I Didn't Realize We Were Living Together
A big divorce story last year was the Conscious Uncoupling of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her rock-star husband Chris Martin. It bothered me when I first heard they were divorcing, I mean consciously uncoupling. I found the term dismissive. Thinking through it more, I do think it a wise use of words.
In order to get divorced you need to be married and if the term marriage is to mean something different than cohabitation there has to be some difference – a lifelong commitment as opposed to a continually renewable living arrangement with an op-out clause. And if you don’t honor the commitment, you never really had the commitment, and all you had was a living arrangement – cohabitation.
So, were Paltrow & Martin merely cohabitating – living together – until deciding not to live together? Were they just a couple that uncoupled? If you’re married, unless there is some unusual circumstance - like someone violating the law and hitting someone else – divorce shouldn’t happen. Divorce is by design to be the exception and not the rule. When half of marriages end it’s no longer the rarity.
I was married. We made a commitment to each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health – till death do us part. I honored this but my wife didn’t. So apparently, we really just lived together for seventeen years, because if we were married - we’d still be married! It’s that simple.
Now I realize I don’t have a right to say who is or isn’t married, however, I do feel within appropriate bounds to raise this issue because every marriage affects not only a couple, but their neighborhood, town, city, state and our country. The definition of something ultimately becomes what we collectively choose to accept as its meaning, which may or may not be its actual meaning, and like any feeling, isn’t always accurate. Call a tulip a daisy long enough and it becomes known as a daisy, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a tulip.
Simply put, it is clear that by and large we do not know how to be married or more people would be doing it and more would be successful at it. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to assert that with all the focus on how to succeed at it or how to get out of it, too many people don’t even know the meaning of it.
Marriage wouldn’t be the first word not everyone clearly understood. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld illustrates this in the famous scene from his hit TV show when he goes to pick up his mid-sized rental car:
I’m sorry, we have no midsize available at the moment.
I don’t understand – I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
Yes, we do. Unfortunately we ran out of cars.
But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservations.
I know why we have the reservations.
I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See you know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s REALLY the most important part of the reservation – the holding. Anybody can just take em"
You see, anyone can say they’re married, but to be married – is to be married – for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part! I’m still unclear as to which part of this people don’t understand?
Interestingly, what was unusual about what Gwyneth Paltrow & Chris Martin did – consciously uncouple - wasn’t in the label they put on it but rather that it was a mutual decision. In as much as almost all divorces are unilaterally decided, the most overlooked thing Gwyneth Paltrow said last year was the most important:
On when to throw the towel in: "I asked my dad once, 'How did you and mom stay married for 33 years?' And he said, 'Well, we never wanted to get divorced at the same time'. And I think that's what happens. ... When two people throw in the towel at the same time, then you break up, but if one person's saying, 'come on, we can do this,' you carry on." ~ Gwyneth Paltrow, USA Today-March 26, 2014
If we’d all listen to Gwyneth Paltrow’s father, marriage would look more like marriage and less like cohabitation and we’d all be a lot better off.