I work as a psychologist. And I often have to discuss the pros and cons of life in marriage and cohabitation. Not long ago a patient came to me with this story:
Alex, I want to share with you how I got smart. You always say that you cannot live without a stamp in your passport with a man, rarely will anyone want to get married after a few years. I didn’t believe that. And life has taught me a lesson.
Let me start at the beginning. I met a guy, we had a mutual sympathy. He courted me nicely, made romantic surprises, gave me flowers, confessed his love. Two weeks later I stayed at his place for the first time. In the morning I left him to go to work.
Then dates like this became a habit. He wrote me that he was free and was waiting for me. At first he would come to pick me up himself; after a while he would just send me a message: “Come here!” and I would go to him: daytime, evening, or night – it didn’t matter. I was already head over heels in love.
One day we had a fight, and I didn’t talk to him for a week. He couldn’t take it anymore and came with flowers to apologize. He gave me a bracelet and offered to move in with him. I happily agreed (for me it was almost a proposal of marriage). I was so naive.
Our life together began. Earlier he cleaned the apartment himself and sometimes cooked, but soon it all fell on my shoulders. It got to the point where he could watch soccer on TV while I went to take out the trash, cooked dinner, and ironed his shirts for tomorrow.
It seemed to me that we were doing fine, we were almost family, and we were close to getting married. But he was in no hurry to give his hand to me. At the same time, our friends were playing wedding couple after couple, and I kept hearing from them: “When will you get married?” He was joking back, and I had nothing to say.
Once I decided to deal with this issue once and for all. I realized that something was going wrong. All of my friends had already gotten married, some had even had children, and we were still living the same life as before.
His reaction was: “We’re fine as we are. What’s your hurry? We still have a lot of time. And I have to think about it”. Okay, I gave him time to think. He said he wasn’t ready yet: “Let’s wait some more!”.
So I started waiting. Then he told me that if I wanted children, he was fine with it (“Have them if you want them”). And a stamp in my passport doesn’t solve anything (“Look, two of our friends have already gotten divorced”). I was not going to have a baby out of wedlock, so I packed my things and went back to my parents. He tried to win me back for a while, then his attempts came to naught.
Soon I found out that he was seeing someone else. So our cohabitation ended in nothing. When I met a new young man I decided not to repeat the same old mistakes. I didn’t stay at his place, I didn’t agree to move in with him. I told him: “Yes, I love you, I want to be together with you, but only as my lawful wife!”.
And we got married, we live well, we have two kids and we are happy! I don’t really care about my ex-boyfriend and his theory (that door to the past was shut and bolted shut a long time ago!). But now I know for sure that you were right!”.
I am very glad that everything worked out for this woman and that she is finally living a happy family life. I would like to add for myself that cohabitation and marriage are not the same thing (no matter how the media, social networks, blogs, and the government try to present it). And here’s why.
Why are cohabitating of couples less strong than marriage?
The growing popularity of premarital cohabitation is one of the most important demographic changes of the last century regarding the family. At the same time, numerous studies in European countries already suggest that living together before marriage leads to a deterioration in young people’s relationships after marriage, low marital satisfaction, high levels of domestic violence, and an increased likelihood of divorce.
Of course, young guys and girls don’t look at these studies. Or they do when it’s too late. When you tell these people that living together long before marriage is an unhealthy choice, they don’t hesitate to classify you as a bigot, unwilling to face the realities of our day. Living together before marriage (or “trial marriage”) seems like one of the surest ways to get to know each other better.
Indeed, isn’t the most important thing for future spouses to know each other as intimately as possible before marriage?
It is logical if cohabitation ends in marriage. But cohabitation without strive to marriage only harms couples. Cohabitation weakens the strength of the attachment, because the parties do not owe each other anything.
In general, this is a very controversial topic. For a long time even specialists (psychologists and sociologists) have argued that for the future of the family it is important for couples to live together: to know in advance the habits, preferences and disadvantages of a loved one. However, having made a choice in favor of cohabitation before marriage, you can find yourself in the following situations:
- You may come to the conclusion that by cohabiting, you enjoy all the benefits of marriage, but you still have the freedom of choice. So the longer a relationship lasts, even if it is satisfactory from the point of view of both or at least one of the partners, the harder it is to take a step toward marriage;
- Moreover, it is possible that the partner is not only cohabiting with you. Or you are cohabiting not only with him. Such relationships happen quite often and do not lead to anything good. You will again and again come to the conclusion: “Is he (she) really the right one for me?”, “Maybe I should try to live with someone else?”. As a result, the years will go by, and the ideal still will not be found.
Without dwelling on opinions grounded in psychological, moral and religious perspectives, here are some conclusions from sociological studies. These studies clearly demonstrate that, contrary to popular opinion about the necessity of a trial period of cohabitation, it leads to undesirable consequences.
Sociologists have estimated that premarital cohabitation relationships are now very widespread: 60% of marriages are preceded by cohabitation, and 75% of cohabiting couples have more or less concrete plans to get married. But if we turn to concrete reality, we can see the gulf between reality and common perceptions of the benefits of cohabitation.
The results of studies conducted in universities in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and the United States prove that expectations that premarital sex will lead to stronger families are not being met. The data show that from 50 to 80% of couples who lived together before marriage, divorced in result, and this figure is much higher than for the spouses who did not cohabit before marriage.
Researchers also have talked about the “cohabitation effect”, which is that the strength of attachment in such couples weakens over time, conflicts increase, tension in the relationship grows, eventually all leading to divorce, which is increasing in number. One of the reasons for this is as follows:
By cohabiting before marriage, partners become accustomed to negotiating with each other and resolving disagreements in a way that is not healthy for love, based on controlling and manipulating the other.
Professor Jay Tichman of Western Washington University argues that one of the most obvious correlations is between premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital breakdown. At the same time, in marriages that have not been preceded by trial cohabitation, the relationship between the spouses follows a positive model, and their outlook on the future is more optimistic.
So if you live with your partner for a very long time as cohabitants, without marriage, it means the following:
Your partner is unsure of you.
Of course, this is not a sentence yet. Many men and women are serious about marriage, and want to be 100% sure of their partner’s choice. Others are afraid of responsibility or giving up their freedom. And this is where a heart-to-heart talk can help. That is, the situation is solvable.
Only to postpone this conversation can not in any case. It’s best to talk and understand your partner’s intentions as early as possible. If the dialogue does not work or your partner evades specific answers to specific questions (for example, “Tell me when we will get married?”) – it is a sign that your union is in danger.