THE COMMITMENT DEBATE:
SHOULD WE GET MARRIED OR NOT?


The following pages are part of the Introduction of a book-in-progress called
Designer Marriage: Write Your Own Relationship Contract.
Here is the complete table of contents,
which contains the 28 Questions that should be asked and answered by every couple:
http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/RC.html




    A.  The Commitment Dilemma:
        She Wants Commitment; He Wants Freedom.

     If you are already in a relationship but are not yet married,
perhaps you have had discussions—even arguments—about 'commitment'.
Conventionally, the female wants "commitment", which often means marriage.
The male says that he wants more freedom than marriage usually allows.
However, sometimes he wants "commitment " and she wants freedom.

     If the discussion has been about getting married or not,
you might have put yourselves into unnecessary all-or-nothing positions.
Conventionally, she wants to get married; whereas he prefers unmarried love.
But instead resolving this dispute by choosing marriage or rejecting wedlock,
consider the ample middle ground, where you might both be happier.
A personal relationship need not be a package deal
—with all of the details of the trip exactly the same for everyone.

     So instead of trying to decide immediately marriage or no marriage,
consider the possibility of sub-dividing the question of commitment
so that you can create a unique relationship one dimension at a time.
The one who wants to get married could be asked
what is especially attractive about marriage.
Perhaps she has in mind a few especially important features of marriage.
For example, does the marriage advocate want the security and permanence
that is supposed to come with marriage?
Would another set of personal promises be as good as marriage?

     Likewise, the one who is resisting marriage could be asked
what is the outstanding negative dimension of marriage he wants to avoid?
Perhaps he will say that he does not want to get married
because of the financial obligations imposed by marriage laws.
If so, could you create some other sort of financial agreement
that would suit your own situation better than standard marriage?

     Another example: Perhaps one of you thinks of marriage
as the necessary first step toward having children.
In that case, you need to discuss your parental plans
to see what agreements and disagreements you might have.
Maybe the man is not ready for the responsibilities of raising children;
and he is expressing that choice by resisting getting married.
Maybe the woman is more committed to the idea of having children
than she is committed to any particular relationship with a man.
In other words, if she knew for certain he would not have children with her,
she would end that relationship and find a man who wants to have children.

INTRODUCTION:              COMMITMENT OR FREEDOM?             by James Park              3



     Women might be more anxious about reproduction
because they know they must get started within a certain period of years
if they want to avoid medical complications from pregnancy and birth defects
—risks that increases as women get older.
Men often do not feel this time pressure,
because they have no biological clock ticking away their potential fatherhood.

     If having children is a major issue in your relationship discussions,
the following is one possible way you could resolve the issue.
(Part III of this book explores several children-related Questions in detail.)
You could decide to commit yourselves to each other for a period of one year,
during which you will completely explore your thoughts about having children.
For example, you could commit yourselves to reading at least 5 books
from the Birth Planning Bibliography.
[See New Ways of Loving: How Authenticity Transforms Relationships
or the Internet: http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/B-BABY.]

Perhaps you could read your chosen books together aloud
and discuss the issues raised as you go along.

     If you decided that you want to raise children together,
you might decide that the standard marriage contract is not the best way.
One alternative might be for you to commit yourselves to each other
for the duration of the parenting years—until all your children become adults.
In round numbers this would be at least 20 years.
For example, if it is now 2010, your contract would last until 2030.

     And, because you might be realistic enough to know
that your own relationship might not last as long as your parental commitment,
you might also write into your relationship contract
that if your own personal relationship comes to an end,
the woman will get custody of the children and the man will pay child-support.
[See Questions 13 & 14.]

     When you think about the details of your commitments in such terms,
then it becomes much more specific than the marriage/no-marriage debate.
And when you write your own detailed provisions
rather than subscribing to the standard marriage contract,
you can tailor the provisions more specifically to your own circumstances.

     Standard marriage is a major life-commitment.
So it should not be entered into lightly
—hoping that everything will work itself out
because millions of other couples have been married before.

4   DESIGNER MARRIAGE:   WRITE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP CONTRACT   by James Park



     One function is this book is to defuse
the either/or nature of such discussions about marriage.
When "marriage" is the only word used to explore this possibility,
the detailed dynamics of any relationship might get lost beneath the label.
So this book will enable you to sub-divide the question of marriage
into 28 smaller Questions, many of which are independent of the others.

