||A mood of reflection about marriage is in the air throughout the Western world, states an article in Melbourne's daily newspaper. Over the last 20 years the divorced population in Australia has increased four times.
About thirty-nine percent of marriages are likely to end in divorce within 30 years. Sixty-two percent of the population find the concept of living together in a de facto relationship acceptable. 1975 and the introduction of unilateral no-fault divorce meant the end of legally binding behavioural promises. It seems that in a world in which everything - from coffee cups to employment - has become disposable or temporary, so has the tradition of marriage. But is it merely a tradition? In a recent discussion in Melbourne, two young couples shared their views on this topic. For Julia and Richard, marriage was not just a traditional ritual to be undertaken in order to satisfy cultural norms. After living together for four years and having a son, they felt there was something lacking in their relationship. It was not a tangible thing, but rather, as Richard describes it, a depth or spirituality which pulled them towards marriage. The decision to marry was a "scary" one for Richard; he had enjoyed the freedom from responsibility which he felt in the de facto relationship. The weeks before the marriage gave him time to consider the commitment he was about to make and he decided he wanted a permanent - as opposed to a "convenience" - relationship with Julia.
Their wedding took place a year ago beside the Yarra River which runs through Melbourne. For the couple, it was a public demonstration of their commitment to each other, and to their son. Marriage ceremonies take place around the world in different ways, but almost always involve this public declaration. In all areas, our society appears decreasingly keen on promises: employers offer little security to their workers, and receive scant loyalty in return. We rarely reply to invitations - is it in the hope that we will get a better offer? But since the wedding, Julia and Richard's relationship has deepened and they have gained a sense of direction. With long-term, mutual goals, they have been able to work more effectively together and to know each other on a new level.
Kim and Nettie also lived together for four years before marriage. For Kim, this arrangement "pulled the sex out of the equation": the couple did not marry merely because they were physically attracted, but rather because of the companionship they enjoyed. For some couples, sharing a space before marriage can provide a valuable chance to reflect on what long-term commitment would mean. For
others, it can be a catch: having lived together, it can be easy to drift into marriage, believing we have thought about the decisions and changed lifestyle that the commitment involves, when often we have not.
Although they do not call themselves "religious", Nettie and Kim hold similar values. Common interests (such as watching the cricket!) are not enough to hold together a marriage, says Amanda Gordon, clinical psychologist. Instead, agreement on a basic set of ethics around which a couple's life can revolve enables them to deal with superficial differences and to negotiate the disagreements which inevitably arise during a marriage.
In our 'me' society it is no wonder that marriage, with its 'we' focus, may seem outdated. For Nettie and Kim, the key to their seven-year marriage has been communication. They chose to marry after years of being best friends, able to talk openly with each other about anything. It is sad, but not surprising, that so-called relationships built over the Internet, so often end in disaster. How can there be 'real' communication in a 'virtual' relationship? Amanda Gordon warns that the frenzy of our lifestyles today can leave no time for talking. She suggests setting aside a time, or a "date", with our partner on a regular basis. This might mean rearranging our individual timetables, but after all a successful marriage relies upon compromise. We need to try to look at the world through our partners' eyes, not through rose-coloured glasses!
Nettie and Kim value their independence. In this sense, two have not become one: each has continued with activities they enjoyed, separately, before marriage. Inside their shared life, they are careful to give each other room to move. Kim does not believe their coexistence is fate; he and Nettie are not necessarily ideal partners. However, they have an absolute belief in their marriage, and in each other, that makes them willing to work to make it work!
With computers and other electronic devices that provide us with instant gratification, work over a long period - a lifetime, in the case of marriage - appears a foreign concept, but anything worthwhile requires it. Both couples have found their relationships becoming more precious all the time. Others involved in the discussion talked of learning about themselves through their marriage- coming to acknowledge their own weaknesses, in order to be able to manage these, and to recognise their strengths. In learning about ourselves we become a stronger, more supportive and satisfied society. Most importantly, so much joy can come from sharing our time with the person we know better and better. How can marriage ever be outdated?
Nicci Long, Australia