Photo by Sara Long Photography
It’s happening: you’re about to marry. You found a partner who is special — you wouldn’t be marrying him or her otherwise — and you are planning a wedding that has nothing to do with what weddings “should” look like and everything to do with all that’s unique about the two of you and your relationship. So why would you settle for an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all marriage?
Wait — who said that was happening?
I did, but let me explain. It’s not because you’re doing anything wrong. It’s because we still tend to marry into the “until death do us part” marital model. Which means someone has to die to have what is widely considered a successful marriage.
What if you changed that? What if you and your spouse-to-be decided together how to measure the success of your marriage, even if it didn’t last “until death”? What if you decided to individualize your marriage so it was as unique as your wedding, as unique as the two of you are? After all, you don’t want to just create a life with him or her; you want to create a specific kind of life. Your kind of life.
The best way to do that is with a marital plan, a contract you and your partner create together detailing what you want your marriage to look like.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound familiar; it’s a pretty new concept, and like all new things, it may seem intriguing but daunting. Or, it may seem unnecessary — why create a plan when life is full of uncertainty and so much is out of our control?
Exactly; life is full of uncertainty! Countless studies are clear about what couples tend to fight about most — money, kids, sex, chores. Then there are lots of potential snags that often get ignored but can cause a fair amount of friction: in-laws (can they visit and for how long?), vacations, who moves for whose career or schooling, if you want kids and can’t have them naturally, will you try IVF (and if so, how many times?) or adopt, and should you be freezing embryos?
Other studies are also clear about this—when couples have matched expectations, they tend to have happier marriages. Knowing that, a marital plan makes a lot of sense. What you’re doing is creating a kind of road map for your combined goals and dreams and detailing how you plan to accomplish them and by when. Not only does it clarify your vision as a couple, but it also holds each of you accountable.
Marriage plans reach beyond the financial into questions of what you want from your spouse as a partner, as a friend, as a co-parent, what you’re seeking from the marriage emotionally, physically, even professionally.
Unlike prenups, which mostly focus on money matters, “marriage plans reach beyond the financial into questions of what you want from your spouse as a partner, as a friend, as a co-parent, what you’re seeking from the marriage emotionally, physically, even professionally. And also what you’re willing to give — what you’re committed to investing to make the relationship and the family work,” says Michael Boulette, a divorce attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a proponent of marital contracts.
And it’s a way to measure your marriage’s success by something other than longevity, currently our only marker even if it’s been a loveless, miserable marriage for many years. You can do better than that.
So, how do you make it happen?
Sit down with your partner, and start talking. Talk jobs, money, in-laws, kids, chores, social media, shopping, vacations, pets, video games, booze—you name it. Talk about the hard stuff, too, like monogamy (how do you feel about it, has it ever been hard, are you choosing it or assuming it?), and agree on a definition of infidelity (is it just sex or is it flirting or watching porn solo?). If you’ve already discussed some of that stuff, great. Then write it all down. Start by focusing on the first few years; what do you hope to accomplish? If something comes up that gets you both stuck, get help from a neutral third party, like a friend or family member who always seems to know the right thing to do. If things get too testy, consider seeing a professional. Then revisit your plan in a year or so and tweak it as needed, and continue to do so as life changes.
Remember, this is your marriage. No one else’s. It’s yours to create.
This article originally appeared in Volume Two of Catalyst Wedding Magazine.