How our “Domestic Partnership” Morphed into a Marriage


As May draws near, I’m reminded of a strange and nagging feeling I’ve been getting every year for a while now: that I am forgetting something important.  I eventually figure it out by either having it dawn on me, or most often by my mother-in-law calling to wish me a Happy Anniversary.  It’s actually somewhat understandable because Doug and I have a back-story many of our friends don’t know: we married when I was pregnant with our third child.  In fact, we had originally intended not to marry. What!!!  Let me explain.  We both had what we lovingly refer to as our “starter marriages”, neither of which produced any children.  We also both had large, traditional and expensive weddings that ended in divorce five years into the union.  

When Doug and I fell in love, we mutually confessed to feelings of failure, and a lingering confusion on the subject ofGoldie Hawn marriage.  At the time there were famous couples eschewing the institution: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who are still going strong; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins who are not – although I have to say that they had a long run, and there was blessedly no messy divorce to string out in public.  With those couples in mind, Doug and I decided to forego the marriage route for a Domestic Partnership agreement. Since we resided in San Francisco at the time, we were able to procure one fairly easily, and that was ideal because we planned to start a family right away. Although Doug and I had grown up together, we had not found each other again until our mid-thirties, and we wanted children before it was too late.  Doug wanted four, but I was a ‘one-at-a-time and we’ll see’ girl.  As it turned out, four was our lucky number.

So how did we get to be married midway through our burgeoning family?  Honestly, it was strictly an insurance driven issue.  Doug and I were very happy being co-parents and domestic partners, and would probably still be today were it not for a move to Florida in 2002.  While San Francisco had offered us an option, Florida is not cut from the same cloth.  Anyone remember Anita Bryant?  We were told in no uncertain terms that as far as the State of Florida was concerned, a Domestic Partnership Agreement was how you and your roommate divided your chores, and might as well be used to paper your walls.  We felt having children made us more married than most, and well, we both knew how saying “I do” didn’t necessarily mean it lasted.  But there I was, six months pregnant with our daughter, Olivia, and feeling deeply opposed to seeing her birthday arrive uninsured, Doug and I decided to meet during lunch at the Justice of the Peace in Delray Beach.  To this day, nine years later, we still have trouble remembering our anniversary, and often stumble over the question of how many years we’ve been married.  To us, it’s from when we pledged our love and commitment by cohabitating and starting a family together.

Us!

But married we are, and with that came the specter of divorce.  Somehow when we were not married, we felt safer, buffered if you will, from the awful statistics of marriage dissolution. Doug’s parents divorced when he was 7 and it has always been complicated for him.  Somewhere deep inside he wishes it could have been avoided, remedied, although the circumstances brought a wonderful step-father into his life, so who can know.  With that in mind, we work, sometimes really hard, to keep our marriage healthy and together.  If something happens to rock our world, like death or job loss, we run to a counselor to hash out our feelings.  If we can stem the tides by good open communication beforehand, then we take that approach first.  I even found a website that sends me helpful emails on marriage fitness. I love the little nuggets of wisdom that Mort Fertel  sends me. I find them to be plain good sense, and truly helpful.  Honestly, we’d do anything to keep our marriage intact, but that’s what’s it’s really all about and always has been, both before and after the ceremony– commitment.  Anything worth having is worth working for.  Happy 9th or 13th Anniversary Sweetheart!

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About Katie Humphreys

Mother, teacher, lover, preacher, writer, driver, igniter, creature. Cleaning, reading, cooking, breathing, hiking, dreaming, biking, meeting. Learn more about her here.