Whether you call it "test-driving marriage," "living together," "shacking up" or "living in sin," cohabitation is on the rise. Sadly, so are the consequences of sharing a home without the commitment of marriage.
Try as you may, it's not easy to defend cohabiting as "just the same as marriage." The following myths and truths paint a compelling picture.
Myth: "This is just temporary. We'll be getting married when we feel ready."
Truth: Only 30 percent of couples who live together actually get married. Only 30 percent of couples who live together actually get married. John D. Cunningham and John K. Antill, "Cohabitation and Marriage: Retrospective and Predictive Comparisions," Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 11 (1994), pp. 77-93.
Myth: "We want to try each other out. We'll have a better chance of staying married if we live together first."
Truth: The dissolution rate for couples who lived together before marriage is 80 percent higher than it is for couples who didn't. Ibid.
Myth: "We'll get along better once we're married."
Truth: Thirty-five out of 100 couples living together experienced a physical assault in a 12-month period; that's more than double the rate of violence among married couples, which is 15 out of 100.From a nationwide survey conducted by the University of Rhode Island, quoted in "Live-in Relationship More Prone to Violence," by Robert Haddocks, South Coast Today, www.s-t.com/projects/DomVio/Livein.html The top three problems for couples who live together before marriage are: drunkenness, adultery and drug abuse.Michael D. Newcomb and P.M. Bentler, "Assessment of Personality and Demographic Assets of Cohabitation and Marital Success," Journal of Personality Assessment, 1980, p.16.
Myth: "We just want to get a head start on our finances before we get married."
Truth: Men who live with their girlfriends before marrying them are more likely to be underemployed (before and after the marriage) than men who have not cohabited. Women who live with their boyfriends before marrying them are more likely to need to be employed full time to compensate for their husbands' underemployment. Cunningham and Antill.
So, what do you do if you're convinced that living together is/was a bad idea, after all?
- If you haven't moved in together yet, don't. Even if you think you're the exception; that you can dodge the realities listed above, why risk it? If you "really love each other and plan to get married some day" why live together and lower your odds to 30 percent? Or if you buck that trend and do get married, why increase your likelihood of divorce 80 percent over couples who didn't live together first?
- If you're already living together, end it. It doesn't have to mean the end of your relationship. It just changes it to a more appropriate dating relationship, where you'll be able to actually court and romance each other and work toward a possible marriage. Reclaim your singleness. Wouldn't it be nice to be "wooed" again? You either consciously decided to live together or you drifted into it. How it happened doesn't matter. Now, consciously decide to stop living together. Take a look at alternatives so you can afford to get out. If money's an issue: find a roommate, move back in with your parents for a time, look for a more affordable place.
- If the person you're living with disagrees with changing your relationship, is he or she really worth having anyway? Ask, "So you love me enough to live with me, but not enough to keep dating me and work toward a lifelong commitment together?" If that's the case, ask yourself, "What kind of commitment is that?"
- Get some support. It's probable this won't be an easy transition. Doing the right thing rarely is. Whether you're faced with the loss of a lover who wasn't willing to stick around after you moved out, or you're just going through sexual withdrawal (because he was willing to make the change with you and now you're abstaining), it will be easier to honor your new way of relating sex-free if you have the encouragement of other people. Spend time with couples who agree with your decision to live apart until marriage. Seek out the input of a pastor or other trusted adviser who will reinforce your decision. Don't go it alone. The temptation is too great.
- Get married. If your reason for moving out is to improve your chances for a lifelong marriage, why not get started? If you were serious enough to live together, you should be serious enough to seal the deal. Talk about getting married. If he/she is willing, find a premarital counselor. The best place to start the search is at church. Going through a class together should help you make a wise decision about your suitability for marriage to each other. And if you're not meant to be, why delay the inevitable. Life's too short to waste precious time with the wrong partner.