Common “wisdom” says that living together in a “trial marriage” is a good way to determine if couples are compatible before marriage. Does this idea really work? What are the factors that lead to a good marriage and how can we know if the other person is right for us?
Cohabitation – the studies
There have actually been numerous studies that have examined whether living together before marriage is a good idea. The data shows that people who have multiple cohabiting relationships before marriage are more likely to experience more negative communication in marriage, lower levels of marital satisfaction, the erosion over time of the perceived value of marriage, higher perceived marital instability, lower levels of male commitment to spouse, and greater likelihood of divorce than people who do not cohabit before marriage. Although some of these effects might be due to the characteristics of people who cohabit (e.g., they tend to move from one relationship to another), recent studies suggest that selection is not involved, but that the cohabitation experience itself contributes to problems in marriage. The reason why cohabitation may setup couples for failure in marriage is because cohabitation is just a test. Since all couples suffer from some incompatibility, when the other partner “fails” the test, the person moves on to the next partner. A succession of cohabitation failures results in an inability to maintain commitment – the most important part of a marriage relationship. Recent research shows that most couples who cohabit do not do so as a trial marriage, but just slide into it without any particular intent.
Most young people think that love is just a strong feeling one has toward another person. However, the elated, “high” feeling we get when we “fall in love” is really infatuation. This kind of “love” is something that is typically short-lived, and unless replaced by true love, results in broken relationships. Those who think the infatuation phase of a relationship will last for a lifetime are setting themselves up for disappointment and failure. Life happens, and people make mistakes that hurt others. The ability to forgive and rebuild trust is required for any marriage relationship to succeed. Those who are used to moving on to the next relationship at the first sign of trouble will not make a good marriage partner, which is why living together leads to bad habits.
Factors That Lead To A Good Marriage
There are a number of factors that predict success or failure in marriage. When considering a potential marriage partner, these factors greatly impact the average success rate for marriage (although there will obviously be exceptions to the trends). Some of these factors predict a more than twice the likelihood of divorce.
Factors In A Good Marriage
|Age||>20 years old||<20 years old|
|Cohabitation||None or once||Twice or more|
|Family of origin||Intact||Divorced|
So, the best advice is to wait to get married until after you finish college. Don’t get into the habit of cohabitation, but date over a long period of time. Also, pick people of similar backgrounds and values to date. Dating a more exotic person may be exiting, but a long-term marriage relationship with such a person would be trying.