Cohabitation before marriage has become a hot topic as the new generation of adults emerges and screws with statistics. On Twenty & Change, we have talked about our experiences with it and study results in recent articles. We thought cohabitation wasn’t so bad.
There is a double downside, and one went viral. In about three months since I wrote that getting married won’t make you much happier compared to just living together, clinical psychologist Meg Jay penned an editorial published in the New York Times titled “The Downside of Cohabitation Before Marriage.” In this article, Jay states:
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.
Once the article hit the Internet news stand on April 14, it has gotten a lot of backlash. And when I say “a lot,” I am talking 307 comments by the time this blog post was published and a long list of news websites responding.
Most of these formal opinion response pieces reject Jay’s opinion, stating her research is outdated by 30 years. Slate says “shacking up does not lead to more divorce.”
But with a few failed marriages that have happened around me, it is hard not to be afraid to say “I do.” What do I know about the man that sleeps next to me at night? Well, he wants a career in drawing, has a weird fascination with all things geek and Batman, can grow a beard in less than 12 hours and loves to snore in my ear as I almost fall asleep. He also is the kindest, most giving person I know, in addition to other qualities I look for in a life partner.
However, according to this Your Tango article by Dr. Laurie Weiss that I stumbled upon this morning, a false sense of security (like Jay states) might not be the only reason cohabiting isn’t the smartest. Weiss thinks it comes down to some hidden rules:
We each carry a set of unexamined personal rules about what a marriage is supposed to be like and how married people are supposed to behave. When you’re just living together, you have no reason to worry about those rules. When you marry, the rules are activated.
If you are fortunate enough to have parents who modeled how to behave in a successful marriage then your rules will probably help you create one too. This will work well if your husband also had successful role models. However, since so much media portrays very unrealistic pictures of what relationships are like, you each probably carry negative role models as well.
Another problem with these unexamined personal rules is that you and your husband each have your own unique set of rules because all families are different. You’ll each tend to think that your rules are right and your partner’s rules are wrong.
The problem with all this is, it isn’t like I can predict the future, see if we survive a marriage in 10, 30 or 50 years after cohabiting for a few before that. Or if cohabitation was our downfall if we did divorce. And no one is saying we can’t figure out these “rules” now and assess them as we continue to live together.
But cohabitation isn’t always about emotional security and getting ready for marriage; sometimes when a person moves 400+ miles from his parents’ home to be with you, the least you can do is share the rent. And I think this is where all the articles are missing the point — cohabitation is not one-size-fits-all.