Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This weekend I read an interesting story in the NY Times about the reality versus the common beliefs about cohabitation before marriage and the divorce rate.  More than half of us now live with our partner before marriage in the belief that it will be the best testing ground for the match. In fact, some young folks today refuse to marry unless they live together first.

However, this new study shows:

... that belief is contradicted by experience. 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.

So that part of the study has been the headline on the news with very little else discussed.  But the study had more to disclose about the reasons people began their cohabitation - and that is the real explanation for the higher divorce rate.

...what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

What the researchers found was the couples had differing, unspoken ideas about what living together meant and over time their lives became more and more entwined (furniture, pets, friends) to the point that they married as a sort of default.  When marriage didn't satisfy it isn't because of living together per se, it is because :

What men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

Many young people in therapy 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.

When Tom and I decided to live together there was a mixture of the slipping into it (he was broke and needed a new place to live) and the commitment to marriage.  We knew that was were we headed but  it was too soon to jump there.  I think it is important that couples really talk about the reasons they are moving in together.  It should be a step, not a slide.


hokgardner said...

Brandon and I lived together before we were engaged, but we both knew that we were heading to marriage. 15 years later, something's still working.

Tricia said...

I'm old fashioned. I would not live with someone unless there was the commitment. Not for moral reasons but I wanted a commitment, like you said the thought process otherwise I didn't need anybodies dirty socs in my living room!

Jan said...

(Remembering that we are gay and cannot get married...) We were monogamous for over a year before moving in together then it was another year before we had our private commitment ceremony. Might be different for gay folks given our limited range of opportunities for sanctioned marriages. We certainly moved in together with the idea of making a long term commitment. 20+ years later!

Jennifer Denise Ouellette said...

I didn't live with my husband before marriage, but my daughter has lived with two young men and both times they thought they would get married. In fact, she is marrying her fiancee next May.

Neither case was "sliding into" anything.