     Most people considering marriage have at least a few modifications
they would like to make—departing from the traditional patterns of marriage.
Once you begin to discuss these details,
marriage stops being an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it decision.
You can imagine the ideal design for your own relationship,
beginning with how you would like to modify the standard marriage contract.
You can examine the features of standard marriage one by one,
reaching preliminary understandings about each provision before proceeding.

     If one of you wants a commitment as close to marriage as possible,
he or she might be looking for a ready-made structure for your relationship,
even tho your operating principles are not the standard marriage contract.
Once you agree that you do not want an absolutely traditional marriage,
you have already begun to modify the standard contract.
You can begin with the small modifications about which you agree
and then move on to more controversial differences of opinion
about the best structure for your relationship.

     Or you might call it a new synthesis:
One of you presents a thesis for discussion (eg lets have 5 babies in 10 years).
Then the other offers an antithesis to be examined
(eg lets take a year to consider the whole question of reproduction).
And then you work out a synthesis of views that you both like.
If no meeting of minds is possible, the sooner you discover this the better.
Can you still have a relationship if you disagree about children?
Sometimes a specific issue will be central for one partner.
But at other times, you can agree to disagree:
Neither of you needs to convert to the religion of the other to stay together.

     Another example:  Her thesis is that you must get married
—or she will look for someone who will marry her.
His antithesis is that freedom is more important than marriage.
And your synthesis is that you can create a free commitment between you
—a relationship contract you both freely embrace,
a description and definition of your relationship
that arises from the two special persons you are.
Your unique pattern will suit you—and probably no other couple.

INTRODUCTION:       SUB-DIVIDE THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE      by James Park         5



     In terms of the 28 Questions asked in this book,
one of you is saying that she wants the marriage commitment,
which means that she endorses the standard marriage contract,
that she would choose the default answer to each of the 28 Questions.
The other is balking at that form of commitment, perhaps for specific reasons,
which will become clear as you discuss each Question.
Or the resisting partner might be worried about
some unexamined implications of marriage vaguely felt in the background
which cannot be stated clearly in the middle of the debate about 'commitment'.
Writing your own relationship contract point-by-point
will clarify where you already have total agreement
and will bring out specific areas of possible conflict,
which you can then resolve one issue at a time.

     If one of you demands 'commitment' in the form of standard marriage,
it might be felt by the other as an attempt to force down his throat
a huge indigestible lump of unexamined requirements.
And his reasonable response might be to ask for the marriage contract
to be sub-divided into bite-size pieces so that each provision can be examined
separated from the rest of the items on the plate.
He might still decide to accept the whole meal called "marriage",
but at least he will know more clearly what he is eating.
More likely, both of you will decide to accept some provisions
of the standard marriage contract while modifying others.
And the process of examining exactly what is included in the marriage meal
might disclose to the partner who was originally demanding 'commitment'
some provisions that do not exactly fit her either,
which she would like to change to make your relationship work better.

     The free commitment you create between you
might be your detailed answers to the 28 Questions of this book.
If you work out your own answers to each Question,
you are more likely to follow what you have written
than if one partner feels that he or she has been forced to sign a document
without being given the opportunity to read it
or to seek modifications of provisions that do not suit
the particular persons who are forming this personal partnership.

     The intent of this book is to empower you
to enter discussions about your relationship with open minds,
not firmly locked into non-negotiable stances
before you carefully discuss the specific requirements of marriage.
As you chew over each of the 28 bites of the marriage contract,
you can make wise and mutually-agreeable provisions one-by-one.

6   DESIGNER MARRIAGE:   WRITE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP CONTRACT   by James Park



    And at the end of this process, you can decide whether your answers
add up to an agreement close enough to standard marriage
for you to get married under the law of your state or country
or whether your relationship departs so significantly from standard patterns
that you have created a non-marriage personal contract between you.

     Your systematic discussion of your relationship will be more productive
if you keep your conclusion genuinely open while discussing each Question.
If one partner always automatically endorses the default answer
because he or she wants marriage no matter what,
then the discussion of each of the 28 Questions
will simply replay of the debate about 'commitment' versus freedom.
One will suggest some variation from the normal marriage pattern,
but the other (fearing the final outcome might go against marriage)
might blindly affirm every default answer
even if it makes no sense in your particular relationship.

     In practice, each of you will probably have some suggested variations.
But if you start with the easy Questions, you can agree on most issues.
Then you can discuss the more controversial Questions,
which you might be able to resolve in compromises you both like
and which neither of you could have created on your own.


Created August 23, 2007 ; Revised 4-5-2009


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