These 7 Types Of Marriages Allow Modern Couples To Live on their Own Terms

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Photo credit: Jonathon Kambouris/GALLERY STOCK
Photo credit: Jonathon Kambouris/GALLERY STOCK

After ending a romantic relationship in 2019, Jay Guercio noticed herself comparing everyone she dated to her best friend, Krystle May Purificato. 'I just knew I wanted to build a life with her, and I couldn’t foresee myself building that trust with anyone I was romantically involved with,' says Jay.

When she married Krystle in 2020 and they adopted their son, it was important to be socially recognised as a family and reap the legal and financial benefits of marriage since, Jay says, they’re more than roommates and coparents: '[Krystle] is my most significant other.'

Their marriage may seem unconventional because it is. Thousands of years ago, the earliest iterations of marriage for hunters and gatherers served as nothing more than an extended networking event. The purpose was to expand someone’s labor force and access to resources, says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

Later on, came arranged marriages which were encouraged to maintain a family’s status or keep a business intact as it was passed on from one generation to the next. But the 'love marriage' didn’t really waltz down the aisle until the 18th century, making it practically brand new in the grand scheme of the institution’s suspected 50,000-year history and it's has already seen numerous shifts.

'Our original notions of love were shaped by the division of power and labor between men and women,' says Coontz. Marriage formalised a woman’s dependence on her husband. Because she couldn’t open a bank account, own property, and had few legal rights, patriarchy made a necessity of marriage.

But the advent of education and career opportunities for women in the 1970s along with same sex marriage marked a turning point for love marriages that’s ongoing, says Coontz. Marriage has become less about what someone was taught they needed from a partner and more about what they wanted from partnership…if they wanted it at all.

With each shift in the evolution of marriage comes new license to ask for something different from commitment, from love. And most recently, women and marginalised communities have been the ones redefining what modern marriage looks like, prompting everyone else to ditch the script if it doesn’t suit them in favor of writing their own happily ever after. Here are seven different types of marriage that prove lasting love isn't one-size-fits-all:

1. Living Apart Together

When Marsi Hubbard’s husband, Matt, was offered a job in a different city, she chose to remain put with her youngest daughter, who’d been accepted to a performing-arts high school. Originally, the separation was meant to be temporary, but four years later, there’s no reunion date in sight. Matt, the outdoorsy type, lives by the mountains, while the extra alone time pushed Marsi, a city-slicking cosmetologist, to found Brite Beauty, an on-site hair and makeup service.

Spouses may choose to live apart for various reasons, says journalist Vicki Larson, coauthor of The New “I Do.” '[These] relationships have become popular with older people, especially women,' she says, noting that it enables them to avoid the default household duties often expected in shared spaces. It’s also common among those remarrying or who’ve been single for a while—they opt to live on their own to maintain a sense of individuality.

Catering to your own needs lends itself to a successful relationship, says Shawntres Parks, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in California. Cultivating your individuality and personal fulfillment can foster growing intimacy and trust. Marsi admits extending their time apart can be tough, but, she says, 'there’s a beautiful balance in working together for one another’s best interests.'

2. Opening the Relationship

'Some folks know they aren’t built for monogamy,' says Parks. 'They have needs that are greater than any one person could meet.' Open marriages have been stigmatised for challenging monogamy, but they really just provide an alternative. Nor are they outlets for spouses who are unhappy, Parks says. For many, it’s ideological—they don’t believe monogamy is the only way to do marriage.

Couples will usually establish a framework for their consensual non-monogamy, then rely on heaps of communication and healthy boundaries. Partners may agree to seek out sex or romance only while traveling; others might decide against disclosing details but have regular check-ins. The key, says Parks, is coming to an agreement and following it, always finding time and space to touch base.

3. Parenting Proudly as Top Priority

From the outside, they resemble families in which parents are in love, but in parenting marriages, spouses maintain their committed relationship only as it pertains to their children, says Parks. This arrangement sidesteps potential custody battles, multiple houses, and holidays spent apart, and shifts the focus to providing a stable and loving environment for their kids. Time once spent planning their next date night, for example, is now reallocated to preparing family dinner together.

