I listened in (okay, eavesdropped) on a woman at a café the other day as she bemoaned her daughter moving in with her boyfriend. The woman had apparently discouraged the plan, but her recently divorced daughter told her to butt out. The daughter claimed she wanted to “test” their compatibility before they invested the time and energy in marriage, and she didn’t want to get hurt again.
I internally shook my head along with the worried mom because I, too, know why they were frustrated. Living together before marriage doesn’t protect you from said “pain” or help a future marriage in any way. In fact, statistics show it actually hurts your chance of marital happiness.
Test Driving Your Relationship
After experiencing a brutal divorce, I understand the daughter’s fear of getting hurt again. This hurt is real, and it shapes every relationship moving forward, but living together doesn’t remove that fear; in fact it increases it because of a lack of security.
Living together reminds me of test driving a car before you purchase it. It’s not really like owning the car. Everything is shiny and new and on its best behavior until you bring it home and settle in. That’s when the recalls start trickling in or the electrical wiring to the GPS goes on the fritz. But if you own it, you fix it. But when it’s owned by the dealers, you just trade it in for a new one.
The problem with this popular view in culture is that relationships are not like trying out a consumer product. You generally don’t return a dress after you’ve worn it and laundered it for a year or two, right? But that’s what we do in the “trying before buying” model of dating.
Relationships are built on a foundation of trust and security, so when you destroy the main foundation before you begin to build the structure, you end up with a house of cards just waiting to fall down.
According to research, a trial run before marriage is not the answer for couples who are considering exclusivity. Nancy Pina, a relationship expert and life coach, says, “In my experience as a Christian relationship coach, those who chose to live together experienced a decline in emotional intimacy instead of a strengthened bond.”
According to statistics compiled by US Attorney Legal Services, living together before getting married doesn’t accomplish the goal that couples think that it will. A couple who does not live together prior to getting married has a 20 percent chance of being divorced within five years. If the couple has lived together beforehand, that number jumps to 49 percent. In Southern California, the rate jumps to between 60-75 percent.
The Illusion of Security
Pina suggests that living together sets most couples up for probable failure because, at the onset, at least one person in the relationship is unsure if it should lead to marriage. Instead of addressing their reservation with openness and honesty, the uncertain person agrees to a trial arrangement. Revealed in the study, 52 percent of men are not “almost certain” their relationship will last. More than half had reservations about the longevity of the relationship.
Shacking up is the opposite of commitment. It is friends with benefits. It’s an open-door policy that allows for flight. It’s “Hey, I’m in as long as you meet all my needs, but if you don’t, there’s the door.”
In marriage, partners have more incentive to learn what pleases each other and work hard at it at it because they expect to stay together. As Pina explains, “Merely living together is an open question mark because the future is undecided. Cohabitation by its very nature does not promote the same deep connection of mutual trust and emotional vulnerability. Intimacy that is reserved for marriage is cheapened by this experience and cannot be replicated.”
So, when you are considering taking your relationship to the next level, consider whether moving in is really right for you or if it’s just a compromise because one of you is having reservations about marriage. If it’s the latter, consider going to a counselor or heading to pre-marital classes to see if you two are compatible and have the chops to make it work.
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