You get married for better or worse. At twenty-five, that’s an easy commitment to make. Signing the paperwork without reading the fine print is normal. You are more concerned about your gown’s Chantilly lace than legal matters. Thirty or more years later, the mistake of not reading the conditions outlined in your marriage contract is sitting on the couch watching television from morning to night.
Tim shared with me early on in our courtship that he didn’t see why people needed a mandatory contract to share a life. “You either trust each other, or you don’t,” he insisted. It didn’t deter me, nor did I wish to my waste time being on my best behavior if he considered signing a piece of paper too much of an inconvenience. I explained the need to enter a binding pact was because of the children, his, mine, and soon to be ours. I genuinely don’t recall him saying, “yes,” but weeks later we were married, and began dancing to the beat of a new family.
For the longest time, when a man and a woman married, according to the law they merged into one, and the one was the husband. Married women could not enter or sign a contract with anyone without their husband’s approval and signatures while he could. So, not many entrepreneur ladies in USA’s early history. Perhaps some future thinking women tried to nip it in the bud and attempted to get an agreement. But no go. State courts rational for opposing this escape plan was that it would encouraged divorce.
That’s the past, water under the bridge. Today, some of us are thinking of ways to remediate our past carelessness signing contracts we haven’t read, especially ones that give greater rights to one gender. Some of our more enlightened states are now permitting postnuptial agreements. In Massachusetts (1963), the state statutes were amended to permit a married woman to make a postnuptial contract with her husband. Why we, men or women, need postnuptial agreements is if a spouse turns into a black cloud with no hope of sunshine. It’s when better and worse is no longer fair. Postnuptial agreement can work like lemon laws that offer a remedy when your goods fail to meet standards of quality and performance, even though you do the regular maintenance, cook, clean, and sex. Well, two out of three anyway.
When a spouse faces medical illnesses, you are by his/her side attending to his/her care until your spouse is better or dies. Not because you signed up for better or worse, but because anything else is morally out of the question. But other situations arise you couldn’t have anticipated that requires you reboot the relationship or end it. Instead of driving a lemon the rest of your life, you can “hop on the bus and forget about us” if you please.
Diagnosed with diabetes, Chris Bacon’s doctor said he was to quit smoking, drinking, and lose weight. In other words, take better care of himself for his family’s sake and his own. His wife, Elsie was was determined to learn all she could about eating better and in time lost ten pounds that Chris found. Chris was irritable and showed no interest or inclination to change. As his diabetes worsened, she curtailed their travels to stay close to his primary physician. Their together activities changed from walking and traveling to watching television, his shows.
Ethel’s litany of aches and pains never end. Bill’s encouragement for her to exercise and to add turmeric to her drinks to ease her aches results in anger and accusations. This is not new. Ethel has always been a bit of a complainer but post-retirement it seems to be her only interest. Suggesting they get an RV and travel was tabled with no room for compromise or other options. They stopped going out with couple friends, not because of her poor hearing, but because she insists the hearing aids make her ears itch. She watches television with the volume on 30, and he’s now golfing four times a week.
Gladys and Harold spent years talking about how they would spend their retirement years. The talk started when their youngest of four was still in diapers. Sure, it was way off in the future, but it was fun to imagine all they would enjoy in the third phase of life. After their youngest joined Americorps, they both retired, and Gladys was eager to begin exploring. Harold needed more time. Another year should do it. It didn’t. He needed a year after that and so it went. Her dreams ran into a wall she didn’t have the strength to climb or the boldness to break it down.
When we reach life’s last chapter, the clock is ticking loudly. How do we deal with unreasonableness and deep unfairness? If my spouse refuses to take care of himself (or herself), how do I continue living my life to the fullest without guilt? How do I claim the right to enjoy the days I so looked forward to?
We met Peter and Janet when we moved into our Florida retirement community and became fast friends. Peter shared with us that it was he who was the spirit behind leaving New Jersey and moving into a new community they both now loved. “Should I die first,” he told us, “I want to know that Janet is among friends and can continue enjoying life.” A few years later, Peter passed away. It was unexpected and hard to accept. In time, Janet adjusted and was grateful for Peter’s foresight and attentiveness to her needs.
Elsie is a neighbor, an ophthalmologist, who married a farmer in the midwest. After raising a family and retiring, she told her husband she intended to buy a small home in Florida to spend part of winter. He may never visit her Florida home, but he accepted her decision.
The idea of a vow renewal is to commemorate our love for one another that has deepened and matured. Excellent idea. Here is another good one. When we marry (or via postnuptial agreement), the fine print should include an expiration date with an opportunity to renew. Perhaps we lucked out with a spouse like Peter or have the independence and financial resources of Elsie. But just in case, why not a signed and dated agreement?
We, Edith Andersen and Timothy J. Watts, before witnesses, reconfirm our intent to remain in this matrimony from this day forward until the marriage expires on June 21, 2022. At that time, Edith or Tim have the option to renew or terminate.
Would our commitment be stronger if we knew there was an expiration date? Would we put greater effort into our marriage, keeping the union harmonious, healthy, and satisfying for both? Instead of going along with what’s bad for us, living in discontent or even worse, thinking we have no power to make changes, we would skip the drama (and attorney fees) and spread our wings for a different nest and activities that fit who we are today.