I believe all things have a life span. A cycle, a duration, a period in which things are right and cozy and vital in the world of that thing. A natural phase marked by birth, growth, decline, and finally death, whether that thing is a human, a tree, a tee shirt, or a banana. Relationships are not immune to this temporal state despite our best attempts to the contrary. And I am fine with that—mostly. The thing is, culturally and religiously, we have an unnatural attachment to the thought of relationships lasting forever as if the concept of forever, a static moment frozen in time, is a good thing. I mean, think about it: That two people can come together and remain fixed in relation to one another and in the ideas/energy/whatever it was that brought them together is silly at best, ignorant at worst.
“I believe all things have a life span. A cycle, a duration, a period in which things are right and cozy and vital in the world of that thing. … Relationships are not immune to this temporal state despite our best attempts to the contrary.”
Now I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s happily ever after parade, but let’s be honest, coming apart is as common as coming together. Both events complete a cycle that marks distinct passages in our lives. Yes, the getting over and grieving the loss part sucks, but I know many people who have grown, blossomed, and thrived in the aftermath of a relationship gone south. Not that this renewal happens right away— as with the relationship the healing has a lifetime, too, and this period is different for everyone.
I muse on this topic because of a German politician’s modest proposal. Described in the media as “a flame-haired motorcyclist” and a member of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Socialist (CSU) party, Gabriele Pauli has recently proposed that marriage come with an expiration date. Yes, that’s right, she wants to legislate the seven-year itch and I’m all for it. Her premise, and one I think would benefit all relationships, is if couples were obliged to reevaluate their vows every seven years then those that wanted to stay together could by re-upping their married status and those who didn’t want to could dissolve the relationship. An honest assessment of the relationship, rather than staying together out of comfort or fear, may keep couples together that want to stay together and give those who feel differently an option to divorce.
Imagine the discussions that could happen in year six. A healthy couple could weigh the merits of both options and decide that they are going to stick it out for the next seven. They could plan a big 7.1 party (to be followed in subsequent years by 7.2, 7.3, you get the idea) where all their friends and family could celebrate their recommitment.
For couples who decide their relationship has run its course, they could go quietly, or noisily, into their individual futures. Couples might be compelled to assess their relationships in the bright light of reality rather than with fingers crossed in the dark. The elephant in the room would be acknowledged. The 800-pound gorilla would be visible. In short, instead of couples going into the ‘til death do us part charade they could have authentic dialogue about their relationship and acknowledge that nothing lasts forever. Who knows, maybe more people would make careful decisions about marriage rather than a what-the-hell-it-will-be-over-in-seven attitude that could result from this unique law.
Whether Gabriele Pauli is serious or vying for the limelight isn’t important, what matters is that an opportunity for reasoned conversation about relationships, instead of fairy-tale falsehood, is initiated. Ms. Pauli’s proposal allows us to reassess our relationships and to ponder what we’d do if we were approaching year seven, and what it would be like to live our lives with honesty and integrity.