I recently read some information about The National Marriage Project, an initiative aiming to “increase marital quality and stability.”¹ One of their publications, “The Top Ten Myths of Marriage”, discusses the myth that couples who live together before marriage know each other better and have longer-lasting marriages because they are so well suited for each other.
I have found, in over 37 years of marriage, that marriage is more about commitment than feeling, and more about the decision to accept my spouse than my skill in finding someone who suits me well. The difference between living together and being married is like the difference between renting an apartment and buying a house. When I was newly married we rented an apartment. In some ways it was great—no maintenance, no lawn mowing, no long term commitment. If something broke, I only had to call the landlord. There was a downside to being a renter, however: I couldn’t paint the walls in my apartment, I didn’t get the benefit of mortgage tax deductions, and I had to wait, sometimes for weeks, for the landlord to fix things.
When couples chose to live together before marriage they are like renters. They want the benefits without the commitment. Dr. Willard Harley, Jr., Licensed Psychologist, asks:
“What, exactly, is the commitment of marriage? It is an agreement that you will take care of each other for life, regardless of life’s ups and downs. You will stick it out together through thick and thin. But the commitment of living together isn’t like that at all. It is simply a month-to-month rental agreement. As long as you behave yourself and keep me happy, I’ll stick around.
Habits are hard to break, and couples that live together before marriage get into the habit of following their month-to-month rental agreement. In fact, they often decide to marry, not because they are willing to make a lifetime commitment to each other, but because the arrangement has worked out so well that they can’t imagine breaking their lease, so to speak. They say the words of the marital agreement, but they still have the terms of their rental agreement in mind.
Couples who have not lived together before marriage, on the other hand, have not lived under the terms of the month-to-month rental agreement. They begin their relationship assuming that they are in this thing for life, and all their habits usually reflect that commitment.”²
¹The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, “Mission,” The National Marriage Project, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/mission.html.
²Dr. Willard Harley, Jr., “Living Together Before Marriage,” Marriage Builders, http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi5025_qa.html.