20/40/60 Marriage–Redefining the “Successful Marriage”

It is a well-documented fact that in free societies where nubile persons choose their marriage partners, half of all marriages end in divorce. And it is fair to postulate that a significant percentage of the marriages that endure are not happy, satisfying unions. The institution of marriage in such societies, then—at least in its present expression—is significantly flawed, for a success rate of less than 50% would qualify most other things as in need of “improvement” or “major overhaul.”

Many people would agree that the concept of marriage—of two people officially and legally joining forces and resources to build a life together—is a good thing. After all, “life is hard,” so why “go it alone”? Besides, everyone needs someone to drop him off at the airport or pick him up off the bathroom floor if he falls and injures himself. But one of the fundamental flaws of marriage as presently defined is that it must endure for life in order to be regarded as “successful.” And it is that premise—codified in the “until death do us part” clause commonly found in religion-based marriage ceremonies—that generates much of the grief associated with the dissolution of marriages. Another fundamental flaw of marriage is the notion that spouses are self-contained, self-sufficient, autonomous units, capable of providing for all the needs and wants—emotional, sexual, financial, social—of each other for life. But that is simply too tall an order for many people.

While there is something sublime about two people meeting and falling in-love in their 20s, getting married, building a life together, raising children and then grandchildren, then walking off, hand in hand, into the sunset of their lives, that is not always or even typically the case. And while such a scenario may be regarded as the ideal expression of marriage, it should not, in a free society, be regarded as the institution’s only valid expression. What reasonable person would insist that a Rolls-Royce is the only valid automobile, or that the Gucci loafer is the only legitimate loafer, or that filet mignon is the only cut of beef worth eating, or that the only ice cream worthy of that delicious appellation is Häagen-Daz? If graduating summa cum laude were the only acknowledged way to graduate from college, very few people would possess acknowledged college degrees. In other words, in many facets of life, “good enough” is good enough. So why not apply that same standard when assessing the success or failure of a marriage?

In modern societies, where individual freedoms and pursuits are regarded as birthright, marriages that endure 10 years and beyond are increasingly being regarded as “successful” marriages. After all, in free, 21st-century societies, where people are expected to move in search of opportunity, where women have the means for independence, and where personal happiness is paramount, it is not unlikely that two people who are compatible today will become incompatible a decade later—at the fault of neither person. The fact is that people change—fundamentally—decade by decade. And a gentleman’s outlook on life in his 20s could be very different to that in his 30s, with both outlooks, even if diametrically opposed, being appropriate for their corresponding decade of life. Likewise, society also changes in fundamental ways: There was a time, for example, when the ideal career model was to secure employment upon leaving college or high school, work for the same enterprise for 40 or even 50 years, then retire (and hope to live long enough to enjoy retirement). In the 21st century, however, that outlook is almost inconceivable—for both employer and employee. Similarly, marriage-for-life may have been the only ideal model fifty years ago, when the genders were interdependent; where people were more religious and were married in religious ceremonies that incorporated the promise of marriage for life; and where, because of the preceding, there was a stigma attached to divorce. But by the 1970s, with the instituting of no-fault divorce, the rekindling of the Women’s Movement and the Sexual Revolutions, the decline of religion (even if not spirituality), etc., society’s outlook on what constitutes a successful marriage began to be more broadly interpreted and defined.

Today, a significant percentage of nubile persons in free societies marry more than once—and for good and different reasons. It is not uncommon for people to finally “get it right” only after their second or third attempt. So it would perhaps behoove society to own up to the fact of multiple marriages over the course of the typical lifetime and create an outlook on marriage that accommodates multiple marriages.

Twenty-Forty-Sixty Marriage (or Stability/ Sex/ Compatibility Marriage)

Twenty-Forty-Sixty Marriage offers the social framework for the average person to marry three times over the course of his lifetime—having a “successful” marriage each time by accomplishing the realistic goals earmarked for of each of the three tiers of marriage: marriage for stability in one’s 20s; marriage for sex in one’s 40s; and marriage for companionship in one’s 60s.

