The Catholic Church is so behind the times. What does it know? Things have changed. Everyone is living together now. It’s no big deal.
But, as it happens, completely secular studies back up what the Church has been telling us all along: cohabiting is bad for your relationship.
The National Marriage Project (not affiliated with the Church) did a thorough study of cohabitation and concluded: “No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.”
If you think it’s smart to take your potential future marriage for a test drive, counter-intuitive as it may seem, you’re actually sabotaging your marriage before it begins.
Couples who cohabit are more likely to get divorced. Weird, right? Here’s what seems to be happening: Cohabiting couples often stay on their best behavior, knowing they still need to “win the other over.” Once they’re married, they tend to let things slide, making the other person wonder what happened. (I’ve seen it happen.) At least one member of the couple expects their relationship to become stronger with marriage, but in reality, the opposite happens. The end result: “You’re not the person I thought you were. I want a divorce.”
The other issue is that cohabiting couples, whether they realize it or not, are rehearsing distrust. Half a commitment is no commitment. Each member of a cohabiting couple is keeping one foot out the door. This attitude, conscious or not, can carry into married life, making it harder to keep the marriage bond permanent.
Cohabiters often want steady companionship, cheaper rent, and sexual availability, making cohabitation a utilitarian act. This amounts to a relationship that says, “I’m willing to let you use me, as long as you’re willing to let me keep using you.” Does that sound like real love?
Shacking up or even just sleeping together clouds a person’s judgment. Sex makes you physiologically attach to your partner, whether he/she is good for you or not. Attachment neurochemicals, such oxytocin and vasopressin produce feelings of bliss when with the other person, whether he or she is right for you or not. That little happy kick makes it a whole lot easier to make excuses for and rationalize the normally questionable behavior of the other person, while ignoring the little voice inside telling you to end the relationship now.
For the ladies reading this, I hate to say it, but you are especially giving yourself a raw deal when you play house. The sad state of affairs is that a woman’s marriageability decreases with age. Older men can easily marry younger women in our society, so a relationship break-up, even late in the game, isn’t as big of a deal for men as it is for women.
Consider the consequence of being in a cohabiting relationship that doesn’t work out. You’ve spent years with this guy, hoping you’ll get married and telling yourself that once you do, your future is secure. But what if it’s not? Now you’ve wasted the best years of your young adult life; meanwhile, your pool of eligible young bachelors has diminished.
Men, on the other hand, have a wide age-range to work with, and given the choice, will often opt for a younger, smoother-skinned companion than one with a more well-worn look. Again, it’s a crappy system, but for men accustomed to a culture of try-until-you-buy, and when that doesn’t work, upgrade to a newer model, women are too often left in the cold.
The moral of this story is: avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing. Cohabiting only wastes your best years. Keep sex out of the relationship in order to know if the feelings are real. You’ll save so much time, and a great deal of heartache, in the long run.
Betsy Kerekes is co-author of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Personand 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. Her newest book is Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying. She can be found at her blog, parentingisfunny.wordpress.comor on twitter @BetsyK1.