How To Avoid Marriage

Mark Shea uncovered this study from Australia about the effects of pre-marital cohabitation. I have long wondered about this. There seems to be a difference in the way men and women view "shacking up." For the woman, it is often considered sort of a trial marriage. Once compatibility is established, she thinks a marriage proposal will soon follow. For the man - men being the simple creatures that we are - living with a woman is a handy way to get what you want without making much of a commitment.

Ruth Weston and Lixia Qu, research fellows at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, conducted a study into the percentage of cohabiting couples who end up marrying one another.

They found that marriage rates had fallen dramatically since the beginning of last century and those couples who did tie the knot were doing so at a later age.

Weston told the Sydney Morning Herald that many young people thought moving in together was "a fun thing to do".

But she said cohabiting couples often lingered for years in unsuitable relationships and had trouble finding new partners when they eventually did split.

"In the old days people might go 'steady' but there was still opportunity to meet others," she said.

"Now once you are living with someone you are cheating if you see someone else. When you cohabit it adds a sense of commitment to a relationship that might be going nowhere."

The logic is a bit twisted but it makes sense. In a marriage, two people mutually agree to set out on the journey of life together. They will, normally, make plans and try to think ahead about career, children, etc.

Conversely, when a man and woman are simply playing house there is little incentive to establish anything permanent. The man will stick around as long as he gets what he wants, The woman will stick around far longer than she should because she thinks if she does the man will eventually give her the commitment she wants.

So what happens is the unmarried couples end up in a sort of limbo, not fully committed but not able to move on to other relationships that might be better. Mark Shea says it a little more directly:

Wouldn't you know it? When men and women just move in together because it "sounds fun" this results in indistinct, vague relationships in which the woman wishes the guy would commit and the guy sort of hangs around, not buying the cow because the milk is free and simultaneously lusting after other women/feeling guilty and then wishing he could escape the relationship in which he sort of participates. The arrival of children acts, not as a blessing, but as an intrusion and a complicating factor. Who could possibly have foreseen this?

I've known people who lived in long-term cohabitation without benefit of actual marriage, and seemed from the outside to have a good relationship. This is the exception, I suspect. Marriage is all about sacrifice. It is about standing up in public and saying "I will deny myself and make a lifetime commitment to my spouse." Following through on the marriage vows is not easy, as all couples find out. The fact that they have made vows, however, provides motivation to work through the inevitable problems instead of just giving in to their own desires and moving on.

Do some marriages fail? Yes. Now if you want your marriage to fail, one of the best ways to achieve that outcome is to live with your would-be spouse first. The statistics prove that marriages that are preceded by cohabitation are far more likely to fail than others.

So, if you even think you may want to marry a particular person, moving in with them is the last thing you should do. This isn't a religious rule; it's a scientific fact derived from natural law. The "trial run" theory of marriage is demonstrably false, yet people persist in trying it. We never seem to learn.

UPDATE 10/13/07: Fr. Rob Johansen of Thrown Back has some helpful links on this subject.

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