Popular culture implies that after a couple has dated for a certain amount of time, the next logical step in a committed relationship is moving in together. The reason for this? People apparently think compatibility cannot be tested without the actual experience of cohabitation. The truth is that a trial run marriage is not the answer for couples who are considering exclusivity.
Essentially, living together sets most couples up for probable failure, because at that point, at least one person in the relationship is unsure if it should lead to marriage. Instead of addressing that reservation with openness and honesty, the uncertain person agrees to a trial arrangement. As a recent study reveals, 52 percent of men are not "almost certain" their relationship will last. More than half had reservations about the longevity of the relationship.
Marriage confirms the bonding of a man and woman by specifying and guarding certain expectations and responsibilities. In cohabitation, there is mutual exploitation within the possibility of potential flight; this does not promote a strong or lasting relationship. In marriage, spouses have a higher incentive to learn what pleases each other and they become good at it; they expect to stay together. 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.
This brings up the real issue: why does lasting love, commitment and emotional vulnerability scare many people into thinking they need an escape route? The following mindsets drive this particular rational:
Fear of not picking the "right one." Marriage is sacred and perhaps the most important decisions any person will make. The best assurance of selecting the right person to marry is preparation before you even begin dating. If you know what you should be looking for in terms of love and commitment, the more confidence you will have in your dating choices — and those you attract. If you do not work through past relationship challenges, you will not be able to see the right partner because your norm is rooted in wrong mindsets. You end up attracting the same negative experience, even though each new person may have a different background, educational or occupational experience. Your emotional connection leads back to a repetition of the established pattern.
Fear of future divorce. Living together is not divorce prevention, nor it is not marriage preparation. It is divorce training. It does increase the likelihood of divorce if the couple decides to marry. People who have multiple cohabiting relationships before marriage are more likely to experience marital conflict, unhappiness and divorce than people who do not live together before marriage. It is the attitude that living together can be a temporary and easily ended step in love that may make cohabitation more conductive to future divorce.
Fear of losing freedom. People who live together show greater tendencies toward individualism, leading to a strong desire for self-autonomy within the relationship. One of the appeals of living together is the increased freedom and decreased responsibility toward each other. Living together is not empowering for women. It places them in a vulnerable position, emotionally and materially. Cohabiting couples many times see the relationship very differently. Women generally see moving in together as a step toward marriage, while men tend to regard the relationship as more of a sexual opportunity without the ties and responsibilities of commitment. Marriage is the opposite experience: the couple is stronger and more effective together than apart, as spouses tends to think of "us" rather than "I."
It is the sense of being bound to each other that provides stabilization in marriage to the right person. The couple who is firmly committed to marriage has a much greater chance of a genuine, lasting relationship than the couple who regards their living arrangement as a trial period subject to termination. Marriage makes you try harder and expose your vulnerabilities to each other. Your spouse holds you accountable for your words and actions. You have someone who will be truthful with you. Together, you can experience real freedom. You can face challenges and accomplish life's tasks according to each person's strengths.
Marriage is not simply a piece of paper; it is a public declaration that changes the way you think about yourself. While the stigma of living together has been reduced, that does not mean it is the correct choice morally, emotionally or spiritually. Every person who desires a loving, connected, lasting marriage can achieve that goal by preparing for and raising their expectations for lasting love and commitment.