I only did it once – officially, that is. It’s what my mother used to call living in sin, shacking up, playing house.
More practical advice came by way of this sentiment: It’s too easy to call it quits and leave, which is a statement that deserves its own discussion.
The bottom line was this. One way or another, I was taught that cohabitation is a bad idea.
My Experience of Cohabitation
When I lived with a man, I was in my early twenties and in love, but uncertain about marrying at so tender an age. Score one for knowing myself, recognizing that I hadn’t tasted enough adult life to make so significant a decision.
After the gentleman and I went our separate ways, I knew I wouldn’t live with a man again until I married. And I stuck to that – for a variety of reasons, most of which had nothing whatsoever to do with my mother’s mid-century reasoning. Among them, I didn’t like the feeling of being “possessed.” And that’s very much how I felt when I was living with a man – certainly when I was younger.
Flash forward a few decades and I do, in fact, live with someone – part-time. At least that’s how it works out, and it works well for us.
As for the conventional wisdom that many of us were raised with, apparently times (and circumstances) have changed. According to “How Shacking Up Before Marriage Affects a Relationship’s Success” at Time.com, living in sin is no longer the kiss of death for a compatible couple that later marries.
Is Living Together a Good Idea?
The Time article is informative:
… most people—about two thirds of couples—don’t get married any more until they’ve lived with their proposed lifetime partner.
And that statistic flies in the face of what was formerly a given – studies that showed those who cohabited before marriage were more likely to divorce.
Apparently, more recent research is refuting that data.
But even if you aren’t expressly looking to marry, or at least not in the near future, what does make living together a good idea? How about the ability to pool financial resources in tough economic times? What about the convenience – and pleasure – of living under one roof with the person you love? What do you say to the construction of a family unit without the expense and hassle of legalizing it, with the real expense and hassle coming if you part ways after a period of time?
Advantages of Cohabitation over Marriage
Should living together still be considered “living in sin?” I suppose that depending on your religious upbringing, it’s possible.
Should it still be considered a lesser commitment? Now that one, I might argue, warrants a response of “it depends.”
For some of us, based on our circumstances, the advantages of cohabitation are clear. And they are indeed of the “no hassle” variety, or certainly less – and that’s especially appealing if we’ve been through a high conflict divorce, if we’re juggling children from prior marriages, or we recognize that there would be more complications if we tried to further integrate extended family in a more official capacity.
There may be financial advantages to not marrying, depending on your circumstances and in particular, stage of life. And if you don’t share children, you have no legal headaches on that score, while even if you do, two reasonable people will always act in the best interests of their kids.
Still, I won’t deny that there are hidden costs to cohabitation. If you’re looking for a long-term arrangement and dependent on a partner, it makes sense to explore what those costs may be, financially and legally.
Sharing Good Times as Well as Bad
We’re aware of the advantages of not living alone when it comes to overall mental health – as long as the relationship is not one that causes additional stress – so if we take this as a given, it should apply to cohabitation as well as to marriage.
Some of us feel better balanced by living with another adult whom we love, trust, share our worries with – and sleep with. We support each other through the difficult times, and likewise, prefer sharing our triumphs with that someone special.
Then there’s the matter of intimacy – the deepening of the relationship as you help the person you love through illness, through loss, or through any other challenge – and doing so in a shared space.
I say as much as one who needs a fair amount of “alone time” – which may be why my current living situation suits. I’m also aware that even in marriage, some of us live with a spouse and never achieve the level of intimacy we expect – that “knowing,” that trust, that sense of closeness.
Effects of Living Together on the Health of a Relationship
Returning to the article, and the consequences of living together when marriage follows aren’t what we once thought, in part because we weren’t looking closely enough at the data. Specifically:
… past studies have overstated the risk of divorce for cohabiting couples… the important characteristic is not whether people lived together first, but how old they were when they decided to share a front door.
This certainly rings true in my case; had I married the man I lived with at 22 (as he wanted), I’m certain we would have been divorced within five years. That’s the typical span for what is termed the Starter Marriage, as the article goes on to clarify that what really matters is “maturity” and the ability to choose a compatible partner.
My, my. As if it were so simple at any age.
How Do You Measure the “Success” of a Relationship?
As for the consequences of living together, specifically, and deeming the relationship a success?
A variety of interesting statistics are offered relative to age, income, and education around cohabitation, marriage, and the subsequent “success” of the relationship – apparently determined by marriage without divorce. Pregnancy and children are mentioned, and the strain of parenting is discussed as a factor – something I was pleased to see, as those of us who’ve been through the experience of raising kids can understand.
The article does cite the issue of security, playing into the belief that those couples who “just” live together don’t feel as settled with their partners as those who marry:
Why not just live together as long as it suits both parties? Marriage has been shown to have a bunch of physical and health benefits that cohabitation has not yet been shown to have.
Old Arguments for the Marriage Agenda?
I find myself thinking that studies on the health benefits of marriage should have used individuals who have been through divorce – those who have remarried and those who have chosen to cohabit instead. Wouldn’t that make for interesting data?
Little is actually stated when it comes to the realities of sharing a living space with a partner. Those of us who have done so – married or not – know that you had better take off the rose-colored glasses, communicate clearly, pay close attention to the other’s needs as well as your own, and don’t expect the fairy tale.
With common values, similar libido, and a little bit of luck – rings exchanged or not – you may find yourself happy more often than not, with a sense of belonging that is about being family. And that, in my book, qualifies as success.
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