Life & Style | Relationships

Debate: Is 'together forever' an outdated concept?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
  • Published: 00:02 February 1, 2012
  • Aquarius

Couple holding hands
  • Image Credit: Camera Press
  • "Too many couples take the easy downhill route when the uphill going gets tough," says Kate Birch.

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.

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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

Comments (5)

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  1. Added 17:52 February 10, 2012

    I am honestly appalled that marriage has become something as simple as "if you don't like it, change it..". Just because the girl who contributed to this article fell in love at a young age and it didn't end up lasting forever doesn't mean that marriage and love is now a concept that should be as disposable as "if you don't like your job, change it". A marriage is not equivalent to a job or a friend that you no longer like hanging out with. It's ridiculous to make these kinds of comparisons. This is the kind of thinking that's going to destroy the concept of family. I'm not saying if you don't like it, stick with it regardless, your life is over because you said "I do".. but seriously, let's have a little more respect for the vows that we make to those we love.. just a little more respect..

    Zaina , Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 16:53 February 6, 2012

    The thoughts about disposable relationships are mostly among the young. The meaning of relation seems to be centered on sex and sex only. Which is only 10% of a real relationship/companionship. We cannot compare a human relationship with models of phone & cars. It's 100% inhuman. The person who thought about disposable relations is just making a requisition for legalizing prostitution. I just have to say "Cheap are the disposable & priceless are the life-long relationships". We cannot be animals. Ooh .. some animals also do not change their partners for ever…

    Sanjay, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 14:09 February 6, 2012

    Well, here i.e. in this region. such articles are influencing the religious values, culture & society in a negative way. Of course! marriage is good and far better than JUST a relationship. Long back the West has lost its moral values & everything for them is materialistic world & capital links. Media must monitor such articles & ensure that in the name of freedom, the religious requirements & values are not over-run!!!

    Farha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 14:08 February 6, 2012

    Marriage has different stages as life. It's not always only undying love that makes a marriage stick. Nevertheless, I couldn't comment less on finding the right partner before you sign that paper.

    Jawad, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 20:03 February 1, 2012

    Love is more than just two people being together, it is a Universal Law that has been around since the beginning of time. It has its own way of expressing itself...it grows, it subsides, it ebbs, it bonds, it lives in one, it lives in both, it sometimes lives as a "unit" of unbreakable power. I'd not count out love so easily...it's been around longer than just now.

    Kelly, Texas, United States

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