Twenties Marriage (Stability-Marriage)

One of the age-old problems with child-bearing is that marriage is the condition precedent to the “legitimacy” of children. But in a liberal, tolerant society where “family” is being redefined to include other models, and where same-sex marriage and the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes are now accepted, why should marriage remain the prerequisite for legitimacy? Why couldn’t legitimacy, for example, be accomplished via a contractual agreement between consenting parents who legally acknowledge paternity/maternity and agree to share equally in the responsibility of the raising of those children? Would women feel less compelled to marry in their 20s so as to bear their children within the context of wedlock?

But 21st-century society, despite all its social advancements and inclinations towards tolerance, is not yet at that juncture. So for the time being, women continue to marry in their 20s—not necessarily because they want to be married, but because their 20s is the best decade for bearing children, even if not for raising them. Then to further complicate matters is the fact that their male contemporaries—young men in their 20s—typically do not have the financial or emotional wherewithal to support a child-bearing wife and the couple’s offspring. Consequently, many well-intentioned marriages between loving young people end in bad divorce. And it is bad divorce—not divorce in and of itself—that is the culprit. The days of “marriage come hell or high water” are practically over. Today, thankfully, people recognize that the right to marry is concomitant with the right to divorce, and that divorce, under certain circumstances, can be a very good thing.

Under the Twenty-Forty-Sixty Marriage model, a woman in her twenties would marry a man in his forties who is capable of providing a stable environment for the bearing and caring of children. The symbiotic trade-off is stability for the younger woman, sensuality for the older man. While for a woman in her 20s, marriage to a man twenty years her senior may not be as sexually rewarding as a marriage to man in his 20s, marriage to a financially and emotionally established older man is arguably the relationship that is in the best interest of child-rearing. (For many couples comprised of two young adults in their twenties, the stresses of child-rearing, career, financial instability, compromised individuality, etc., are overwhelming).

The Twenty-Forty-Sixty Marriage model further postulates that men in their 20s should also marry for stability—to women in their 40s (some of whom will have obtained their stability whilst married to men 20 years older). A young gentleman’s marriage to a a more mature, stable woman—without the burden of child-bearing/rearing (since, theoretically, his more mature wife would have already born her children in her 20s with an older husband)—could serve to be the perfect environment for a young man to obtain upper-level education, build his career, and mature emotionally. The benefit to the more mature wife is sex with a young, virile husband, thereby compensating for the sex she may have missed during her child-bearing twenties while married to a man in his forties.

Forties Marriage (Sex-Marriage)

Everyone has a right to experience sexual pleasure in his lifetime; it is his birthright. The sexual peak of the human animal—when his body, mind, and soul are most at equilibrium—occurs between the ages of 24 and 48. While there is a sublime beauty to young love-making, where two inexperienced lovers uncover the art of sex together through trial and error, there is wisdom in the notion that sex is best enjoyed when at least one partner is sexually experienced and can guide the other. In Forties Marriage, the older man, who, while in his 20s would have learned the art of pleasing a woman while he was under the tutelage of his more mature wife, in his 40s marries a woman in her 20s. He provides a stable environment for himself, her, and the children they will bear together, while his young wife invigorates his sex life. Similarly, a woman in her 40s, having born her children with an older man and having learned the art of pleasing a man during her previous marriage with her first, older husband, in her 40s will bestow that knowledge upon her young husband.

When Marriage for Stability and Marriage for Sex are combined, then, they allow for everyone—women and men—to experience the comforts of a stable environment in which to bear and rear children and to establish him/herself professionally, emotionally, and financially. Everyone gets a chance to do everything—well.

