One of the rapidly growing trends in our culture today is to ignore getting married and to just start living together. My good friend, Scott Stanley, a researcher at the University of Denver, has studied this subject extensively and the term “sliding vs, deciding” is a theme that repeatedly came out in his research on the commitment dynamics in relationships.
I’ve often quoted the results of an earlier study that I think came out of the University of Wisconsin. They followed several thousand couples who were not married, but who were living together. It was a longitudinal study which followed the couples over a long period of time. They found that eventually 50% of the couples living together went their separate ways–they broke off the relationship, The other 50% married, but 35% of them ended up divorced. That meant that 85% of the couples living together didn’t make it over the long haul.
A New York Times article in April 2012 reported that researchers have found that the practice of living together before marriage can put a future marriage on shaky ground. The article noted that couple’s “slide” into the arrangement because it is economically prudent, or just convenient. But after moving in together, they felt “locked in” because of all the entanglements of living together.
By sliding into a living together arrangement, Stanley means the couple, without much thought, just start living together. It may be for financial reasons, or it may simply sound like fun. But there is no discussion–there is no deciding based on expectations about what it means to live together. All the research says it’s a bad idea, but it’s just too easy to “slide” into it.
The research has consistently found that men and women slide into the cohabiting situation with different unspoken expectations. Men say they see living together as a way to test a relationship, but more often than not, the man is simply postponing commitment. He comes into a cohabiting situation less committed than the woman. Most women see cohabiting as a step toward marriage.
If the couples marries, these differences lead to attitudes that continue on into the marriage,. Men who cohabited with their wives before marriage were still substantially less dedicated to their wives. Most men ended up marrying the cohabiting woman they were never highly committed to, simply because it was too difficult to end the relationship prior to the marriage. Basically it means that because of the low commitment level prior to marriage, some couples who otherwise would not have married end up married because of what tis called “the inertia of cohabitation.” Getting married did nothing to close the commitment gap.
Question: Why do you think the research findings are ignored by today’s “common wisdom?”