Why Are So Many Couples Living Together Before Marriage?
Today, when the institution of marriage seems to be less and less revered, and 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, many couples are living together in order to “test drive” holy matrimony before they say “I do.”
But is playing house before signing on the dotted line the safest prerequisite to walking down the aisle?
“Absolutely not!” said Dr. Ronn Elmore, author of How to Love a Black Man and How to Love a Black Woman. “Living together before marriage is the same as Nutri Sweet or any other kind of substitute. It doesn’t provide the context to really find out the worth, the values, the character, and commitment of the other person.”Daryl Carter and Myla Kimbrough, both 29, don’t agree at all. They started dating about a year and halt ago and moved in together eight months after they met. Before they signed their lease, they decided that they would get married. And, for them, it’s a great financial arrangement.
“We had determined we were going to be married,” said Myla, a human resource specialist for the American Association of Blood Banks. “We just figured, instead of paying two rents, we may as well live together and save money for our future.”
Many couples say they plan to be married when they initially move in together; however, they end up cohabiting for five to 10 years, or until someone gets tired of waiting for those wedding bells that are never going to ring.
Daryl and Myla are certain they want to spend the rest of their lives together; however, if several years go by and their plans don’t work out, they have the option of going their separate ways.
“I want to start a family by 32 or 33,” said Myla. “Therefore, in the next three to four years [if I’m not married to Daryl], I would have to meet someone who is ready to make a commitment.”
“Commitment” is the operative word. Dr. Elmore said that couples who live together and come to him for counseling admit that the issue of permanent commitment in marriage is seldom talked about. “It’s always mentioned, `one day this and one day that …,’ but it’s seldom talked about in any serious way as to what it will take to get from this level of commitment to that level of commitment.”
A 26-year-old woman who chose to remain anonymous dated her boyfriend, 29, for eight years, lived with him for three years and never received that engagement ring she anticipated.
She always had intentions to get married to him, but he obviously didn’t. Whenever she brought up the topic of marriage, he would simply avoid it or say he wasn’t ready. She finally broke off the relationship, and she has moved on.
“It never got to that point where he said, `Okay, I’m ready,'” she said. “It seemed as though he would have preferred living together until I don’t know when. He was content living with me. I don’t think it would have made a difference to him to marry me or not.”
“Why would you go to the store to buy some milk with the cow standing in the living room?” asked Dr. Julia Hare, a male/female relationship specialist, motivational speaker and social psychologist. “The man has not been forced to commit to you spiritually, morally, nor financially until he has committed to you legally.”
Daryl, an associate systems engineer, said, “When you move in together, you should always be moving toward something, preferably marriage.”
And Myla said, “I would have never made a decision to move in with a man unless I was 100 percent sure that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.”
On the contrary, Dr. Hare strongly believes living together will lead both partners to heartbreak.
“Living together diminishes the institution of marriage, and it diminishes the psyche of one of the two partners when it doesn’t work out,” said Dr. Hare.
“I’ve known some men to be totally crushed because a woman decided, `I don’t want to marry you after all.’ And I’ve known women to say, `I believe I was violated, abused and used because I was a sexual playmate for months. And then when he got ready to marry, he married someone else.'”
According to The National Survey on Families and Households of the University of Wisconsin, marriages that are preceded by living together have 50 percent higher disruption (divorce or separation) rates than marriages without premarital cohabitation. In fact, of 100 couples who cohabit, 40 couples will break up before the marriage, and 45 will divorce or separate. That leaves only 15 lasting marriages out of 100 trial marriages or cohabiting experiences.
Larry and Stacey Billups, who have been married for almost four years, have one of those 15 lasting marriages. They beat the odds and said `I do’ after living together for three and a half years.
Larry, 29, and owner of a Paintless Dent Remover Company, said there is no major difference between living together and getting married. “It [marriage] validates what you’ve already been doing,” he said. “By living together we pretty much assumed the role of being married without the paper work. And since it [cohabiting] worked, marriage wasn’t a big step because it was like we were married all the time.”
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