of marriage to which they will commit, much like negotiating any sort of run-of-the-mill contract. In addition to the traditional “till death do us part” option, other options include the beta marriage and variations on that theme: 1) the Presidential (four years with an option for a second term, after which spouses can choose another partner); 2) the Beta (a two-year deal, after which partners reassess the future); 3) the Multiple Partner (an open marriage option); 4) and the Real Estate (fixed terms of 5, 7, 15, 30 years, after which partners renegotiate, if desired).
I just don’t think any of these options will realistically work or can truly be considered “marriage.” And here’s why:
1. It’s clear from the article that while marriage may include consideration of a partner’s interest, marriage is essentially to be self-serving. Entering into any kind of relationship with that mindset, however, destines it to fail.
2. These options would try to redefine the nature of the marriage commitment. The result will not look like marriage at all. “Commitment” by definition either is or it isn’t. Why even get married if you’re uncertain you’re going to stick with it? What’s the point? On the other hand, for those who see the value in marriage, it makes sense for them to go ahead.
3. Those who view these options as viable believe that control and vulnerability can co-exist, when they can’t, plain and simple. Entering into an agreed-upon union with the hope and belief they can, again, destines the relationship to fail.
4. Nowhere in the article is there a mention of children. If we “play that movie” (a Henry Cloud term) to its conclusion, there is no provision for stability and responsibility for offspring.The relational and financial troubles brought on by the current multiple fertility partner relationships in our culture are well-documented. Custody is already the biggest nut to crack when dissolving a marriage now. That would not change with a “beta” approach and only make things worse unless millennials also want to drop off any unwanted children on the courthouse steps. Perhaps the duty of being a parent ought to come with terms and expiration dates, too?
5. There’s no mention of what life will be like as a senior adult for those who choose alternative marriage models. What will life be life for them at 60 or 70? Who will they turn to or rely upon when health issues and other inevitable life challenges arise? I pity someone in an alternative marriage who becomes ill. How dare they become a drain on their spouse’s pocketbook or travel dreams.
For me, marriage is designed to be a covenant, not a contract. In a covenant, each partner agrees to be equally vulnerable and responsible for the other. In a contract, the agreement simply protects the interest of each party, should they need to be. The distinct difference between the two is why I don’t think the beta models suggested will work. I also believe many marriages fail now because spouses may have different understandings of their relationship agreement.
6. Many people today are looking for the ideal marriage situation, and I believe the beta marriage models fall short. When I am at a wedding, I can’t help but wonder what the bride and groom are thinking married life will be like. For most, the wedding day is like entering a fairy tale, leaving everyday reality behind. All the hard work and preparations pay off, and the ceremony is beautiful. Then the reception… and the honeymoon… and then the reality. A new reality. Thoughts about what married life would be like quickly collide with this new reality. This true reality is nothing whatsoever like what the couple may have imagined.
After the honeymoon glow fades, the ideal marriage they dreamed of is just that — a dream that vanished. Now what? Marriage is not the party and the honeymoon. It is the relationship lived day to day, whatever may come. If only life could be one big happy, fun party. We all know it isn’t.
The solution? I propose that millennials and others consider an achievable ideal marriage instead. This is the marriage that makes it until “death do us part,” a parting that is not a relief but rather the deepest sorrow. It is the marriage that others look at with respect and admiration even though they know the tough times that couple endured, the marriage that serves as an example to other married couples in their own tough times. It is the marriage that gives kids and grandkids lifelong stability and a healthy model for their own adult lives and relationships.
In the achievable ideal marriage the joys and fulfillment far outweigh the hurts and disappointments. Spouses will never be perfect, and there is no perfect future spouse waiting when a beta-style marriage ends and is up for renegotiation.
I ask forgiveness of those younger than me because I’m part of a culture that has failed to show the great value of marriage to those who come after us, and has left them looking for better alternatives. Perhaps millennials could embrace the ideal achievable marriage model and show us older folks (and their kids) how it should be done.