“Professing love is easy. Practicing love takes courage.”
– Brené Brown
“What about cohabitation?” a radio show host asked me recently, “Can’t a couple simply live together in a marriage-like arrangement and reap the benefits of marriage without its complications?”
Can this really happen? Here’s how some folks explain why they chose cohabiting with no plan to marry.
- Harold, 58 and divorced: “I don’t want the government involved in my relationship.”
- Laura, 30, who lives with her boyfriend and their two-year-old son: “Everyone I know who got married is divorced. We’ll stay together as long as it’s good.”
- Sally, a statuesque brunette beauty in her 40’s, and twice divorced from men who were poor choices: “All my friends are divorced and cynical about marriage.”
Harold, Laura, and Sally do not want marriage because they dread a divorce, or another one.
Who can blame them for being afraid? Depending on whose statistics you believe, somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of fist marriages fail. Dissolution rates for second and third marriages, respectively, are even higher.
My parents divorced when I was thirteen. Marriage felt risky to me. Cohabitation seemed even more hazardous. What if I’d change my life radically to live with someone, no strings attached, bonded intensely with him, and he bolted? He could opt out whenever and break my heart.
Commitment is Higher in Marriage
In marriage, both partners are likely to be more committed. I think “marriage-like” is an oxymoron. Marriage has long been defined as a legal union meant to last for life. Living together is not like being married because either partner can easily leave. The no-strings factor vastly changes the dynamics of the relationship.
I value the legal part of marriage. It means we will do everything possible to keep the relationship good. I want a lifelong union, not an easy escape option. I like the potential expenses and complications of splitting up. They cause us both to invest energy, in an ongoing way, into living together happily, regardless of the ups and downs that any intimate relationship experiences.
As a colleague puts it, “Marriage is not a consumer product that you give a try to see how it suits you. Marriage is a leaving of all other relationships to give yourself completely to your beloved. Cohabitation says, “I’m not sure about you. Can I give you a test-drive to see what I think? Melts your hearts doesn’t it, ladies? Marriage says, ‘I want all of you and I want to give all of myself to you!’ This is why cohabitation and marriage are such very different kinds of relationships.”
I believe most divorces can be prevented — if people choose wisely. Chemistry counts. But communication, respect, shared values, and compatibility are also important for a fulfilling lifelong relationship.
Marriage has been around for thousands of years. Until very recently almost all married couples stayed together for life. I think today’s high divorce rate is an anomaly, a blip in history, caused by huge societal changes that have created new expectations for spouses, which many people either don’t realize they possess or haven’t learned how to satisfy.
I think marriage is here to stay. Once people learn how to create successful marriages, divorce will again be a rare exception to the rule that marriage is permanent.
If your relationship is basically healthy, you can easily keep it on track by holding a short, gentle, weekly conversation. Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, February 2014), explains step-by-step how to do this; it gives guidelines, a simple agenda, and communication techniques.
“Marriage meetings” increase romance, intimacy, teamwork, and help resolve issues more smoothly. My husband David and I have been holding them for over 27 years. I give the meetings major credit for our lasting happiness together.
The Marriage Meeting; Step by Step
Appreciation, first on the meeting’s agenda, sets a feel-good, positive tone, although just knowing that you’re taking time to meet affirms that you both value your relationship. During this part of the meeting, each partner takes an uninterrupted turn to tell the other things they appreciated about him or her during the past week. The next topics are Chores, Planning for Good Times, and Problems and Challenges. Marriage meetings prevent misunderstandings or help resolve them promptly, so grudges don’t build up.
Step by step instructions for holding marriage meetings are provided in my book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. It includes guidelines to prepare for meetings and positive communication skills to use during them, and which can enhance virtually any relationship.
By holding marriage meetings, you can transform your relationship into one that fulfills you in all the important ways — emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically, like marriage is meant to do, for life.