Marriage Is Just a Piece of Paper - Part 2
- 2007 11 Jul
Why People Choose to Live Together and Why It Doesn’t Work
The lie that marriage is just a piece of paper is usually cloaked in other common little lies. They are so cliché that nobody questions them anymore, and most people miss what is really being said.
It’s just so much more convenient for us to live together. I mean, it’s less expensive to share rent and utilities than to pay for two. Besides, it’s easier not to have to carry my overnight bag back and forth all the time.
This is just another way of saying, “I want you to carry my baggage so that I don’t have to be responsible . . . and if anything should go wrong, I can just leave you holding the bag—or the bills.”
To a female, this trial run is a naïve hope that her live-in boyfriend will eventually see it her way and commit to marriage—but studies show that the longer they live together, the more negative his (and perhaps even her) attitude about marriage and childbearing will be.6 She may hope for a wedding, but odds are she’ll be disappointed in what’s really coming—the relationship between living together and eventual divorce is very strong.7
Individuals who choose to cohabitate often develop a relatively low tolerance for unhappiness and a greater willingness to quit relationships, including marriage, because they have established a pattern of leaving rather than choosing to work through differences.8 (For further clarification, I recommend you watch a few episodes of Judge Judy. She does a much better job of explaining why single people should not shack up than I ever could, considering that she’s been sitting on the bench as a judge longer than I have been alive.)
Moreover, the breakup of a cohabiting relationship is not necessarily cleaner or easier than a divorce. Any breakup that involves splitting up a household may lead to conflicts over property, leases, and past due bills, bills, bills.9 Just ask Judge Judy. If you’ve never seen her dispense justice to the victims of a live-in situation gone bad, let me tell you—it’s never good! Being house-mates and being spouse-mates are not the same under the law.
I think we need to see if we’re sexually compatible.
Compatibility? Are people still using this tired old line? First of all, if this person approaches you and you have any hopes of the two of you ever getting married, forget it! Your beloved’s obsession with sexual “compatibility” reveals that he or she is more likely to have a negative attitude about marriage and in the long run is more likely to accept divorce as a solution to marriage problems.10
Second, if they are basing a marriage on whether or not the sex is good, they aren’t a good marriage candidate—to say the least. Someone who makes such a dumb statement with regard to marriage hasn’t the faintest idea what marriage is all about. Married people spend much more time doing life than doing it. Compatibility is a choice.
When it comes to compatibility, I like to say, “Read the box before you buy your software.” Will it function with your hardware and operating system? This is all you need to know, and all that information is printed on the package. I can hear you asking now, “Why buy the software when I can download it for free?” Because free downloads are how you get viruses.
Test Driving, a.k.a. “Practice”
I think living together 24/7 is good practice to see if we get along, without having to be trapped in a marriage if it doesn’t work. It’s just not smart to buy a car without test driving it.
The fear of commitment is rampant these days. I know commitment can be a scary thing—especially if you’ve been burned before—but equating living together and test driving (or even leasing!) a car is just wacked. It’s a bad metaphor. No car dealer in his right mind would let you go four-wheeling in the Sahara or drag-racing on the Autobahn in a car you haven’t paid for yet—and the high-speed extreme sport of living with another person makes four-wheeling or drag-racing look like a trip on a merry-go-round. Marriage is like owning a Rolls with the speed of a LOTUS and the safety of a Volvo. Don’t settle for test driving a Geo Metro. It just won’t get you very far.
The sad reality is that cohabitants feel less secure in their relationships than married couples because they view their sexual relationships as less permanent and exclusive. They are less faithful to their partners than spouses. Even when they are faithful, they are less committed to sexual fidelity, which creates more insecurity because “levels of certainty about the relationship are lower than in marriage.”11
Marriage means “I will always be here for you.” Marriage encourages emotional investment in an exclusive relationship. In contrast, cohabitation means, “I will be here only as long as the relationship meets my needs.” Contrary to popular belief, the majority of live-ins don’t lead to marriage! Only an estimated 60 percent end in marriage.12 Those who are afraid of commitment and permanence—or who fear that these qualities can no longer be found in marriage—may settle for cohabitation, but they are likely to discover they have settled for less. Couples who live together before marriage are 46 percent more likely to divorce than people who marry but never lived together.13 No one has ever found that cohabitation makes a positive contribution to later marital stability, regardless of what you see on the latest sitcom.
