Most activities that require a level of proficiency require evaluation and licences. Think about it—at school, you’re evaluated at the end of each year. It is the same in college. Even when you go to work you have a year-end appraisal. But when do you review your marriage? I have talked to hundreds of people, and many of them (especially the women) have loved this thought.
A Five-Year Marriage Licence
‘That’s absurd!’ I hear you say. Well, all new ideas sound absurd at first.
Hear me out, because this absurd idea will save marriages. Not once in my three marriages did I sit down and assess whether I was a good husband. Nor did my wife sit down and ask whether she was a good wife. You might treat your wife badly or she might treat you badly. And that kind of taking for granted is what ruins one of the finest institutions in the world: marriage.
So in the fourth year of the marriage licence (which might expire next year because it will be the fifth year), you’ll suddenly say, ‘Hey I don’t really want to lose my wife. She’s a wonderful person. I really haven’t done much. We haven’t been to a movie for about two years together. We haven’t been on a holiday because I’ve been so busy…I very rarely take care of the children; she does all that.’
You begin to reassess yourself, and the wife says, ‘I used to work as well as make time to cook for him and the family and now I don’t. I’ve been too busy!’ What I’m saying is, it’s a corrective measure. It’s an opportunity for both parties to assess whether the marriage is working. Imagine if one of the parties, say the wife, says, ‘It is not working!’ And the husband thinks, ‘Yes, it is working, and I don’t want to lose her.’ He suddenly will become the boyfriend who woos her before the licence expires. But currently, there’s is no assessment at all, and the relationship is not evaluated emotionally.
Such a licence would avoid the acrimony when you go into the divorce court. Oh, haven’t I seen it enough! You meet two people who have been sharing their lives, their bed, their children, and suddenly they’ve become tigers: ‘GRRRRRR, I must have the car.’ ‘No, you won’t have the car!’ Wrangling over the children and what used to be a wonderful relationship suddenly comes down to a bareknuckled fight. Let me tell you for those who are contemplating a divorce—if you are in California, whatever you have is divided fifty-fifty regardless! Yet elsewhere, the whole process becomes very costly.
The divorce lawyers in Mumbai (who I may have some experience of!) charge astronomical sums just to work out all that. And at that point you have no option, because nobody in your family is talking to anyone in her family, so you have to get a lawyer.
So, how would the five-year marriage licence work in practice?
A lawyer draws up a marriage licence, which stipulates that the marriage will be automatically dissolved in five years if either party does not want to continue. This licence is preceded by a prenuptial agreement, detailing the sharing of wealth, children and other important elements, in the event of the licence lapsing. If the couple wants to continue being married, they can renew their marriage licence but only as long as both agree. And four years later, the wife and the husband both get a chance to reevaluate their relationship.
So, there would probably be a huge supply of marriage counsellors to deal with situations where only one party wants to renew the licence. Can you imagine what they would say? ‘I know you are not getting on. But remember, she won’t be there when you come home. Same with her, he won’t be there. Children will have to split their time between the two of you. Is that what you want?’ And then it becomes a discussion point.
Why can’t we just have a marriage licence starting with a validity of five years? And if you want to continue at the end of five years, you renew your licence just like the driving licence. I do believe it will make happier marriages and result in fewer cases of divorce, because at the end of the period of five years people will come to know the other person reasonably well. And they may say, ‘Well I don’t want to live with them anymore’, or they might say, ‘I’m going to lose the person who really understands me. I realize that now’. The sense of loss only hits home when the ugly word ‘divorce’ enters the picture. One or both just do not understand each other and therefore have to go through a divorce.
If you come to a dead end in a marriage and you go on living in a dead end, then you are not really living. I’m saying I’m abolishing divorce... you sign an agreement, and at the end of it, there’s no messy divorce, just a contract.
But anyway, a five-year marriage licence is, I feel, around the corner. If it doesn’t appear in India first, that’s sad, but it will come into law somewhere. And I think it will probably be in Sweden, where the people are quite advanced in such matters compared to everyone else in the world.
For what is wedlock forced but a hell,
An age of discord and continual strife?
Whereas the contrary bringeth bliss,
And is a pattern of celestial peace
– Henry VI, Act V, Scene V
People have asked me why I said a five-year marriage licence and not seven or ten. I had originally thought of The Seven Year Itch, so I said seven years. People said, ‘Are you crazy! It is horrible much before that!’ Well, most men tell me that they are getting bored after five years. Most women tell me that they are taken for granted after three years, and at five they are done. So, I settled on five.
Excerpted from Let Me Hijack Your Mind, with permission from the publisher.