January 2017

The Case for Marriage Before Moving In

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Single? Serious about someone? Thinking about moving in for a trial run? While attitudes have shifted regarding cohabitation, here’s a little secret: Marriage is better.

Most of the world’s religions make a strong case for holy matrimony, but far be it from me to preach a sermon here. Financial and logistical considerations can make setting up housekeeping together seem both attractive and smart. If you are of age and are already in an intimate relationship, you may be asking, “Why not?”
For the record, I have “lived in sin.” That’s what the older generation used to say when women my age shacked up with our boyfriends or lovers. The question was always, “When is he going to make an ‘honest’ woman out of you?” Those were also the days when women were strongly encouraged to save ourselves for marriage, meaning preserving our virginity.

After my dad died and my mom re-entered the dating world, I can still hear her saying, “I’ve been saving myself for so long, I forgot what I was saving for!” I laughed uproariously at her joke. Yet in her humorous way, she was setting a personal example, which made it easier to hear and accept her counsel as I navigated the ensuing teen scene. Obviously, I did not always follow her advice, but again, for the record, she was always right.

The evidence
Without making a character judgment or moral case, let’s consider some proven principles, the most important being the level of commitment required to make a marriage work. Although reason might suggest that couples who live together could more effectively assess their compatibility and therefore have a better chance at a successful marriage, statistics defy such logic. In fact, numerous studies conducted by the National Marriage Project* have found that couples who live together before marriage have less satisfying marriages and a considerably higher chance of eventually breaking up—the only exception being the case of the cohabiting couple with a commitment to marriage and plans in place to tie the knot.

My personal experience bears this out in that my live-in lover put a ring on my finger prior to signing the lease on our apartment. We followed through on our marriage plans and kept our vows until his soul departed this world. But if I have one regret, it is that I lived with him prior to our wedding day. Why? Because I was so much happier as his wife. The difference is difficult to explain except to say that my role in the relationship was more clearly defined by marriage. I felt an immediate sense of greater commitment and purpose, which gave me the confidence to be a better partner and better person. I would even venture to say that our love grew stronger the moment we said, “I do.” A couple of years in the dating pool after losing my husband, I remarried, and I still believe that marriage is the gold standard of relationships.

Although I am child-free by choice, perhaps an even more compelling case for marriage lies in the research regarding children. Authors of the third edition of Why Marriage Matters reported: “Children born to cohabiting unions are much more likely to experience a parental breakup compared to children born to married couples.” In the U.S., the report found that the breakup rate is 170 percent higher for children born to cohabiting couples.

“Not only is cohabitation less stable, it is more dangerous for children. Federal data shows that children are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused in cohabiting households, compared to children in intact, biological-married-parent homes. They are also significantly more likely to experience delinquency, drug use, and school failure.” (Read the full report or order a copy at americanvalues.org.)

In his article, “Sex without Strings, Relationships without Rings,” clinical psychologist, Dr. Val Farmer cited research conducted by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead for The Marriage Project at Rutgers University. He concluded that marriage is being undermined by the present singles mating culture.

As much as we would like to believe that it is okay to sleep with whomever we like whenever we like, one of the most critical points that is often overlooked is the emotional fallout of casual sex. We talk openly about the physical consequences (unwanted pregnancies and STDs). We have methods of protection against those risks. But what’s going to save us from our broken hearts?

No matter how liberal-minded, cool and hip you think you are, once a relationship includes physical intimacy, your heart is on the line. Move in, and multiply the risk of unhappiness, disillusionment and relationship failure. Meanwhile, you have no security in the relationship, which can lead to considerable angst, not to mention financial loss, if the arrangement doesn’t work out.

“Cohabitation is simply not like marriage when it comes to the level of commitment and the likelihood of achieving lasting stability,” said Scott Stanley in his article, “Is Living Together All It’s Cracked Up to Be,” at family-studies.org. Popular culture would have us believe otherwise, and many mainstream media sources feed into the glorification of commitment-free living.

The verdict
I don’t believe everything I read on the Internet or in a magazine, nor should you. A quick Google search will lead you to numerous articles refuting my argument here. So please do your own research before making important life decisions about cohabitation and marriage.
Having tried it both ways, I know that a successful long-term relationship requires a serious commitment. No matter how much in love you may be, I recommend marriage before attempting to navigate the challenges of daily living under the same roof.

*The mission of the National Marriage Project is to provide research and analysis on the state of marriage in America and to educate the public on the social, economic and cultural conditions affecting marital success and child wellbeing. Read current publications at nationalmarriageproject.org.

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