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How long is love meant to last?

Date: 2007-09-25

It's not a question we're typically meant to ask ourselves when we tie the knot with the one with whom we're supposedly head-over-heels, can't-live-without in love. Yet these days, with 34 per cent of Australian marriages ending in divorce (and 50 per cent of those going the same direction in the US), many are left wondering if it's really necessary to embrace the whole "marriage is forever" pressure.

Neither does one twice-divorced German politician Gabriele Pauli. By now you might have seen the pandemonium over her gutsy suggestion to create a seven-year marriage contract. By her reckoning, instead of walking down the aisle and promising to stay together "till death do us part", we should change the phrase to "till seven years is up". Hence when the proverbial seven-year-itch begins to require a scratch, a couple can either renew their vows for another seven years, or they can go their separate ways without a divorce, murky legal battle or any hard feelings.

"The basic approach is wrong ... many marriages last just because people believe they are safe," she told reporters. "My suggestion is that marriages expire after seven years." (Wouldn't Brad Pitt love that idea?)

As expected by such a proposition, a blizzard of arguments erupted worldwide. "Marriage is sacred, bound together by law!" sniffed the conservative folk. "She's making a mockery of religious values!" exclaimed others. "Marriage is something not to be treated lightly!"

Others (most likely the twice divorced) weren't so harsh, deeming it an ingenious idea that could increase the rate of marriage, decrease the rate of divorce and make everyone (especially the cads, philanderers and commitment-phobes) deliriously happy ...

Not Anne Hollonds, the CEO of Relationships Australia in NSW, who dismissed it all as a "publicity stunt" when I shared the couch with her on the Today Show on Channel Nine the morning the story broke. I suggested it might take the pressure off all those concerned with committing for life and delaying marriage only to find later that "all the good ones are taken". Many singletons agreed.

The Starter Marriage

The hype and hullabaloo surrounding the story reminded me of something that I recently read regarding the new trend of the "Starter Marriage".

Never heard of it? Neither had I until trend analyst Pamela Paul wrote a book on the subject titled The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimoney. She defines it as "a practice marriage where no children are involved". And after interviewing a myriad couples who fit the description, she discovered that starter marriages often begin and end when the couple are young, most before their 30th birthday candles are blown out.

She found that the reason for the increased number of starter marriage is that young couples think marriage will solve all their problems.

"Everything will be fine ... once we're married," the couples hypothesise. Which of course is never the case.

Should you stay for the sake of the kids?

Let's say we embrace the seven-year contract and so we marry in haste and pop out a few kids. Now what? Are couples meant to stay together for the sake of the kids? Does it help when you fall out of love to bite your tongue and remain together until the kids grow up?

That's the conundrum facing reader Januaryman, who says while he no longer wants to be together with his partner (describing their relationship as "toxic"), he's got two kids and a joint mortgage to consider.

"I don't want to be with her as a partner, but I do want to be there every day for my kids," he says. "So, do I stay in a relationship that hasn't worked, isn't working, in the hope maybe it gets better? Am I being a better father by being around for my kids, even if I'm not happy and poor? Or is it better to break away, build my finances and my happiness, and be there for them 'from a distance', a better me for me but - maybe a lesser dad for them?"

This is one of the toughest questions to answer and yet, perhaps, if we can discover whether or not the love will last in the first place, it might eradicate some of these quandaries later on.

Lasting Love

So back to the question: how do you know if something will last or not? Do you tie the knot, or wait for some sort of a sign? And what the heck is that sign anyway?

On the weekend, I attended an engagement party at which the bride to be admitted that the second she set her eyes on her man, her chest went tight, her body went numb and she couldn't speak. From that moment onwards, she knew this was the man she was supposed to marry.

Not all of us can be so lucky.

That's why many modern folk surmise that living together before they tie the knot will be the ultimate test of compatibility. Unfortunately a ground-breaking 2002 study shattered that hypothesis when it found that living together before marriage actually increases the chance of divorce.

So what's the solution? Would a seven-year marriage work? Do we embrace the idea of a "starter marriage" and hope everything works out? Or do we continue on our path of serial monogamy until the time is right to settle down? And should you stay together for the sake of the kids?

Posted by Samantha Brett

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