Marriage Needs A Contract Not A License

Marriage Needs A Contract Not A License

The other day I had an interesting conversation with my 10-year old son, who has recently become very intrigued by weapons because of all the superhero characters he sees carrying them.  He asked me a very good question which was “mommy are guns bad” to which I responded by saying guns are not bad in and of themselves, but put them in the wrong hands, and there is a recipe for disaster.  All you need is a license to carry a weapon.  And as we have been proven bitterly many times in the past, a license is just a license to kill, and not a guideline to handle an immediate death- causing piece of metal.  Similar, but of course more metaphorically I believe is the concept of marriage.  Where one could walk into City Hall and get married in 10 minutes a few years back, now they have an online process where of course by paying a certain fee, you can immediately receive a marriage license; easy! Well, not so, when you have to reverse the process….

People marry for many reasons

There are so many reasons for why people get married.  Some marry for love, some marry for money, some marry for status, some marry for career growth, some marry to have a family they didn’t have, some marry because they feel they have to, etc.  After doing conflict resolution for almost 20 years, I have seen marriage of many shapes and forms, and I don’t judge.  

Where does the cookie crumble?

However, irrespective of time, culture, or age, one thing that all marriages should have in common to stay strong, is a symbiotic relationship.  An understanding that if I give you A, I can expect to get B.  Sounds simple, but it’s not.  Most marriages fail because the couple cannot get on the same page.   In other words, one spouse can’t be under the understanding that spouse has married her because he loves her, and the other under the understanding that she will be approved by the family because she makes a good home, is trustworthy, and good with children and he can have flings on the side.  Or for instance, he is thinking they are married because he is loved for who he is, but she has plans for their money and married him because he is a good breadwinner.  

The way we were

Centuries ago, all around the world, including  Asia, Middle East and Europe when there was a suitor, the reasons for the marriage were pronounced exactly like a business proposal.  For example, Perhaps the marriage was to bring peace to the two respective countries, or it allowed the family name to continue with offsprings, or it brought cultural assimilation and security to the city etc.  

It’s not to say that I am a proponent of any of those reasons or advocate them.  However, the truth is, now days, many marriages and relationships that turn to marriages are very whimsical.  They are a confused cloud of proximity, rushed into without logical sense; Lust confused with love, and a bond without merit or an underlying strong foundation.  With popular TV shows, such as how to Marry a Millionaire, The Bachelor, Married at First Sight, Wife Swap, the Desperate Housewives collection, The Ninety Day Fiancé etc. it is no wonder we are so confused!  Again, I am not here to judge.  If one believes in love at first sight and wants to marry the one he/she loves right off the bat, and he is fine having a trophy wife, that’s ok by all means.  But honey you  can’t be surprised when you find what you find, after the door opens to Pandora’s box or when the lights are off.  

Some may say that just 50 or so years ago, when baby boomers were first getting married, there were no long-term dating relationships and the rates of divorce were much lower.  Well, the reality is, just because people stay together, it doesn’t mean things are happily working.  

Our recommendation for  “Will you marry me?”

In this post, I am inviting you to consider the Marriage contract if you are considering taking your relationship to the next step or if you have met that love at first sight person and want to tie the knot.  Did you know that a century or so ago, before government got involved in marriages, and there were marriage licenses, there were marriage contracts?  That’s where the concept of the dowry, comes from.  Different religions and national backgrounds, have different terminologies for them.  Katuba in Jewish, or Katb-el-Ketab in Islam, or the Hindu Sacraments are all older forms of matrimonial pronouncements than the marriage license and have different requirements.  Although mainly concerned with finances and frankly undermining a woman’s ability to earn, many religions especially prescribed to having a marriage contract installed by a religious clergy, where both parties agreed to the terms before going down the aisle per se.

