Monday, March 15, 2010

Living Together Before Marriage: What the Studies Really Show

Normally, I wouldn't touch this stuff on the blog, but since I am teaching a class on Christian Marriage next quarter, I had to highlight this. . .

CBS News, whose ridiculously liberal bias has been long known ever since Bernard Goldberg's famous whistle-blower book (though I realize all outlets have some bias or another. . . "fair and balanced" ain't what it's cracked up to be!), is highlighting a study which tries to make a case that living together before getting married won't negatively impact your marriage. Newsbusters tackles the distortion.

Of course, what they mean by "won't negatively impact your marriage" is this: you won't get divorced.

Okay. . . let's just take that at face value (though other studies clearly dispute that finding!). Just because a couple does not get divorced does not mean that they have a happy marriage. A couple that has separated but is not technically divorced is not, I think by anyone's standards, experiencing a happy marriage. In fact, as Newsbusters reports, studies show that domestic abuse and child abuse are far more likely to take place in relationships where the couples had lived together before getting married.

In sum, the data indicates that living together will greatly harm your relationship.

Newsbusters cites psychologist Nancy Wartik, who in Psychology Today, explains:
"We move in together, we get comfortable, and pretty soon marriage starts to seem like the path of least resistance. Even if the relationship is only tolerable, the next stage starts to seem inevitable," she wrote. " Because we have different standards for living partners than for life partners, we may end up married to someone we never would have originally considered for the long haul."
We could cite other studies but, suffice it to say, it's no big mystery why the odds are strongly against finding happiness through "shacking up". When there's no commitment, there's a fear of break-up, which causes couples to do their best to hide their weaknesses and bad habits. But once married, all those tendencies which were carefully avoided begin to rise to the surface and it quickly becomes apparent to the persons involved: "This is not the same person I thought he/she was."

So, do you want to destroy the relationship with the person you love? There's an easy way to do it. You can happily wreck your perfect relationship by moving in together before marriage.

Once again what do we find? Do it God's way, and you'll find happiness; go another way and, well, just read this MSNBC story from last year. It's an iron-clad law: if you want to be happy, follow the Lord's design; if you want to be sad, ignore it. In short, God knows how to make us happy better than we think we do. The world may suggest a "trial" marriage will help you find happiness--in reality, though, it's not. The wisdom of the world is folly.

Of course, this is inconvenient for some and so they will try to fool themselves into thinking that they will somehow be exceptions--they still know best. I believe St. Paul said it better than I ever could: "for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Rom 1:21-22).


Anonymous said...

"So, do you want to destroy the relationship with the person you love?"

Well, it was on my to-do list before global domination...

Helgi said...

I am not convinced that someone will become abusive as a result of living with another person before getting married.
I suppose it is similar to blaming ice-cream for a higher rate of rape in New York since ice cream sales spike at the same time as the rape rate. Of course both coincide with temperature highs during the summer.

What these statistics rather tell us is that an abusive person is more likely to live with someone before getting married. And that people that move in together before getting married are more likely to start a relationship that was a bad idea to begin with.

So it's not possible to say that the relationship is worse off because people began living together before marriage. That is to say, the viability of the relationship is the same, however, one can say that starting of with a greater commitment in view might cause some bad-idea relationships to end much sooner.

Juan Lino said...

I have not read the articles and I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you that based on my experience I strongly believe that “living together” before marriage is a perfect “training ground” for divorce. In my case, “living together” gave me the illusion that I was actually “committed” to the relationship when the truth was that “I was committed “as long as things went my way.” I am saying this because living together led me to believe that it was normal to assume that a relationship has an “expiration date” or “escape clause” precisely because neither I or my wife had both feet firmly planted in the relationship. The difference became was evident to me once I became a husband rather than a boyfriend because we were then secure enough to reveal who we really were t each other rather than walking on egg shells because we did not want the “other” to leave. However, by the time we realized that the habitual attitudes we had developed while playing husband and wife contributed to the demise of the marriage, we were already divorced. And I have found this to be the case in the majority of cases I personally know. Again, not a scientific study but certainly and experiential one.

Michael Barber said...

Helgi: Here's what the data reveals: couples who live together are more likely to experience domestic violence or child abuse as part of their relationship.

Juan: Thanks for sharing your story. You just illustrated the point psychologists like the one I quoted make.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment about the studies, but I can speak from my experience. I have been married for eight years, and my husband and I lived together for four years before getting married. We now regret the decisions we made to have premarital sex, and to live together. We weren't faithful Christians before, but we fully committed ourselves to Christ at the time of our marriage. We know it is only by the grace of God that we now have a happy marriage, and we both agree that if we could do it over again, we absolutely wouldn't make the same mistake of living together before the wedding.

Anonymous said...

FYI - ABC profiled this study on their evening news and it sounded like cheerleading for premarital sex. It was really disgusting. I was standing in line to make a purchase and I nearly threw my bread at Diane Sawyer's perky pandering. :-P

FS said...

I don't know much about the studies you mention but one problem is to control, as statisticians and others say, for spurious correlation. What the studies could pick up is simply that people who are more likely to get divorced are also more likely to be living together, which of course doesn't establish the causality that you are speaking of in your post.

While you may hold the ethical view (which is commendable) that it is highly desirable to live only with a person you are committed to through marriage, I am not convinced that one can easily prove the danger of "pre-marital living together" through the use of stats, unless you control for psychological traits that are very difficult to establish. One more time, I have not read the studies, so I don't know whether they try to do that, but I would be careful with the stats.

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