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Temporary marriage: “I do,” but not necessarily ’til death

    We all know the statistics—marriages just don’t last forever anymore. In the U.S., the divorce rate ranges from 50% for first marriages to 74% for third marriages. The third time isn’t always a charm, and it’s not just a problem in the U.S.. In 2014, 47.5% of Swedish households consisted of a single adult without children, and first-time marriages end in divorce 60% of the time in Belgium.

    Marry young, divorce young?

    According to, people ages 20-24 want to end their marriage more than any other age group with 36.8% of married men  and 36.6% of married women ready to call it quits. The reality is that some unions are simply not meant to be long term, and often people get caught up in feelings of love and romance and forget that relationships take work—and lots of it.

    Enter the concept of a trial marriage. A union that’s based on a contract or agreement, so that couples can cohabitate and test their relationship, and they can walk away relatively unscathed if they decide not to continue.  

    What is a trial marriage?

    Dating back to ancient Celtic times, during the July harvest Lughnasadh festival in Ireland couples could enter into a trial marriage of one year and one day, until the next festival. After that point, they could decide whether to walk away or stay married.

    The romance of marriage isn’t completely removed from the proceedings. Hand tying became part of the tradition thanks to the similar Scottish handfasting ceremonies. Physically tying a couple’s hands together during the handfasting and Lughnasadh festivals symbolizes the union and declaration of their unity.

    While never accepted by the Catholic church, pagan and wiccan communities still practice handfasting ceremonies that can be tailored to the couple, whether as one component of a legal marriage, or a symbolic union that signifies “a commitment as long as love lasts”.

    Neo-paganism isn’t the only culture that has considered the concept of trail marriages. One that’s highly contested is the muslim Mu’Tah. In order to remain in religious accordance, muslims can enter into a trial marriage with the permission of their parents or guardians as a contract. This not only allows them to cohabitate and date in the traditional western sense, but acts as a respected union. Once the trial period is over, the couple can chose to remain married or go their separate ways.

    Wait, aren’t we doing that already?

    Absolutely! Couples who live together before getting married are essentially testing their relationship to determine if they are, in fact, compatible.

    It’s religion and societal influence, however, that is forcing couples into traditional marriage instead of cohabitation or trial marriages. Couples who move in together are sometimes seen as “living in sin”, while those young and naive newlyweds are perfectly in accordance with religious law—simply because they were joined in holy matrimony. Yet it’s those same young newlyweds who haven’t fully tested their relationship that end up in unhealthy relationships that often lead to divorce.

    Trial marriages and cohabitation may be the answer for a growing divorce rate. Realistically, challenging the societal norm of marriage may actually reduce the pressure on couples who are in unhappy or unhealthy relationships. Straying from the norm when it comes to relationships may mean that more people may actually have a chance to stay together, or get out before it’s too late.

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