Thesis 4: Marriage anew

My fourth thesis is that marriage needs to develop a new tradition that acknowledges its familial and dynastic aspects, its potentially long-lived nature, and its periods of vulnerability and dependence.

Much of this thesis has been anticipated in the previous discussion. Here, I want to consider the new tradition itself. Marriages evolve and the couple gets older. In the child-bearing years, the presence of dependent children makes the couple more dependent on each other. This dependence resurfaces if one or the other partner becomes seriously ill. Any new tradition should acknowledge this.
    Earlier in this essay, I revised the marriage vow, as follows: Marriage is a commitment to treat as family the issue and estate, however acquired. To this I would add that marriage is a commitment to treat one's partner as family, whatever else may happen. There are instances - I've seen them in my own extended family - of long-divorced couples reuniting around an illness, because the sick person is the parent of the children and often has no one else.
    Marriage is family, as I've asserted. The partners have a continuing obligation to each other. This may not be true in every instance, but even without children, longevity creates familial ties. As I write this, I can think of many exceptions - individuals who want nothing to do with an ex-partner and the ex-partner's family. That's fine. Do what you will. This is an ideal statement of a new tradition, just as the old tradition posed an ideal.
    The mutual obligations of the partners in a marriage evolve over time. As two individuals, what they owe each other versus what they owe themselves changes. A new tradition of marriage accepts and works with this. It doesn't say what to do, but acknowledges that something may need to be done.
     The nature and timing of marriage's evolution is up in the air. One partner may object. The new tradition of marriage says fine, but don't point to tradition to back you up. You knew going in that this might happen when you reach a point when mutual dependence is no longer an issue. Instead of seeing of it as an affront, see it as a time of growth.
    Marriage, as an "honorable estate," has legal meanings and involves the couple in a legal process to undo its status and redefine its obligations. Among my hopes in proposing a new tradition of marriage is to prompt discussion of this legal context. Just as the old tradition seems out of sync with the realities of modern life, the legal framework of marriage feels rooted in another era.
    If there's a pattern to the evolution of marriage, it coincides with the evolution of self, the slow or precipitous shedding of narcissism and possessiveness in favor of being, with its greater willingness to accept others as they are and allow life to unfold. Being as I understand it isn't passivity or fatalism. You still plan and daily life still has its discipline and √©lan. What's different is that you recognize life's contingent and ephemeral nature, valuing others for who they are, but not as "yours." This takes an act of will. When precipitous, this shift is like having your skin pulled off.
    Yet it is the necessary step. Being is the only way to live with life as it really is. A new tradition of marriage accepts life on its own terms. It accepts this other who is not us as part of something larger, a family, to which we both belong. 
    That identity is indelible, but this says nothing about this other belonging to us. "Until death," as the old tradition has it, is about a path we each take up. How we walk it is up to each of us. A new tradition of marriage accepts the other as an individual whose life unfolds independently from ours.
    As this implies, a new tradition of marriage needs to be open and capacious. The old tradition left this unstated - left it to each couple to negotiate the openness and deal with the marriage's evolution. The new tradition is more forthright about marriage's possible trajectories, willing to see it as a union of individuals who necessarily grow and change. It acknowledges what arises from the union - the sense or reality of family - and anticipates its importance.

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