Could We Reframe Our View Of Marriage To Accept The Possibility Of Divorce?

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The seven sacred cows which push people towards marriage and away from divorce. (Courtesy: Astro and Danielle Teller)
The seven sacred cows which push people towards marriage and away from divorce. (Courtesy: Astro and Danielle Teller)

The vast majority of Americans view love as an important reason to get married. When a marriage is not working, it's an emotionally fraught process to decide both spouses may be better off if they're divorced, partly because of the pedestal on which the idea of marriage resides.

A new view of marriage might uphold love and commitment, but with the understanding that people's feelings for one another may change. Sometimes, divorce may be the better option than staying miserable together "until death do us part." As a society, Americans might need to change the way they view the commitment of marriage in a realistic way that allows for and supports a person's choice to divorce.

In their book, "Sacred Cows: The Truth about Divorce and Marriage," Astro and Danielle Teller upend some views of marriage.


Astro Teller, computer scientist who oversees Google[x]. He tweets @astroteller.

Danielle Teller, physician specializing in intensive care and lung medicine.


Astro Teller: “I, Astro, do promise to do my utmost to love you, Danielle, for as long as we are married. If a time comes when I do not love you, I will do everything in my power to rekindle that love. If that doesn’t work, I will end our marriage as elegantly as I can.”

Danielle Teller: “It’s so unromantic. Nobody is gonna say that at a wedding.”

On talking about divorce:
Danielle Teller: “We have both gone through divorces. And, like most people, we didn’t think much about it until we got there ourselves. When we first got married, we didn’t think we would ever get’s such an emotionally disorienting process and it takes over your entire life...And so we talked a lot about it and began to notice that there were things that people would say to us, or things that we would read in books or in newspapers that, when you held them up to the light of logic, didn’t make a lot of sense. And the more we talked about this, the more we thought, why doesn’t anyone talk about it?...We thought, somebody needs to start talking about this. And Astro said, ‘Wow, we should write a book.’ And I said, ‘You’re nuts.’”

On dealing with the “holy cows” of marriage:
Astro Teller: “The whole idea of a contract, generally, is to pre-negotiate friction. You’re friends with the other company that you’re doing the deal with, so you’re not frustrated with them now, but if you make an agreement now about what would happen if you disagree later, that’s the whole point of the contract. We actually talk about the contract of marriage, but when people go to get divorced there’s an incredible amount of hard feelings. And one of the reasons for that there is not often a shared understanding at the beginning about what they were really promising each other. So if you go back to that moment when they get married and you look at how incredibly vague it is, the things that we say to each other, it’s one way to see how the 'boogie men' of society sort of slip into the process of marriage and work their magic to try to cause us to feel bad at the end of a marriage in an attempt to keep us married. And a way to combat, in this case, the ‘holy cow’ is to be specific. That does not mean that you can’t say ‘I hope to love you forever,’ but I think it’s realistic to say, 'I feel like I would love you forever. I hope to love you forever. I’d be surprised if I didn’t love you forever.' But that’s different than promising something that you can’t actually deliver, like how you’re going to feel 10 years from now.”

On structuring marriage on something you can define:
DT: “I think love rubs up against all of the realities of life. So, you fall in love, you get married, you have children. There are all these people now counting on that inchoate thing that you’ve promised to do. And you have very real responsibilities towards your children and towards society. And to balance it all on something...we can’t define — I mean, ask people to define true love. Everyone has their own notion, and they’ll say ‘It means never having to say you’re sorry,’ ‘It means taking the garbage out to the curb,’ and everyone’s got these things that they attach to true love. But we should be careful about trying to build so much of the structure of family and society on a concept that is very difficult to define and is something that...we have virtually no control over.”

On taking societal pressures out of an evaluation of the marriage:
AT: “There are a set of reasons to try really hard not to get divorced. It’s expensive, it’s emotionally painful for you and everyone else involved. Maybe your marriage can be saved and you’ll be happy afterwards. Those are good reasons to try to avoid divorce. But there is also a set of 'boogie men'...we call them ‘sacred cows’ — designed by society not for your benefit or for your spouse or your children but this general sense that society has that it would rather you stay together. And being able to approach whether your marriage still works for you without the pressure of those ‘sacred cows’ on you, is what everyone deserves. That’s what we’re hoping that people can take away from our book.”

On realizing that marrying for love is a recent concept:
DT: “Over the last 100 years, marriage has completely changed. It used to be a way of passing money from one generation to another and a way of procreating. And women, in particular, had to be married in order to do a lot of things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. And now that’s not the case. So now, people have been freed up to not be married for any of the reasons that they used to have to be married for in the past. And now everyone gets married for love. That’s the primary reason. Nobody married for love in the past. That was gravy. You were just lucky if you loved the person you happened to marry. But now we marry for love and I think a lot of younger people are seeing that without the other external pressures to get them into it, they really want to be very sure about that love piece. That becomes extremely important.”


Quartz: How American Parenting Is Killing The American Marriage

  • "Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners."

This article was originally published on October 02, 2014.

This segment aired on October 2, 2014.


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