UFI

“Cohabitation”…A Marriage Death Sentence?

In Abstinence, Cohabitation, Divorce, Education, Families, Marriage, Media, Research, The Family, Values on April 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

couple argueing

Rachel Allison

If the liberal New York Times is publishing articles about the risks of cohabitation, then things are far worse than we realize.

With divorce being so prevalent too often young love sees the solution as creating a trial run…a mock marriage situation where compatibility and sexual needs can be tried out before making the big commitment.

Psychologist Meg Jay warns that moving in together before marriage is NOT the solution.

Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called “the cohabitation effect.”

Dr. Jay cites the case of a client, Jennifer, who lived with her boyfriend for four years and then married. Less than a year later she was looking for a divorce lawyer, dreadfully upset and wondering why the marriage didn’t work. It seems she wanted marriage and, after a few years amassing common property, dogs and friends it was too difficult to break up. Besides, they were then in their early 30s.

Jennifer is not the exception to the rule.

Several years ago I met a young woman from Sweden.  In the course of our conversations over several weeks, she told me about the prevalence of cohabitation in her country.  She and her husband had been together since she was 14. “It’s what everyone does in my country,” she said. I started asking questions about the pros and cons of such a widespread practice.  She readily admitted that if the practice is to lower the divorce rate, it’s not working.  “Statistics show that divorce is higher in my country than most.”

The term “sliding, not deciding” can confuse the expectations of the couple who decide to cohabitate.  Is it simply for physical self-gratification and financial convenience? Too often it is not because the couple (or at least one member of the couple) has a sincere long-term commitment to each other.

WHEN researchers ask cohabiters these questions, partners often have different, unspoken — even unconscious — agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

Note that last sentence. And this, also from Dr. Jay:

I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.

With the results of cohabitation so well documented why aren’t more studies discouraging the practice?

Unfortunately, Dr. Jay does not take the next step and say, “Don’t do it!” Instead, she says she is neither for nor against cohabitation, which, she believes, is “here to stay”. In a piece of advice reminiscent of the “safe sex” mantra, which came in with the AIDS era, she suggests that young adults can “protect” their cohabitating relationships from the “cohabitation effect”.

It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step toward, rather than a convenient test for, marriage or partnership.

Dr. Jay warns,” It also makes sense to anticipate and regularly evaluate constraints that may keep you from leaving.”

It’s a pity that she and other ‘experts’ on the subject could not simply push marriage. With the trends being what they are today…that would NOT be the popular thing to do…nor would most liberal media outlets even publish such a suggestion.  Perhaps others will take courage from the New York Times and at least let the studies be published.

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