One of the saddest things I've read all week is this story about a new trend in marriages: "love contracts" that go beyond standards pre-nups, and put spouses under legal compulsion to do (or not do) certain very specific things.
“Lifestyle clauses are on the rise,” said New York City-based matrimonial attorney Robert Wallack, who represented Christie Brinkley and Damon Dash, among others, in recent high-profile divorces.
“It used to be for better or worse, and you went with it. Now people want to dictate how the couple will live within the marriage.”
Some of the stipulations include not getting a new cat when the old one dies, not bringing mom along on vacations, not cheating, and not gaining too much weight.
Newlywed Priscilla Chan is said to have made Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg commit to spending at least one night and 100 minutes of quality time with her per week.
Where to begin? Here are the problems with approaching marriage this way:
Some of them require people to do things which are so trivial, any adult ought to be ashamed to insist they're important enough to write down. Marriage is a huge, heavy, unwieldy thing, and it can't be supported with a foundation of minutiae -- whether those minutiae are adhered to or not. One man said, "We were both married before, and our marriages broke up over minor things ... We thought that if we could get those small things out of the way beforehand, we would have a chance to make it this time.” Sorry, friend. A marriage that breaks up over minor things is not going to last because of minor things. Basic physics tells us not to build a pyramid with the small end as the foundation.
And, if you've been married seven years or more, think back to when you were engaged: what was important to you at the time? What were your top ten priorities (or top ten unbearable irritants)? Have they changed at all? Do you really want the same things from your spouse now that you did when you were younger? Or have your priorities shifted? Putting "lifestyle" specifics (other than the basics of loving and staying faithful) into a legal contract is like getting a tattoo with your home address on it. It makes sense now, but what if you move?
And some of these contracts require people to do the things that most wedding vows already include. If you are afraid your spouse won't honor his vows, then why would you marry him? Do you really want to bind yourself to someone who must be compelled or intimidated into treating you well? Do you want to become one flesh with someone who has more respect for legal obligations than for personal ones?
The Catholic Church only recognizes a marriage as valid if both spouses enter into it voluntarily. And there is the crux of the matter: we don't bind each other. We bind ourselves. Yes, we are obligated to treat each other well, in big matters like fidelity and smaller matters like courtesy. But strong and happy marriages come about when each spouse is living that way because he wants to -- because he's actively seeking the well-being and happiness of his spouse. In short, when each spouse is striving to love the other.
I can only imagine the bitterness of a marriage where one spouse has no interest in growing in love, but only wants to protect himself legally -- and so he rigidly fulfills his contractual obligations, and no more. He spends 100 minutes of face time with his wife, but those 100 minutes are filled with self-centered behavior and criticism. Or she stays trim and fit, according to her legal obligation, but spends all her time sharing that fabulous body with someone else besides her husband.
And then what? Happiness ensues, as guaranteed by the contract? Not likely. There is no happiness on earth like discovering that you are more than the sum of your desires. Getting everything that you think is coming to you sounds great, but it's nothing more than a prison. Good marriages crack that prison open. John says, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)
Yes, marriage is a risk. Sometimes people lose. They marry someone who looks loving, but isn't -- or they marry someone who starts out decent, but then changes. I'm not trying to trivialize the risk we take when we marry. I'm just saying that there is no way of avoiding that risk. A spouse who wants to hurt you is going to find a way to hurt you, no matter what legal protections you have in place.
So who can survive a marriage, when marriage has so many risks? The ones who are willing to be cracked open like a grain of wheat. To love is to make yourself vulnerable. In a way, it's appropriate to go into a marriage with fear, because you are taking incredible risks. But these contracts don't get rid of the risk. They just make sure that the wheat will die without bearing fruit.