Once Again Evidence Shows That Living Together Before Marriage Doesn’t Work
One of two scenarios have become popular in our culture:
Scenario #1: Boy and girl meet, start dating, get serious, decide to move in together (more often than not due to one person’s hope that it will propel the relationship toward marriage).
Scenario #2: Boy and girl meet, get serious, start dating, date for a couple years, get engaged, THEN decide to move in together (for any number of reasons including, to save money while planning a wedding, or because “we are basically married anyway”).
The problem that many people just cannot seem to figure out with these scenarios is that they are doing more harm than good to the relationship.
Marriage is a commitment. Marriage says “I am committed to being with you through thick and thin, good or bad, easy or hard, I will be by your side.” (That is what the vows are supposed to mean, and each person is supposed to convey this message and make this commitment). When two people get married it is supposed to be for life regardless of circumstances; a vow and covenant made with each other, God, and before a number of witnesses. Marriage is serious.
Moving in together before marriage does not carry the same commitment. This poses a problem as many people expect their girlfriend or boyfriend to ACT like they are married, but without the vows and commitment that comes with marriage. When those expectations do not materialize it often strains the relationship and causes breakups, custody battles, and broken lives. In other words, people want to play house without making it official. By doing so they unwittingly set themselves up for failure.
When engaged people move in together they miss a significant part of the engagement process. While living life as a married couple they lose the purpose of being engaged – to prepare for marriage. Thus, the engagement and the wedding become less meaningful, and take a less central place in their lives. This is just one of the reasons I believe we see such extravagant weddings; a loss of meaning is being replaced with lavish spending on a big party.
Now we have an entire generation of couples that move in together only to discover they don’t like playing house, they don’t really want to be married at this time in their life, or they aren’t quite as in love (compatible) with the person they are living with.
The result is more often than not a break-up; and corresponding movies to illustrate how messy it is. Why is it so messy? Because two lives that are not yet supposed to be entirely intertwined are so intertwined that separating them hurts. With joint accounts, shared leases, and many expectations – walking away at this point is really hard. So, many people, hoping things will change, move forward with their plans to marry only to find 1 or 3 years later that nothing has changed, things aren’t better and they want a divorce.
Wait a minute, am I suggesting that cohabitation (shacking up) is contributing to a high divorce rate? Yep, I sure am.
In fact, I can speak from experience. Had I done things differently I might be a statistic today. Had I cohabitated with the girl I was engaged to when I was younger we might have gotten married. That would have led (I believe) to divorce. But we didn’t live together which made walking away (a little) easier.
But I’m not alone in this belief. A recent article in the New York Post reads simply “How Shacking Up Leads to Divorce.” The article states that a large percentage of people that moved in together before getting married are not as dedicated to the person they are married to, and most likely married someone they wished they had not.
“In a survey of couples married less than 10 years, he found that men who lived with their wives before marriage ‘rated themselves considerably lower in dedication’ — what Stanley refers to as their ‘intrinsic motivation to be with this person.’…other surveys found the same was true for women, though to a slightly lesser degree.”
As a Christian this makes perfect sense. The marriage covenant between a man and woman is a sacred bond created and instituted by God Himself. God made very clear the order of events: engagement, wedding, live together. This was not because God is a cosmic buzz kill that doesn’t want me to have fun. This is because God knows me better than I know myself and wants to protect me from inherent harms in doing things out of order.
I get it, not everyone believes in God and wants to do things His way. That doesn’t change the fact that the divorce rate among people that live together before being married is higher. The noted article says:
“Indeed, in a random-sample study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010, 20 percent of people who married before living together had divorced; the divorce rate was notably higher, 28 percent, for those who cohabited before even getting engaged.”
Maybe God knows what He’s doing after all.
Here’s a video explaining some of the harms cohabiting poses to marital happiness. If the video doesn’t appear automatically, please refresh your browser.