Thursday, May 06, 2004

Cohabitation: Good or Bad?

Living together before marriage? Is that a good or bad idea? To me I do not see anything wrong with it. I believe it is primarily based on the maturity of the couple. It plays a strong deciding factor when it comes to things like this; either you are stable enough to cope with it, or you crumble to arguments like, "You used all the toothpaste! Get out of my house!" I think one of the biggest problems couples have is that one - sometimes both partners - misunderstand what's actually happening. I see a lot of people - especially women - who start living together with their partners expecting it to blossom into something more. Then they're disappointed when their partner doesn't want to get married after a certain amount of time. "Cohabitation" is a relationship - in and of itself. It's not an intermediate step towards getting married. It's an end - not a means to an end. You have to know what you're getting into and why you're doing it. And you need to both be on the same page. You don't go into cohabitation looking for commitment for marriage. You go into it exactly because there are no strings attached. The very nature of cohabitation puts it outside the legal and marital structure. So don't expect your partner to magically develop a marriage commitment that wasn't there before.

In theory, you should spend a lot of time dating and getting to know each other. Then spend a lot of time being engaged. And then, and only then, would you get married. In a perfect world, that would be enough. In some cultures, you are even required to live together for a while (maybe a few days, a week, a month or whatever the custom demands) before getting married - just to be sure.

But in the real world, most people meet someone, "fall in love", have sex, move in together, and 2 months later they're getting married - or splitting up. The test drive is obviously a make-or-break part of the modern package.

And then there are some things you would never discover about each other until you're actually faced with the pressures of living together. Some things just don't come up unless you're living together. How long it would take to surface would depend on how well you're able to hide your baggage. They're there, it just takes some time to shake those skeletons out of the closet. The hard part is that you can't know in advance whether living together before you get married is going to be a good thing or a bad thing. Neither living together nor a marriage certificate will guarantee you success. You can only tell how well it worked out when you look back on it from some distant point in the future. That's life.

So it's a gamble. When the time comes, all you can do is gather the data together, run through your checklist, and assess the risks. Then you either do it or you don't based on what's right for you. In that sense, it doesn't really matter whether you start living together before or after the wedding. There's still going to be the same risks of failure. The only difference will be the expenses of the wedding and the divorce.

As for the "trial marriage" idea, well, let me just say this...You need to already be committed to each other before you start out. Hence, the name - trial marriage. It's only going to tell you whether you're compatible enough to get married. It isn't going to tell you whether you want to get married. There will be lots of differences, quirks, habits, ups and downs, etc., to get used to. Cohabitation can be a good thing - as long as you both know what you're getting into and you're both on the same page.


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