My wife and I had a fight the other day. You know, the kind that makes you wonder if you should even be with this person – and that splits relationships up? But it didn’t break us up. In fact, we came out the other side stronger and communicating more deeply. Why? Because we’re married.
I’ve been committed to, and married to, one woman for 32 years and counting at the time of this writing. That definitely doesn’t make me an expert on marriage, but at 280,320 hours of marriage and counting (28x the 10K hour rule), we’re experts at both the things we’ve done right and the things we’ve done wrong!
We adore each other most days, but we’re almost complete opposites and have faced incredible challenges to our friendship along the way. We’ve been through great joys together (we have 3 amazing young adult children) and deep suffering (life is hard, we’ve lost much, and we’re both battling chronic illness at the time of this writing).
Why I’m Talking About This
I’ve been a lifetime student of how relationships start, grow, live, thrive, and die. I bring to the table that I have observed, and have sought to help strengthen, literally hundreds of couples over my 50+ years of life – young, middle-aged, old, married, unmarried, pre-married, and non-married.
I think I’ve seen it all, and it’s given me intuition. I’m watching young people think living together is a good idea, or even a great idea, before-or-instead-of marriage.
And every young couple who thinks living together is the “next best step” and a good idea, according to the statistics and what I’ve learned from the long experience and observation, is making a gamble that often – if not usually – ends in pain.
So I’m talking about this topic out of compassion. I don’t want you to get hurt, or your partner, or any kids you may have.
All I’m asking is that you hear me out.
The Sloppy Logic That’s Out There About Living Together
In the interest of transparency, I want to state that I haven’t done extensive research for this short blog post. I’m running on experience, observation, and few stats. But I will will reference those few, with a few links at the bottom of this article, that should give you pause if living together seems like a good option to you.
Since 1990, living together before marriage is up 72%. The US Census
suggests that the trend toward co-habitation (the formal term for living together) is now surpassing marriage among young people.
Is that because people are smarter at loving the same person for a lifetime? No. I believe it is because it is easier than a lifelong marriage commitment, enables freedom to have sex before marriage, and by extension builds relationally weak, non-committed, and insecure relationships.
It seems easy, and like a good “practice” step for marriage. But living together – without a firm commitment
to one another that is unbreakable – is where it all breaks down.
It’s backward, and if you’re a millennial, your whole generation has largely bought it. And most, if the statistics are right, will regret it.
In my experience, it’s a rare 20-something who is actively asking multiple couples who model successful, caring, loving, mutually respectful, sensitive, intact, long-term relationships for wisdom about their next step.
They’re afraid someone might disagree with them, and they think that because everyone is doing it, it will work.
My goodness. That’s no way to become wise.
And meanwhile, the current 20-something to 40-something generation is being aggressively sold a wholesale lie about how to start a long-term relationship that is literally dismantling their future joy one bad decision at a time.
The sloppy logic has different wording according to who you’re talking to:
- Living together is a good idea.
- Living together is taking our relationship to the next level.
- Living together is a great way to find out if you’re compatible.
Each one of those statements, though each may feel right on some level, is dead wrong. Here’s why:
- Living together is a good idea – if you want to 5x the odds you’ll break up.
- Living together takes a relationship to the next level – the next level of non-commitment and weakness.
- Living together is a great way to find out if you’re compatible – as you cover up a lack of mature communication skills between you, diminish your ability to persevere, make non-committed sex a cover-up for your fear of having to sacrifice yourself for someone else over a lifetime (thereby losing your self-focus), and increase your odds of splitting up if you don’t marry to 62%.
Straight up – the idea that living together is a “good idea” is, and I choose academic terminology at this point, a pile of crap. The odds that things will go well, are, to put it mildly, poor.
Living Together Lacks Courage & Foresight
The folks who recommend you and your partner live together, even if they are well-meaning friends or elders, have not looked into it and are unwittingly not caring about your future self.
Celebrity culture doesn’t care about you now – or you in your 30s, 40s, and 50s, or the children who are born into this non-committal, one-foot-out-the-door-if-we-don’t-get-along environment.
They certainly don’t care about you working the relational muscles that make a relationship last for multiple decades, ending in depth and sweetness of friendship, and someone to share the long drama of life alongside (even if you do bicker a bit).
Once you make that decision to move in together, psychologists tell us that inertia kicks in – it’s easier to stay in it than to create the tension of getting out of a relationship that you shouldn’t be in – and the results are devastating.
Non-Married Sex Masks Immaturity In Communication & Healthy Relationships
Sex is a key element in mating – and it is psychologically and physically powerful.
