The Pros and Cons of Playing House?

I’m not a big fan of debates. I always find myself at a loss for words, knowing (for the most part) where I stand on the issue but not knowing how to express myself (or defend myself). I may share a thought or two, usually lost in the escalating volume of conversation, before I shut down and sit back to watch the scene unfold. I get overwhelmed by the moment, but I appreciate the subsequent internal struggle as I try to figure out what I believe and what I could have said. And then I can blog about it.

Last night’s topic: Pre-marital Cohabitation – Yay or Nay?

There are certainly arguments in favor of cohabitation. It allows the couple to spend more time together, share living expenses, test compatibility, and end the relationship without a messy divorce. Some say that the only way you can truly know your significant other is by living together. Others say that there is no financial sense in paying two rents when couples sleep over at one or the other’s place. Certainly all valid arguments, I suppose.

I see myself standing more on the “nay” side of things. I hear people argue that some couples who live together are practically married, but they just don’t believe in the institution of marriage. “We don’t need a piece of paper to prove we love each other,” they say. I say, if you are practically married, why not go ahead and make it a legal status? Married couples can file joint tax returns, act as next-of-kin in medical emergencies, and receive automatic inheritance in the absence of a will among other legal benefits, while cohabiting couples cannot. However, some couples head from cohabitation into marriage, because living together has established barriers to ending the relationship (e.g. shared mortgage, pets, furniture, and children). They marry, even if their relationship is not ready for such a commitment, because they feel trapped.

One of the big arguments against cohabitation is its effect on marriage. Research shows evidence that cohabitation before engagement is associated with lower marriage quality and higher divorce potential. Statistically, couples who lived together before getting married are more likely to divorce than couples who did not live together. Perhaps the correlation between cohabitation and marriage quality is connected to ideas and beliefs about commitment. Cohabitation may create unrealistic ideas about commitment prior to entering a marriage. Couples can easily move in together, and just as easily move out. If cohabitation qualifies as “practically married”, or a “trial marriage” as it is often called, and marriage is simply a formality, how easy would it be to call it quits after they say “I do”? Does cohabitation lead couples to think more lightly of actual marriage because it is not much different from this trial period?

While cohabitation may not be much different from marriage in some cases, it seems like a poor imitation of something that is supposed to be sacred and special. Couples may not think much of marriage or realize how special it is supposed to be, because living together in a nominally different situation has lowered their expectations.

Finally, I think it is possible to really know a person without living together. It all depends on how much effort both people put into getting to know each other. What is a person trying to hide if they are a different person when you live with them? What does that say about the level of openness and honesty in the relationship? I cannot think of much you can learn about a person ONLY by living with him or her. Sure, there are the early morning and late night habits. But what does it say about how committed a person is to the relationship if the way he brushes his teeth or the way she sings in the shower is the deal breaker? You can learn just about everything by spending time in conversation with another person. And I think if you can learn so much about a person and still want to marry them, you can learn to live with them. It shouldn’t be the other way around.

Resources:
The Pre-Engagement Cohabitation Effect
Qualitative Reports of Problems in Cohabiting Relationships

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