Question: I've been dating the same guy for a year, and he's wonderful. We're not ready to get married yet, but we're talking about moving in together. My very traditional parents don't approve. What do you think?
Jim: Listen to your parents, and don't move in together until after you've tied the knot. This isn't about being "old fashioned." Social science research indicates that couples who live together prior to marriage are much more likely to get divorced than those who don't. You and your boyfriend might think that moving in together will help you build a stronger foundation for marriage later. But you'll actually be increasing your chances of ending up in divorce court.
This all has to do with the concept of commitment, which is essential to any marriage. The two of you may be very much in love, but the plain truth is that nothing is set in stone. There is no engagement, no ring, no public profession of your lifelong love. Without these things in place, your living together will mimic marriage in some respects, but it will lack that critical element of commitment.
Generally speaking, men tend to take relationships less seriously -- and view them as temporary -- when marriage vows are not involved. All too often, the woman in a cohabiting relationship ends up getting hurt when the man moves out and moves on. Professor George Akerlof at the University of California, Berkeley put it this way: "Men settle down when they get married. If they fail to get married, they fail to settle down."
Maybe this is true of your boyfriend, and maybe not. The point is that you both need to continue dating and decide whether you'll ever be ready to get married to one another. If and when that happens, you'll have the rest of your lives to spend together under the same roof.
Question: But we're already committed to each other. Is living together really a "death sentence" for the relationship?
Juli: An increasingly common form of "family" in the United States today is a man and woman living together without a wedding ring. So, you are certainly not alone in your consideration of living with your boyfriend as a step toward or even around marriage. In fact, over 50 percent of marriages today are preceded by cohabitation.
But remember that just because something is common, doesn't mean it's the best for you. An awful lot of people have cancer, too!
Jim hit the nail on the head here: When you really think about it, cohabitation is giving guys intimacy on their terms. Throughout history, women have naturally longed for the security of a consistent, committed relationship in which to make a home and raise children. Men have been more prone to seek companionship and sexual fulfillment without the responsibilities and limitations that come with marriage. By moving in with your boyfriend, you are taking away any incentive he may have to grow up and make a lifelong commitment to you.
Don't buy the line that living together before marriage will be a good trial run. As Jim noted, cohabiting couples are much more likely to end up divorced. They're also more likely to experience depression, poverty, infidelity and domestic violence.
I know your parents sound old-fashioned and traditional to you, but some traditions persist because they actually work. Marriage is one of them. I'd encourage you not to compromise on this one. If this relationship has the potential to go the distance, don't saddle it with the burdens that come with cohabitation. And if this guy is worthy of committing your life to, he's worth the wait -- and so are you!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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