The idea of cohabiting before marriage is a major dynamic in our culture today. The behavior is so common that it unexpectedly affects divorce statistics, which are dropping slightly. The cause of the slight decline in divorce is that fewer couples are marrying–they just live together. We stated in the last posting that 50% of those living together break up without getting married–they are not counted in the divorce statistics.
The research today suggests that sliding into a cohabiting situation is almost always a plan for disaster. We noted that 85% either break-up before getting married, or divorce after getting married. The best research on this phenomena looks closely at the quality of commitment as a couple either slides into cohabiting, or makes a clear decision that looks at all aspects of the relationship–deciding to wait.
Scott Stanley and his associates (www.slidingvsdeciding.com) have identified four different aspects of commitment in a romantic relationship. The first is what they simply call interpersonal commitment, or dedication to the other person. Typically, this is the type of commitment experienced by the woman, but not so much by the man. Just the fact that he is “testing” the relationships suggests that in his mind, at least, there is something to be tested. There is some hesitation.
So the woman is usually there because she has an interpersonal commitment, but the man is usually there because of what the researchers call a “constraint commitment. They identify three types of constraint that keep the man involved. Here are the three types of constraint:
1. Perceived constraints. Here the man, and/or the couple, stay together out of social pressure, or they stay together because they just aren’t motivated, or because they don’t know how to end the relationship.
2. Material constraints. The couple stays together because there are just too many things that would have to be dealt with. For example, they are on the lease together, or they have a joint cell-phone contract, or they have a joint bank account. It can even be the fact that they co-own a pet. For this couple, it’s just too complicated to break the relationship.
3. Felt constraints. The couple stays together, but one or both of them feels trapped, or they feel they are being used by their partner. What started out as fun with so much promise begins to feel like a prison.
When there is no clear vision for where both people believe the relationship is headed, and both are not committed to discussing that goal, nor are committed to the achievement of that goal, some combination of the constraints are the only thing keeping them together. The research shows clearly this will have a negative effect on the quality of the relationship, both while living together and later in the marriage.
Next, we will look at how individual attachment issues play into this pattern of relationships,
Question: Do you think that a couple discussing their goals before moving in together would make a difference? Why, or why not? Let me know your thoughts.