The Twenty-Forty-Sixty model gives rise to the question: How does divorce—even “good” divorce—impact children? Children are astoundingly resilient, malleable, and accommodating to change—much more so than adults. When parents uproot and move in pursuit of opportunity, for example, children move along with them and readjust. For children, “normal” is whatever has been presented to them as “normal”—even if, objectively, it is “abnormal.” Unlike children of the 1950s, for whom divorce was abnormal and oftentimes traumatic, 21st-century children regard divorce as “the new normal.” Rarely, in the modern family is there a family without numerous examples of divorce. So children today understand and are comfortable with the concepts of shared custody, alternating holidays, multiple homes, etc. And children today feel that they and their parents are entitled to individual happiness. Amicable (“good”) divorce, where parents, in the best interest of the children, remain civil or friendly during and after divorce, tends to be far less traumatic for children and is even regarded by a growing number of them as the preferred alternative to a contentious or dysfunctional marriage. Under the Twenty-Forty-Sixty model, “transitional divorce” is factored into the tiers of marriage from inception, thereby minimizing the occurrence of bad divorce while increasing the likelihood of divorce that is in the best interest of all parties involved. Under the Twenty-Forty-Sixty construct, transitional divorce is part and parcel to marriage. It is the norm. It gracefully (even if not seamlessly) allows for divorce to occur in Stability-Marriage and Sex-Marriage when the objectives of those marriages have been achieved. Under the Twenty-Forty-Sixty construct, transitional divorce does not sever relationships on the emotional, spiritual level; only on a legal one. And transitional divorce is, of course, not mandatory: If both parties a couple agree to transition together into the next tier of marriage, they are able to do so. Additionally, the Twenty-Forty-Sixty model in no way infringes upon the traditions or moral fabric of marriage for life. Proponents of marriage for life are free to pursue their traditional ideals.

Sixties Marriage (Compatibility-Marriage)

A person in his sixties is in a different place—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially—than a person in his forties: Their priorities are fundamentally different (partly because people in their sixties are acutely aware that their lives are beyond half-lived). Compatibility-Marriage allows for people in their sixties—after having raised their children, having had fulfilling sex lives, having obtained their career goals, and having made their marks on the world—to align with each other for the sheer pleasure of companionship, with sex being, at best, incidental to or a perquisite of the union. It is not uncommon in modern, transient societies for people in their sixties to establish new homesteads for their retirement years, oftentimes geographically distancing themselves from their children and grandchildren in the process. Conversely, it is not uncommon for people in their sixties to be left behind by children seeking opportunities and establishing their own branches of family in other cities and countries. So many people in their sixties desire to be officially and legally assured of companionship that is likely to endure for the remainder of their lives: marriage. But unlike their previous marriages, the primary motivation for Compatibility-Marriage is friendship. Thus, in societies where same-sex marriage is legal, the pool of potential Compatibility-Marriage spouses is twice as large. Because of the nature of Compatibility-Marriage, the gender or sexual orientation of one’s spouse becomes less material. A platonic relationship is the foundation of Compatibility-Marriage. And its objective is to endure for the remainder of life.

But sex may still play a meaningful role in Compatibility-Marriage. Typically, by age 60, many people will have conquered or come to terms with their “hang-ups” about sex, so sex (to the extent that it exists) within the context of Compatibility-Marriage, can oftentimes be exciting and liberating. Because sex is not the primary motivation for Compatibility-Marriage, partners tend to be less sexually possessive or exclusive with their spouses. Compatibility-Marriage, therefore, is oftentimes open to non-committal extramarital sex, ménage à trois, hired sex (in jurisdictions where it is legal, of course), etc. After all, people in their 60s are grown people and should be mature enough to handle the intricacies, subtleties, and complexities of sex and sexual relationships. People in their sixties are also acutely aware that they are in the final phase of any meaningful sex life. So whatever sex they engage in during those years should be fulfilling, exciting, interesting, and engaged in for the purpose of strengthening their Compatibility-Marriage.

[  The Twenty-Forty-Sixty model also applies to same-sex marriage, except that the child-bearing component of Stability-Marriage (Twenties Marriage) does not apply to same-sex male marriage (though it does apply to same-sex female marriage). ]

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