The Rockwood Files: To have and to hold — for 24 months

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Imagine if wedding vows sounded more like this: “I, prospective bride, do take you, chosen spouse, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, or for a period not to exceed 24 months, at which time the interested parties will meet to discuss contract negotiations.”

Slightly less romantic, huh? But it’s gaining traction in Mexico City, where lawmakers are considering making marriage licenses temporary, with terms as short as two years. If the happy couple is no longer happy after two years, they simply go their separate ways without the hassle of a messy divorce.

The contracts would include details on how property and custody issues would be handled, so the fall-out is clear even before things fall apart. Crazy? Cynical? Or just a sign of the times?

When Tom and I heard this news story, we joked about how the bride and groom could choose a “commitment package” at the altar. “Would you like our Premier Golden Love package, which will keep the knot tied for 50 years? Or perhaps you’re more interested in our Introductory No-Big-Deal package, which will free you from the bonds of matrimony in 24 short months.”

We know the failure rate for marriages is alarmingly high, but beginning a marriage knowing it’s temporary seems like a sure-fire way to kill it. Wouldn’t every marital disagreement leave spouses looking forward to the contract “end date”?

Imagine how different conversations in bars would be: “Hi. I noticed you from across the room. Are you single?”

“No, but I will be in 8 months. Hang onto my phone number.”

I’m no relationship expert, but I’ve been married for nearly 13 years. And I know that part of what makes it work is having two people who are “all in” – not two people who kinda sorta want to test drive marriage to see how it handles.

If marriages turn into something that looks more like a car lease, people will be more likely to think about what exciting new person they might find at the end of the lease, when the “new spouse smell” has worn off the first bride or groom. They’ll be thinking about trade-ins and upgrades instead of “til death do us part.”

I wonder if the husband and wife would meet in a board room with attorneys present when it was time to renew the 2-year contract: “My client will agree to renew said marriage license with your client, if and only if he agrees to quit playing golf every single Saturday and start being nicer to my client’s mother.”

“And my client is amenable to those terms, if and only if your client agrees to lose 15 pounds and stop nagging my client about leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor.”

There’s something to be said for the power of expectation. When you go into a relationship with an expiration date, it has a way of fulfilling that expectation. We put a different level of care into things that are disposable versus things we want to keep around forever. Used tissues get tossed in the trash without a second thought. But we handle family heirlooms carefully so we can preserve them for years to come. They are precious and rare, so we treat them as such.

Stay tuned to see what happens to marriage in Mexico City. The Roman Catholic Church has denounced the proposal as immoral and absurd. Here’s hoping there are enough voters who want a relationship that can go the distance – not just a quick spin around the block.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.