If failed marriages and relationships aren’t enough to prove that living together is high-risk and low-benefit, check this out: Cohabiting women are more likely than married women to be the victims of physical and/or sexual abuse. Some estimate domestic violence is at least twice and as much as three times as common among live-in couples as it is among married people.14
I talk regularly with casualties of cohabitation. Kathy, a cute high school sophomore, confided in me after an all-school assembly that she loved the abstinence message and wanted to embrace secondary virginity. She thought it was a great idea and she hoped to find an example of a good marriage. Her parents were high school sweethearts but never got married. She and her sister had only seen their biological dad twice.
She told me, “I really want to share this message with my mom, but I don’t think her boyfriend is going to like it.”
“Who cares what he thinks,” I challenged her. “She has to do what’s best for her and her children.”
“You’re right,” she said, “but her boyfriend lives with us and he’s kind of abusive.”
At this point I thought to myself, Here we go again . . . same story, different girl. As we talked further, she began to reveal the dark secrets of her life, which unfortunately fit perfectly into the statistical profile of a child of cohabitation.
Cohabiting women are more likely than married women to be the victims of physical and/or sexual abuse.
This young woman and her sister were both molested by one of her mom’s previous live-in boyfriends, and when her sister told the mother, she didn’t do anything about it. Some women think that living with someone will help in the raising of their children, but cohabitation increases the chances that a child—male or female—will be abused. Boyfriends are disproportionately likely to sexually or physically abuse their girlfriend’s children. In fact, the most unsafe family environment for children is when the mother is living with someone other than the child’s biological father.15
The abuse, as you can imagine, heaped a great amount of emotional distress on both this young woman and her sister. She told me that she wanted to go to college, but her mom didn’t have the money. She didn’t know where her father was, and she had no right to support from any of her mother’s previous “partners” who were not her biological father. She and her sister paid the economic price for her mother’s life.
“Your grades aren’t that good, are they?” I asked.
“How did you know?” she responded with surprise.
I knew because it’s the same sad story I’ve heard too many times to count. This girl wasn’t getting low grades because she wasn’t bright, but because she was experimenting with alcohol and sex to emotionally escape her situation at home. She seemed very bright and extremely mature for her age, but her mother’s poor decisions had caused her to have behavioral problems and lower academic performance than children in married families.
Next up, why marriage is the best alternative. …
6Jeffry Larson, Should We Stay Together? A Scientifically Proven Method for Evaluating Your Relationship and Improving Its Chances for Long-term Success (San Francisc Jossey-Bass, 2000), note 5. For additional information, visit http://marriageandfamilies.byu.edu/issues/2001/January/cohabitation.aspx.
7David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know About Cohabitation Before Marriage: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research.” http://marriage.rutgers.edu/Publications/Print/PrintSWLT.htm (accessed December 2006).
8Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially (New York: Doubleday Books, 2000).
12Linda J. Waite and K. Joyner, “Emotional and Physical Satisfaction in Married, Cohabiting and Dating Sexual Unions: Do Men and Women Differ?” cited in E.O. Laumann and R. Michael, eds. Studies in Sex (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1994).
13David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know About Cohabitation Before Marriage (New Brunswick, NJ: The National Marriage Project, 1999), note 4.
14Waite and Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially, p.41, note 6.
15R. Whelan, Broken Homes and Battered Children: A Study of the Relationship Between Child Abuse and Family Type (London: Family Education Trust, 1993).
From The Naked Truth, © 2007 by Lakita Garth. Published by Regal Books, www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lakita Garth is a social commentator, media consultant and professional entertainer in Los Angeles. As a highly sought-after abstinence speaker, she has talked with millions of teenagers through motivational assemblies across the United States and internationally. She has also testified before the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Senate on teen pregnancy prevention, and serves on the executive board of The National Abstinence Clearinghouse. Garth, a runner-up to Miss Black America, has appeared in numerous commercials and television shows, including MTV and BET.