Having sex with someone with whom you are not committed to both publicly and privately bonds you to a person – making you emotionally connected to someone who, in some cases, you should actually not be with.
Non-married sex jacks people up long-term.
It was designed for your mate. For joy. For family. For children. For pleasure. Within the committed relationship that is marriage. A physical overflow of the deep communication you practiced before you were married and had sex.
Name your favorite show: Friends, Seinfeld, or any of the plethora of current shows now following in their footsteps – they all lied to you that “friends with benefits” is not complicated, is fun, and can be done lightly.
They lied with happy people and funny writing. A generation was deeply, deeply damaged. And with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the new channels filling the 35.5 hours per week people are watching television, it goes on, and on, and on.
The power of sex masks immaturity, further seals bonds that are unhealthy, and disables effective decisions about the long-term viability of the relationship.
A lot of young people are having sex thinking it is helping the relationship. Outside of marriage, trust me, it is eroding the trust and muscle of restraint you will need to apply every single day in marriage.
Living Together As A Trial Run?
Doing a trial run with a car doesn’t hurt or damage the car irrevocably and make it feel like a relational failure if in 10 years if you decide it “doesn’t work.”
Trial runs of “married life” damage people, stunt further relational opportunities, and make everyone gun-shy about trying again with anyone when it (usually) doesn’t work.
Ask all the happy people in their 40s and 50s who find themselves single again, feeling like they lost precious years of their lives “trying to make it work” after a long time living together or even being married. It’s damaging.
But there is healing, for sure. Some of my heroes walked this path – but neither they nor I would wish the painful journey on anyone else.
Sliding From Living Together Into Marriage
Scott Stanley, Ph.D. and Galena Rhoades, Ph.D. wrote a report called, “Before I Do,” which was sponsored by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
In that report, they talk about why commitment is so very critical, and why people who live together, who then “slide into marriage,” have so little success holding it all together.
It’s sloppy commitment, sloppy relating, and sloppy sex-friendship, all rolled into one. When kids get the short end of the security stick, it’s downright wrong.
Why Marriage Eats Living Together For Breakfast
I care about people (especially when they are close to me), and I care about nuclear families as the central unit of society. I care about couples:
- staying together,
- staying married, and
- staying in a thriving relationship together that is also a safe, good place for kids.
A couple relationship has a chance of thriving when the couple, before God and everybody, makes a pre-meditated, prepared-for, lifelong commitment – a commitment that fuels trust, safety, confidence, communication, and accountability in the relationship and creates a secure environment for children.
In short, cohabiting relationships that don’t work jam people up for a lifetime.
And marriages built on them often don’t last.
But marriage that is based on mutual commitment, mutual respect, a mutual willingness to sacrifice, mutual commitment to hit anything head on that threatens the marriage, and a mutual faith that galvanizes the bond as a sacred trust – can cause two people to thrive over decades of life.
How you start a relationship, is how it grows. How you start matters.
If you start a relationship in the soil of low commitment and fear of loss, so grows the plant.
Start in the soil of commitment and a strong decision.
How you start a marriage is how it will grow. It matters.
Others may have other ideas about how a thriving marriage works. That’s fine. But this is mine, and so far, it’s worked for us and many couples – and their families – that I know.
A Sample Wedding Service For Couples
Other Helpful Resources
While I do not endorse all of the content, perspectives, or presenting organizations of every article linked to in my other posts below, one or more of them may prove helpful to your particular situation or need.
The National Marriage Project
The Institute For Family Studies
The Risks For Couples Moving In Together (Psychology Today)
Living Together? Just Married? The First Year Challenges (Psychology Today)
Current Divorce Statistics (LoveToKnow)
Essential Cohabitation Statistics
The Danger Of Sliding Instead Of Deciding To Get Married
So Is Living Together Before Marriage Linked To Divorce Or What? (The Atlantic)
Divorce Statistics & Living Together Before Marriage (LoveToKnow)
Cohabitation Is Pervasive (Institute For Family Studies)
The Problem With Living Together (Focus On The Family)
Does Living Together Build A Stronger Marriage? (Focus On The Family)
Cohabitation As A Means To Marriage (Focus On The Family)
Myths About Living Together (First Things First)
While I do not endorse all of the content, perspectives, or presenting organizations of every article linked at the sites below, one or more of them may prove helpful to your particular situation or need.
The National Marriage Project
The Institute For Family Studies
The Meaning Of Marriage (Keller)
The Mystery Of Marriage (Mason)
The Act Of Marriage (LaHaye) (the beauty of sexual love)