If logic leads us to believe that living together first makes for stronger marriages, why is it that so many couples fail so miserably at it?
Before we put our money down or commit long term to anything, from the dress in the boutique to the plasma flat screen television we want, we’d like to know if it works for us.
So we try the dress on and buy it, knowing there are safety measures in place, (like the clothing store’s one week exchange policy) to ensure we will be reimbursed if we are unhappy later.
We want to try things out, especially complicated things like relationships, and have a “dry run” by living together to see if it’s meant to be. What could be more logical than spending time in close living quarters with someone to see if he is “the one”? If it doesn’t work out, returning the house keys with a bruised heart is preferable to a painful divorce, surely?
Yet, research has shown that living together (or cohabitation) before marriage, leads to higher divorce rates, unhappiness and depression. If logic leads us to believe that cohabitation makes for stronger marriages, why is it that so many couples who have lived together before, fail so miserably at it?
Some of the reasons couples agree to live together before marrying, are commonly:
To test compatibility
Couples move in together as a next step in their relationship before they begin to consider marriage. They believe that if they are able to get along well together prior to marriage, they will be able to get along after marriage.
Convenience is another reason to live together
Living together is also a means to spend more time with one another. This is especially true where there are challenges preventing the couple from seeing each other, such as awkward working hours or long distances.
By living together, the couple who are intending to marry are able to share expenses. In this way, they can save for the wedding and the house they’d like to move into once they are married.
Lack of faith in marriage
One or both partners may come from broken homes, or are themselves divorced. Others may want to be married, but compromise with their partner who does not want marriage, and live with them instead.
Couples who cohabit have valid reasons for doing so as well, as the experience of living together to stands them in good stead should they decide to marry. How is it then that they fail at marriage?
Serial cohabitation spoils levels of commitment
The logic behind cohabitation for some is that if one arrangement does not work out, they could move on to the next partner. So, numerous live-in relationships would continue, till they find the right person to settle down with.
However, research has proven that the more live-in relationships someone has experienced, the less likely they are to succeed at marriage. With each failed relationship, there is a lower tolerance to persevere through the bad patches most relationships go through, and the person leaves more easily.
Where one or both partners with histories of serial cohabitation, marriages are therefore more likely to fail.
Battle to make joint decisions
Couples who cohabit are less likely to discuss tough issues and make the joint decisions married couples do regularly, e.g. issues around finances, children and their families.
Many slide into cohabitation and then into marriage, and when these issues finally surface, it is to the detriment of the marriage, because of conflict generated.
In general, there also tends to be poorer conflict resolution skills. Because they don’t have the glue of marriage and commitment between them, each only sticks to the living arrangement as long as they are happy. With such a fragile bond, conflict is smoothed over to preserve the relationship.
Becoming spouses, the two are accountable to each other and have to make decisions together, potentially generating more discord.
It’s easy to walk out when either are unhappy while living together. After marriage however, some may even feel at liberty to behave as they wish without consideration for their spouse, knowing that they cannot leave as easily.
Cohabiting couples live together under the same roof, but still have a measure of independence because there is no fixed commitment.
After marriage, many battle to make the transition from being independent without having to answer to anyone, to making joint decisions with their spouse and being accountable to them.
When couples who have lived together for a while pursue marriage, they fail because they carry the behaviours that worked for them in the relationship into marriage, which often does not work.
Marriage irrevocably changes a relationship. The only way to experience what it is like to be married, is to get married.
There are good reasons for cohabitation and many couples have successfully lived together and made the transition to marriage easily.
If you do decide to cohabit, you can give your relationship a good chance by discussing it in depth before you move in together. It is best to know what your expectations are of one another, what it entails for the future of your relationship, and the details of your agreement to live together.
No one can predict the future, especially where matters of the heart are concerned. At least in this way, one can have an idea of where the relationship is headed and make informed decisions.