Our view of weddings as a vow people make to each other, to stay together “’til death do us part”, seems to be pretty universal.
But does it have to be?
Is vowing to stay with someone for the rest of your lives overly optimistic? Presumptuous? Unrealistic? Or is it romantic? For some, maybe it’s romantic and unrealistic. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Divorce is way more accepted today than it has been in the past. The divorce rate in North America hovers somewhere between forty and fifty percent. It’s pretty common, all things considered. But somehow, “divorce” still seems to be a dirty word in the wedding sphere.
I mean, I understand why no one talks about divorce when it comes to anything wedding-related. Nobody gets married with the expectation that they’re going to get divorced. I’m skeptical that many people get married and even acknowledge the fact that they may end up getting divorced. Even if they did acknowledge the possibility of divorce, and they decided to say anything about it, they would likely be met with something like this:
“If you think you’re just going to get divorced later, should you REALLY be getting married?”
“‘I do’ means ‘I do for life‘. If you’re not willing to commit to that, then you’re wrong to be getting married in the first place.”
“If you don’t know in your soul that you’ll be with this person until the day you die, then they aren’t the one.”
Call me crazy, but I think that’s a really awful way to look at things.
If your personal definition of marriage fits the mainstream definition, that’s cool! If the intention behind your vows is forever, then that’s great! But it’s archaic as hell that we force that definiton (and that all-or-nothing mindset) onto everyone.
Divorce doesn’t sell. The Wedding Industrial Complex can’t easily market divorce- it doesn’t fit with the “Happily Ever After”, Perfect Wedding™ that we’re all told we need to have. Ultimately, it’s easier to convince everyone that “forever” is the only way to do a marriage, and anything else is lazy (“You just don’t want to commit”), weak (“You can’t commit”), or immoral (“It’s not a real marriage if it isn’t forever”).
Disclaimer: I know I’m handwaving over a LOT of history here. Religion, economics, politics, gender roles, human rights, and cultural influences have all had a huge influence on the “’till death” mindset. But for the sake of keeping this brief (ish), I’m choosing to focus on the present.
Divorce makes us feel uncomfortable because we’ve been conditioned to feel uncomfortable. But the good news is this: we are capable of facing our discomfort and unlearning what we’ve been taught.
I saw a quote on social media lately that I thought was really profound. It went something along the lines of, “some people are only compatible with an expired version of you”. And that’s completely okay. Whether we’re in a relationship or not, we’re constantly growing and evolving as people. Sometimes, our partners will grow and evolve with us. Other times, we grow apart. Humans are constantly changing- this is the core fact that we need to accept when it comes to destigmatizing divorce in weddings. This is what it’s all about. The only constant is change. And accepting that one day, you and your partner(s) may get divorced isn’t an indication of a lack of commitment, or a lack of love, or a lack of work ethic. It’s healthy. It’s positive. It’s emotionally mature, no matter how in love you and your partner(s) are.
The single most important thing you can do before getting married is clarifying your intention going into the marriage. What exactly are you promising to do? What are the terms and conditions? Believe it or not, you can still have a divorce-friendly wedding if your intention is to stay together for the rest of your lives!
If you want to be more mindful about the start of your marriage, and you’d like to make your wedding more divorce-friendly, start with these three steps:
I. Acknowledge that you are whole people. Not “two halves of a whole”/”three thirds of a whole”/”four quarters of a whole”/etc. You are a complete person regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. No matter how in love with someone you are, or how closely intertwined your lives and personalities are, you are still a rich, complex, whole individual on your own.
II. Acknowledge the unpredictability of change. Change happens, whether we want it to or not. And we can rarely, if ever, predict how drastic change is going to be or the speed with which it will happen. Most change is completely out of our control. We can generally control our reactions to change, but we may not always have the luxury of reacting the way we want to. No matter how in love we are, or how committed we are, we cannot see the future… And divorce is never impossible. Extremely unlikely? Sure. But never impossible.
III. Examine your vows. These are the literal promises you’re making to yourselves and each other. What is your intention going into this marriage? What does this wedding mean to you? How do you define your relationship moving forward? Take a look at all of these things, and see if your vows reflect your intentions while still allowing room for the two points above. Is the language inclusive and accurate? Does it make you feel good?
All of this being said, I do have to admit… “‘Til Death Do Us Part” does have a nice ring to it. It has a note of finality, of gravitas. But it isn’t exactly divorce-friendly. If you’re struggling to think of an alternative with the same “oomph”, consider this statement that’s used often in Pagan weddings and commitment ceremonies:
“I vow to… (do/be/have/etc.) …For as long as love shall last.”
Granted, it isn’t perfect. Plenty of people choose to seperate, despite still loving each other. But it’s an excellent jumping off point for divorce-friendly ceremony wording!