Why Seeing Marriage As a Series of One-Year Contracts Is a Good Thing

It was the evening of our 24th anniversary and my wife and I were going through a familiar ritual.

“You’re sticking around, right?” I asked.

“I’m thinking about it,” she said.

“But it’s almost 10 o’clock. You need to make a decision.”

“I know.”

Eventually she said sure, she’d re-up the vows we made in March 1992 to have and to hold, for better or worse. And I knew she would. Heck, she has for the 13 or 14 times since this bit of theater began.

Except it’s not theater. It IS ritual — good ritual, even.

Good ritual holds open a space, a possibility. That the candle will burn on. That a child has reached the cusp of adulthood. That a people will endure. That a baby is born into belonging.

For us, the ritual holds open the possibility that we can be partners who square up to each other, who appreciate each other, who love each other — our strengths, our desires, our needs, our hurts, the hum-drum of our lives — clearly.

Because that clear-headedness, and the intention to do that squaring, holds us together and keeps us honest. I’ll speak only for me in saying that it keeps me from taking Virginia for granted—most of the time.

A life is a sprawling, multidimensional thing. It can pull us in many directions. Sometimes those directions take us down separate paths. And that’s OK—as long as there’s a coming together.

In the best returnings, there is a sense of gifts brought back. Of a covenant reforged.

So that’s why I like our contract-renewal ritual. Because the truth is, we do re-new our relationship every day, but on our anniversary most of all.

It’s needed. At more than a few times throughout the year, we’re called apart (by the world, by our resentments and differences and egos, by our fears and sometimes even our hopes) and we come back together.

There is no certainty in this world that we will always come back together. Partings are as much a part of this world as homecomings. We hear, and sometimes live, those stories.

So I do celebrate when Virginia decides she’ll do this another time. And I got a huge kick from all the folks who reacted to our press release on Facebook.

We negotiated late into the night, and I’m happy to announce that Virginia Kirk has signed on for another year of being married to me. We start on Year 25 today. I told her we could save a lot of time, and grant her a degree of contractual (if not financial) certainty, if she’d sign on for 4 or 5 more years. She prefers the annual option of restricted free agency.

And so we’re a couple days into Year 25, winding our lives together and watching them work themselves apart. It is holy, dynamic work and I am grateful to have a partner willing to square up and love me through the rough spots of going-and-returning.

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