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Debate: Is 'together forever' an outdated concept?

With divorce rates higher than ever, we ask if committing to a life-long relationship is feasible in today's throwaway society

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius magazine
1 Feb 2012 | 12:02 am
  • Couple holding hands

    "Too many couples take the easy downhill route when the uphill going gets tough," says Kate Birch.

    Source:Camera Press

YES

Louisa Wilkins, divorced and now single

When I fell in love with my ex-husband at age 21, I believed that love and marriage could last forever. Twelve years and an amicable divorce later, I still believe in love. But marriage, I think, has a best before date.

This isn't just based on divorce rates (more than half of marriages in the UK end in divorce), but also on the number of miserable marriages I know - and it's a lot. Sure, people can stay together forever like my grandparents, but are they happy? My grandparents certainly weren't.

Soul mates, everlasting love, together forever: it all smacks a little bit of Peter Pan's Never-Never-Land. Frankly, I think ‘together forever' grew out of women's reliance on men for security. We created it because we needed it, but we don't need it any more. In fact, only 16 per cent of the world's cultures even attempt to practise monogamy.* Lone wolves can survive in the wilderness. Bills are paid, children are still reared and new love found.

I hear you thinking, ‘Marriage isn't disposable! You've got to work hard at it!' But why should we? If you hate your job, change it. If you've drifted apart from your friend, make a new one. Why isn't it the same with partners? Yes, we live in a disposable society. So, what? Just because you love your iPhone4, it doesn't stop you wanting an iPhone4s. It's the world we live in. Deal with it.

In Germany there's talk of introducing a seven-year marriage contract; in Mexico, a two-year one. Norma Cairns, counselling psychologist from LifeWorks Dubai says, "We're living in extraordinary times and pre-nuptial contracts are on the rise. Two years is way too short, I think. But a seven-year one? Maybe."

We live in an era that promotes freedom for individuals, which doesn't fit well with the personal sacrifices needed for together-forever-ness. A survey of couples by Warner Brothers found that 76 per cent of people value their personal space, 55 per cent have to schedule romantic time, and 60 per cent go on separate holidays. Together forever or never together? How many would renew their contract?

Maybe our expectations of marriage have been Hollywood-ised (meaningful looks, freshly squeezed OJ, love-notes on the bathroom mirror). Or perhaps, it's our generation's issues with feeling entitled to perfect happiness. But once the honeymoon fairy dust has worn away to reveal a husband's slobbery and a wife's nagging - this disenchantment takes about three years, according to the Warner Brothers' survey - most couples are left with something that is a lot less than perfect. Should couples stick with an unhappy ending just because once upon a time they said they would? I think we deserve better than that. It's time to take off the rose-tinted spectacles and admit that ‘together forever' may sound nice and cosy, but it's unrealistic. We simply don't live in a forever world.

NO

Kate Birch happily married for seven years

Hello. My name is Kate Birch and I am a smug married. Get over it. I am in a great, healthy, committed relationship that has seen good times and, to be honest, terrible times. But I'm here, loud and matrimonially proud.

When I was a girl, divorced couples, and therefore ‘broken homes' were a rarity. As I grew into a teenager, more and more of my friends' parents were getting divorced. When I hit my 20s, things had moved full circle and people my age with parents still together were in the minority. It seems that within a generation, divorce and broken relationships had become the norm, rather than the exception, but I think that is not the ideal that we should be striving for or setting as an example to our children.

As a mother, I am constantly telling my kids to ‘stick with it', ‘don't give up' and ‘nothing worth having comes easy'. Marriage is a prime example. While every long-term relationship has its natural highs and lows (some more mountainous than others), I feel that too many couples take the easy downhill route when the uphill going gets tough.

Call me old-fashioned if you like and I will thank you for it if being traditional means creating family stability, being a good role model and not jumping over the fence at the first sign of some greener, lusher lawn next door.

Life coach Michelle Burton-Aoun agrees. "Happiness, security and commitment are key to a stable marriage and a stable society, one cannot exist without the other. Making a marriage work takes time, patience and commitment... and both partners to do that."

While I'm not advocating staying in an unhappy relationship just for the sake of it I do feel today's disposable, celeb-obsessed, ‘status update' society can't cope with something that takes more devotion than 140 characters.

"Getting married is easier than staying married," says Michelle. "A marriage needs to be worked on from the start and every day after. Love is not the only ingredient... communication, respect and loyalty are crucial, too.

"The success of a lifetime relationship is not about finding the ‘right person', but about ‘cherishing the person you've found'. That's when ‘together forever' works."

I don't think Michelle is for a minute suggesting anyone settle for second best... just to have healthy expectations, to accept and to remember why you chose that person.

And if that doesn't convince you, the health reasons might. In 2006, scientists at the University of California found that those who expect to work at marriage are likely to have fewer health problems than those who believe they are marrying Prince Charming.

My husband may not be Prince Charming, but he's no frog either. And while we tackle life's ups and downs, together, toad warts and all, I know that this particular princess will have her ‘happily ever after.'

Next month's debate

Can a mother be both a parent and a ‘friend' to her child? To voice your view log on to www.facebook.com/AquariusMagazine.

Facebook fan feedback: What you say

"I'm an eternal romantic, so I believe ‘together forever' means forever, but for too many people these days, it means ‘together now'. I'm holding out for it."
– Aquarius fan Emi Beredugo

“‘Together forever’ should always be forever – a lot of patience, good humour and hard work goes a long way.”
– Aquarius fan Mansi Mathrani

"It's not outdated at all. Hard work, yes, but worth it!"
– Aquarius fan Monique Prevoo

"It's definitely getting more difficult to maintain that kind of relationship giving our needs tolerance."
– Aquarius fan Sharmistha Chatterjee

“In this age of faster, better, more... maybe the next generation won’t commit to one life-long partner.”
– Aquarius fan Deepti Ramachandran

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius magazine

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius magazine

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