In today’s world of soaring divorce rates, most couples are hesitant to commit themselves to marriage for fear of finding out that they are not really suited to be long-term partners. And yet, it is only natural that two people in a serious relationship would want to share a life together. In such a situation cohabitation or living together without being formally married seems to offer a reasonable alternative. But before you move in with your partner, consider how the step may change your relationship.
Rose-tinted glasses are off
When dating, people naturally put their best foot forward but sharing a life with the same person can turn out to be a different ballgame altogether. So once you start living with your boyfriend, you realize that the much-repeated plaint about men and toilet seats is annoyingly true; again while you may have been secretly thrilled to find that your girlfriend makes a mean Southern casserole, you may not be so thrilled at her habit of leaving dirty pans in the sink for days on – supposedly to ‘soak’. Certain quirks about your partner which you merely found endearing when dating can be extremely irritating when you start living together. And if you are not quickly able to deal maturely and mutually with such pet peeves, you may find all this too much of a strain on your relationship.
You both have widely differing assumptions
While pet peeves are one thing, a specific way of living a life is another. Most people are brought up in a certain way and grow up believing that a particular way of doing things is better than others. Though most of the times adults outgrow such prejudices as they gain experience and maturity, but even tolerant people retain a surprising number of untested assumptions shaped by life experience. Thus once you move in with your partner, you may start having slight-to-serious differences in your beliefs about what is "normal." From doing laundry to dealing with stress, you probably tend to think that your way is the way, but your partner may not necessarily share your view. In case of couples from different cultures, religions and races, such diverging lifestyles and values may prove to be even more of a stumbling block. It just isn’t possible to anticipate all these clashing assumptions before moving in together, and once you shack up, you may find that your different ways of doing things or varying lifestyles too much of a stress on daily living.
Clashing gender roles
Most couples move in together without giving a thought to who is going to take care of what in the shared household. In case of marriage the gender roles are roughly pre-determined – for instance cleaning and cooking is usually the lot of wives while vehicle maintenance and repair jobs are taken up by the husbands. But living together presents a peculiar situation – the conditions simulate marriage but are not held down by marital expectations. This makes household chores and responsibilities even harder to fix – thus a woman from a traditional culture may be expected to cook for her husband and this is what perhaps her partner expects her to do when she moves in with him. But she may equally refuse since firstly she is not married to her partner and secondly this gender expectation is exactly what she is trying to avoid when she opts for cohabitation over marriage. Thus as long as two people are merely dating, their relationship seem to be on an equitable footing but as soon as they start living together, they may start fighting over who is supposed to do what.
To a large extent cultural conditioning and the roles fulfilled by one’s own parents are responsible for such pre-conceived notions. Problems arise when one partner’s expectations of roles clash with another’s – thus if the female partner is a busy professional she would expect her boyfriend to pitch in with the cooking and dishes but he may think these as a woman’s job. Even when you and your partner have been brought up according to same cultural values, there may be differences - you may like doing chores together while your spouse may prefer a neat division of roles in the household. Over time repeated fights about gender roles and domestic responsibilities may wreck your relationship.
Who wears the pants?
The aspect of living together which would perhaps most sorely test a relationship is finding out who wears the pants. Ideally a relationship should be entirely equitable but in reality this seldom happens; usually the partner with a higher earning capacity or a stronger personality ends up having more control in a relationship. He/she decides which model of TV should be bought, what should be served for dinner and even perhaps where they should go for a weekend vacation. This is not really evident when two people are just dating since then it is not only about making good impressions but the fact that they living separately does not warrant taking of important decisions. It is only when you move in with your partner that you realize that there are power dynamics at play and either one of you will end up having more control than the other.
No guarantee of marital success
Finally if you are thinking of moving in with your partner as a preparatory step to marriage, living together may not offer you the best chances of marital success. In the last decade there have been several studies on cohabitation and its impact on marital success and the most of these have found out that couples who live together before marriage are likely to experience greater trouble than those couples who have not cohabited before marriage. A study by Bennett, Blan and Bloom, published in American Sociological Review, 1988, Vol 53: 127-138 and titled, "Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability" found out that those who live together before marriage are twice as likely to get divorced than those who did not live together. The study also found that partners who do live together are in fact less likely to get married at all as compared to those who are in a relationship but do not cohabit.
What could be the reasons why so many cohabiting couples break up? Partners living together are more likely to evade real issues of sharing a life when they are not married. Practical responsibilities or domestic chores may be divided but core issues like joint financial management and deeper commitment may remain unsatisfactorily understood so that when faced by a serious challenge, cohabiting couples may prefer to go their own ways. Even those who have got married may be unable to cope with the demands and commitments that a marriage entails. Moreover, partners living together may be more insecure of each other’s commitment in a relationship and hence less likely to trust each other, thus leaving their relationship open to misunderstandings and infidelities. Finally when partners belong to different religious or cultural backgrounds their cohabitation may be unable to withstand the overt or unspoken disapproval of parents, family and friends and consequently crumple under strain.
Living together thus may not turn out to be the foolproof way of ensuring success of a relationship, or even a meaningful alternative to marriage. However if both you and your partner are mature enough to understand the pros and cons of cohabitation, then there is no reason why cannot move in your beloved – provided the decision taken is an informed one and you understand that your relationship is sure to undergo changes.