Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

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Dr. Wade Horn on Kids:

Why ‘shacking-up' for marriage's sake fails

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: My girlfriend and I are in our early twenties. We have been dating for about six months and things are starting to get serious. We recently discussed moving in together. I know you are a big fan of marriage, and so are we. But we want to make sure that we are right for each other before we take that walk down the aisle. So we're considering living together for a while as a way of finding out. What do you think?

A: For the baby boom generation, the driving force behind cohabitation was an avoidance of marriage. Baby Boomers didn't want to get married, but did want to have sex. Cohabitation was a way for them to have their cake and eat it too.

Since then, the purpose and meaning of cohabitation has changed. Today, the driving force behind cohabitation is not so much a desire to avoid marriage, but to avoid divorce.


This seems especially true for the so-called Generation X-ers. Born between 1962 and 1980 during the height of the divorce revolution, millions of Gen X-ers know first hand the pain of having experienced the divorce of their parents while they were children. As a result, many Gen X-ers are deathly afraid of marriage, not because they fear commitment, but because they fear divorce.

At the same time, there seems to be a genuine yearning within Gen X-ers for greater attachments to family and commitment to others. Surveys show, for example, that Gen X-ers are more likely than Baby Boomers to agree that a married person's having sex with someone other than their spouse is always wrong. Gen X-ers are also less career-oriented than Baby Boomers, with female Gen X-ers being more likely than Baby Boomer women to express a preference to stay home and raise a family.

Herein lies their dilemma. How does one achieve greater attachments in family relationships while at the same time avoiding divorce? The answer many Gen X-ers have come up with is this: cohabitation as a form of trial marriage.

On the surface the idea makes eminent sense. You don't buy a car unless you test drive it first. So why buy into marriage without test driving it first?

The problem is that cohabitation before marriage actually makes subsequent marriages less stable. Statistics show that divorce rates are at least fifty percent higher for couples who cohabit before marriage compared to those who did not. Why should this be?

The answer lies in the fact that the goal of marriage and the goal of cohabitation is quite different. In marriage, the goal is (or ought to be, anyway) taking care of the other person, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. The point of marriage is not constantly checking to see whether you feel good, but constantly checking to make sure you are doing all you can to support, encourage and take care of your marital partner.

Contrast this with cohabitation. In cohabitation the goal is not so much to determine whether I am up to the task of taking care of your needs, but whether you are up to the task of taking care of mine. The "trial" in a trial-marriage is not a test of oneself, but a test of the other. When cohabitors assert that they are testing their compatibility with each other, what they really mean is that they are testing how well the other person fulfills their needs.

Thus, cohabitation as a trial marriage teaches exactly the wrong message about marriage. It suggests that marriage is about whether or not I feel good, and if I stop feeling good, however temporarily, there must be something wrong.

But marriage is not about "me," but "we." Couples in lasting marriages understand this. They use the commitment they have for each other to overcome temporary roadblocks. In fact, research shows that commitment to the marriage as a life-long partnership is the strongest predictor of marital stability, stronger even the quality of one's sex life or communication skills.

So my advice: avoid cohabitation. Instead have long discussions about what marriage means to each of you, and what you expect from marriage. Better yet, undergo meaningful marital preparation with a qualified counselor or member of the clergy.

Most of all, search your own soul and ask yourself these questions: Is this person someone I will want to take care of, not only when things are going well, but when they are not? Is this a person I am committed to, not because what she does for me, but for what I can do for her? Is this someone who I want to be with for the rest of my life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health?

The answer to these questions is not to be found in playing house. The answer is to be found in an honest assessment of your own capacity for understanding what it takes to make a lasting home.

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