Cultural wisdom dictates that couples are sensible to live together before committing to marriage. Research demonstrates that in fact, this practice undermines the future marriage rather than supports it.
This is the second in a series on cohabitation myths. As couples become more involved, their living arrangements become increasingly entangled. Shared possessions, friends, pets and memories become the glue that holds them together. Often, without ever consciously deciding to make a permanent commitment, they find themselves reluctant to break up for the simple reason that unravelling their shared life is so complicated.
Researchers call this ‘constraint commitment’. It’s all the aspects of the couple’s life that push them together without their active choice. Often, after several years of living together, one or the other (but more commonly the woman) will start to insist that the relationship move forward to marriage. When couples progress to marriage from this state, one or both partners may feel coerced into marriage making them prone to resentment toward their partner and rendering their commitment fragile.
This resentment and commitment doubt at the time of the wedding can often become the reason for later marriage breakdown. It’s not uncommon for divorcing couples to say things like, “I had doubts about getting married but I went ahead because I thought it was the right thing to do”.
While Constraint Commitment is often problematic it also has a positive benefit. It helps couples stick it out through a tough patch – particularly important for married couples with children when a difficult period would otherwise pull a good marriage apart. Increasing constraints for the cohabitating couple, however, mean that the relationship tends to persist even when one or both partners know it is time to end it.