That’s not to say the emotional connection between these couples isn’t strong. It’s just not sexual, says Parks. Instead, couples might allow extramarital partners, but they’ll almost always come home to each other because of their shared priority and emotional needs. And though children are the anchors, parenting spouses won’t necessarily part ways once kids grow up, Parks adds. They may continue living together as companions and may co-grandparent.

4. Taking 'Friends Forever' to a Whole New Level

Marriage has become less about what someone was taught they need from a partner and more about what they want in a partnership. Enter platonic unions, which 'happen among people who generally have a really strong friendship before they decide to enter into a marriage,' says Parks.

It’s an ideal situation for anyone who is asexual, she notes, or for those like Jay and Krystle, who don’t subscribe to the belief that romantic love is the only basis for commitment. It’s so much more than a roommate you care about deeply, Parks says: 'It means having someone who knows about your dreams, goals, and plans and encourages you toward them.' Explicit commitment is powerful in relationships even when sex isn’t there.

Jay hasn’t totally rejected romance, btw—she just doesn’t believe it always has to end at the altar. Now, she has a girlfriend, and her marriage to Krystle is still going strong. 'It’s wonderful and it’s working for us.' Cheers to that.

5. The Traditional I Do

While more and more couples are putting their spin on the typical marriage, the traditional model is likely the one you're most familiar with. Whether civil or religious, many traditional marriages involve two people, are rooted in romance, and are expected to last until both people die, says Parks.

In these longterm partnerships, couples will likely coparent and share finances. Success, in this case, is largely based on how long these couples stay together and uphold the roles they agreed each person would take on at the start.

And though these roles in the past were nearly always rooted in traditional and heteronormative gender performances, that's not always the case anymore. One partner might prepare the majority of the home's meals while the other is responsible for getting the kids to and from school, and both spouses might work outside of the home.

6. When Finances Come First

Financial marriages are all about practicality, says Parks. 'It's a marriage couples enter [into] because they believe they're going to obtain a financial advantage,' like, say, marrying the person with health insurance, great investments, or generational wealth, so you can live comfortably or even leverage their wealth to help build your own.

Considering the judgement spouses usually face for marrying for money, Parks assures people who enter financial marriages are both in on it. They've agreed they'd rather prioritize investing in a home together or commercial properties as a joint venture, for example, over romantic partnership.

The couples Parks encounters most in finance-based marriages are exes who've split but have maintained a great friendship and decided to pool their resources. And with their money in check, it's likely they have other relationships (family, friends, or romantic if the marriage is open) in their lives that provide them the emotional support they don't want or need from their spouse.

Now, this isn't to say someone in a financial marriage would never want to marry for love. It's common for people in financial marriages to have prenups that allow the spouses to divide everything 50/50 in the event they want to leave with their share of the money and do the whole romance thing at a later date with someone else. Or, if things are going really well, couples in financial marriages might even remain business partners with their ex-spouses while married to the person they're now romantically involved with.

7. The First but Likely Not The Last

Another modern marriage model is the starter marriage. And it's, well, exactly what it sounds like: Two people marry, and down the line divorce and then marry other people.

In most cases, says Parks, the purpose of ending a starter marriage is to move onto another for better status or access. And it's common, says Parks, for only one spouse to know the marriage is a starter and that's usually the person who has the most to gain and plans to 'marry upward' later on.

'One person in the marriage entered it for personal gain,' she says. 'They wanted access to a certain network or professional arena through their spouse, wanted financial benefits, or emotional security.' And once they had that need fulfilled by their first spouse, they move on to someone else who can likely offer them even more.

It's more common than you might think. Park gives the example of high school or college sweethearts who have a lot of in common initially and get married. Maybe one spouse becomes a professional athlete or lands a job that gives them access to a whole new, more advantageous network, while their spouse offers them emotional support, takes on the duties at home so their spouse can focus on work, maybe they even offered professional connections that allowed their spouse to achieve their success.

But now that one partner's 'made it,' the spouse they formerly relied on can't keep up with their new lifestyle. Suddenly, they want different things and find they have different priorities.

The professionally successful partner who's feeling held back by their spouse might call things off with the person who supported them before their lifestyle change, and remarry someone who's now more their speed.

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