marriage is not a contract, it’s a topiary

marriage is not a contract, it’s a topiary

a large green plant in a red planter with the words "Marriage is not a contract" across the middle

Back in early August, I had a conversation with an Ethics professor, Ellen Stansell, and wrote a post about what she shared with me. We talked a lot about how the ethics of the culture most Americans and Western-society folks live in is quite limited. We talked about affairs (read the post) and about what it means to thrive at any time of life, but especially at mid-life.

In the course of talking about relationships, affairs, and thriving, we also talked about marriage and long-term partnerships. Marriage is a strange institution, isn’t it? For most of the time it has existed, it has been patriarchal (meaning, the benefits were primarily for the man and the man made the rules) and founded on the transaction of goods. Yes, there were some matriarchal cultures where marriage was quite different, but for most of the world, it has been about the benefit of the man and his family. It is only in recent history that we chose to marry or partner for love and for the hope of happy companionship.

One of the things Dr. Stansell and I discussed was how the old idea of marriage as a type of business exchange is outdated. I mean, we say certain words at the wedding- we vow to do and be and see certain things- but those are not some kind of iron clad contract that will never change. In the old days, marriage was much more fixed and rigid. But now…marriage is something different. It isn’t a contract, it’s an entity. In the same way that we now marry for feelings instead of for alliances or safety, marriage is an energy, something alive, not cold and precisely outlined. Marriage isn’t a piece of paper with rules on it, it’s a living thing, like a plant.


a large green plant with long leaves in a red planter on a white background as a metaphor for tending and growing a marriage

How does your garden grow?


And as we move through the mid-life years, I think it’s very useful to take a look at our marriage or partnership as a living thing. We make beautiful vows before we know what marriage will bring. We don’t know that someone will get sick and it will be hard to handle. We don’t know that kids are the toughest job you’ll (mostly) ever love. We don’t know that we will be surprised with our own or our partner’s growth. So it’s good to check in and see how our marriage is, as an energy between us and of its own.

How is your partnership doing?

How alive is it? (Is it like Wesley in the Princess Bride after the torture machine? Mostly dead?)

What nurtures and nourishes your partnership?

What does your relationship need in order to grow? (Does it even want or need to grow?)

When was it good? What made it that way?

What are you doing to tend your marriage? What is your partner doing?

One of the things I help a lot of my Sex Surge® ladies handle is the fact that they have a good marriage- a marriage they want to be stable and available to them after the Surge is gone – and they want more from it. This is also true of many mid-life and peri-menopausal women. Mid-life is a time when we definitely take stock of our life and decide what is worth keeping and what isn’t.

When we look at marriage during mid-life I think it is very important to look at where our marriage is- not as a contract that has or has not been fulfilled, but as a living entity. Because living things can be nourished and pruned into different directions- just like a beautiful topiary. But if we look at our marriage as a simple line of boxes that are either checked or unchecked, we miss something important about the essence of long-term partnership.

I’ve written before that marriage is a box that we can shape to our needs and desires. I also have written that divorce is an important tool at mid-life.  Looking at the health and vitality of our partnership is one of the ways to decide whether we need to re-shape our marriage or let it die. How do you want your marriage to look and feel? It’s worth checking in on things and see if they are growing in the direction you desire.

Hoping this helps,
Joanna :: xoxo

::: ::: ::: :::

Request from my LBTQIA, BIWOC, low-SES and disabled Surge Ladies:

Last week, a sex educator that I admire made a list of ‘edgy’ and ‘up and coming’ sex educators that she endorsed. And the entire list was white people. Seeing that was a big disappointment. But! I realized I could do something about that. And that is to amplify the voices of other women dealing with the Sex Surge- women of color, disabled women, bisexual and lesbian women. And a whole lot of other perspectives.

So, you fit into any one of the categories listed above, and if you are interested in writing for this site, I would like to hear from you. (Lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, asexual, black, indigenous, woman of color, low-socioeconomic status, or disabled. Or any combo thereof!)

I write from my own experience of the Sex Surge and mid-life and that is a white, middle class, mostly heterosexual, definitely cis-gender and able-bodied perspective. It’s limited as fuck and I know that many women of color, from other cultures, from other sexual expressions, and from different income levels also deal with the Sex Surge.

And I would love to have you write for me about this topic. 

I can only make a small payment at this time and I can only publish one article a month. But, if you’re interested, please email me at so we can talk more about the details.

Because I really need and want other voices talking about the Sex Surge and I have the platform to make it happen. Hit me up! I wanna hear from you!

In gratitude and hope,
Joanna :: xoxo



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