Marriage Needs A Contract Not A License

I am not proposing a financial contract; although I certainly believe that area needs to be covered by the contract considering it is a very common cause for divorce.  But did you know that as opposed to what many think, extramarital affairs are not the number one reason for divorces?  Yes, extramarital affairs, financial issues are symptoms but not the actual cause.  Based on numerous polls, the number one underlying cause is false assumptions due to poor communication.  Therefore, what I am proposing is a purposeful contract, where both parties clearly state what their purposes of the marriage are, hence their expectations from their marriage partner.  The contract would obviously be proposed prior to the marriage and not after because at that point, any expectations will fall out of the boundaries.

Here are 11 major areas that should be incorporated into a solid Marriage Contract:

1. Work arrangements

  • Will there be a primary breadwinner or are both parties to be contributing equitably to the costs of living
  • Will there be a joint account, a joint account and an individual contribution account, or just separate accounts?
  • Work hours.  How many hours a week designated to work is acceptable.  This area would also include travel and whether both partners are in agreement with a travel schedule.  
  • In the event that there is physical illness, layoff or termination, children, family issues, mental illness, where one partner is unable to work, what are the expectations?

2. Household matters

  • Who is in charge of cooking
  • Who is in charge of cleaning
  • Who is in charge of laundry
  • Who is in charge of shopping
  • Who is in charge of maintenance
  • Who is in charge of paying the bills  

3. Hobbies

  • What hobbies does each individual have that they would like to spend time alone doing
  • What hobbies do the couple have together that they would like to spend time doing together
  • What percentage of their income would they be spending on their hobbies
  • How many hours a week/month will they be spending on their hobbies
  • What will determine if the hobby has become excessive and interfering with the other areas of life

4.  Sex

  • How many times a week is considered a healthy sex life
  • What are acceptable and non-acceptable sexual behaviors for the couple together and individually
  • Is monogamy a must or a maybe
  • How to keep the passion alive and avoid taking the other for granted (ex    Hygiene, weight, manners, tiredness, etc.)

Marriage Needs A Contract Not A License

5. Spending habits

  • How will money decisions be made?  Will both parties equally be involved in budgeting or will there be a budgeter selected?  
  • What if any percentage of the monthly income to be spent on impulse buys vs. “I want” purchases
  • How will the couple designate what’s urgent vs. what is not an urgent purchase?

6. Do the couple want children

  • If so how many and when
  • Who will be the primary caretaker of the children and if both are, how will the various tasks such as feeding, cleaning, disciplining, education, events, Doctors visits, play dates, etc. be divided.
  • If there is a physical ailment that doesn’t allow for the couple to have children, what is the course of action agreed to.’

7. Travel

  • What portion of the income is to be designated for travelling
  • How many times a year will there be travelling
  • Will travel include both or only one of the couples?
  • How do destinations get designated

8. Privacy

  • What will be shared about their lives together or individually
  • Who will they turn to in times of difficulty

9. Family and Relative

  • How much time will the couple individually and/or together spend with relatives per month or week
  • What will they do or not do with or for relatives

10. Social Life

  • Who plans date nights
  • Who plans social events for the couple
  • How much time per week does each individual need to spend socializing with friends, network, business community, etc.
  • How much money will the couple be spending on socializing events per month
  • How late is considered late to stay our socializing

11. At times of conflict

  • How to decide when it’s time to ask a third party
  • Who is a counselor (professional or not) the couple can go to when needed
  • What to do in times of anger
  • How to communicate and what to say to avoid abandoning the person or the situation

Yes, there should be an element of surprise to a marriage.  Yes, there should be an openness to experiences, and yes love means accepting.  But you can’t accept what you don’t know.  And it’s not accepting but rather forcing or feeling coerced if you are faced with the truth not before but after you say “I Do”.

Habiba Jessica Tran is an experienced Professional Counselor. She helps people dealing with problems related to self growth, depression, anxiety, life transitions, grief, abuse, trauma and relationship struggles. She has a Masters degree in professional counseling from Georgia State University.

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