If you look at the traditional marriage vows, here’s what they say:

I take thee to be my wedded spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

So sweet and simple, right?  Well, except that the lawyer in me now wants to clarify a few points and maybe add some footnotes– particularly around the part about sickness and the “till death do us part.” Let me explain why…

As a matrimonial lawyer, I draft and negotiate contracts for people everyday– sometimes for happy couples about to get married (that is about 25% of my practice), and the rest are for not so happy couples that need to separate and untangle their joint lives.  After 15 years of observing family dynamics and 8 years of research as to what can make or break a marriage, I firmly believe it is these vows themselves that doom a couple if even just one truly believes that a person is going to stay in the marriage no matter what.  Maybe so in ancient times, but NOT in the 21st century.

We all understand and accept that everyone has good and bad days, that sometimes we’ll have good financial years and other times we’ll have lean years, and of course everyone gets sick at some point, but the key question here is are you taking care of yourself?  Are you doing your very best to eat healthy, exercise, rest and stay well?  If an issue comes up, are you addressing it or are you slacking?  If demons from your past surface, are you making an effort to face them?

If you let yourself go, and you allow your anxiety or depression to take hold of you, you are not just ruining yourself– you impact all those around you.  If you lack coping mechanisms for your stress, and you start becoming belligerent, or you start drinking excessively, these actions will cause a reaction from those you love.  For every action, there is a reaction.

While no one can force another to get help, we can all make the choice to walk away.  It’s called self-preservation.  In over 75% of my cases, one partner is an alcoholic or drug addict, and the other person has finally gotten to the point where s/he cannot deal with this situation any longer.  To leave is not easy, but to stay would be suicide, and they are choosing to forgo the “til death do us part” provision.  Who can blame them?

So, perhaps instead of saying this is a life-time contract, the vows should just say, “as long as you walk the line,” which I’m borrowing from one of my all-time favorite movies “Walk the Line” about Johnnie Cash.  The reason I love this movie so much is that it shows a brilliant man with plenty of demons, and his wife makes it very clear that if she is going to stay with him, he needs to walk the line.  He got the message loud and clear: either shape up or ship out.

Now that my friends, is the reality of marriage in the 21st century.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.