Recently I was at the gym and I overheard a woman expressing her regret about living with her husband for 6 years prior to marrying him, "Instead of celebrating our 9 year anniversary, we'd be celebrating our 15 year anniversary." A man in the group chimed in with his opinion that she shouldn't get married before she was ready and expressed his full endorsement for living together to "see" if it would work out before making a commitment. The room got quiet when I shared that statistically more marriages end in divorce when people live together first.
There is a lie being spread that says that “trying on” a relationship is a good thing. “Test the waters first,” people say, or “Check it out.” Unfortunately, living together only requires the goal of convenience and when it’s no longer convenient, people leave. People don’t learn how to stay married by leaving relationships anymore than I can expect avoiding working out will get me physically in shape.
Look at it this way, if I make a choice to move in with you or let you move in with me, but don’t want to commit to a marriage, I’m thinking of myself. I’m thinking how much money I can save on rent, how much work I’ll avoid by sharing it with you, I’m thinking I don’t have to spend any extra money on dating, I’ll have sex whenever I want, and someone to avoid being alone. Essentially, I’m thinking selfishly about how much my life will improve because of this simple decision. Oh, the bonus is- if you do anything that makes me angry or I don’t approve of, I’ll ditch you and reverse the decision. No long, messy divorce and I don’t have to pay you anything to get rid of you. I get all the benefits of marriage with no responsibility or commitment to stay. In reality what the unspoken goal is: “I don’t want to marry you because I love me more than I love you. When you can prove you love me more than I love myself, then I’ll marry you.”
People live together because fear drives their motives: Fear of being labeled “divorced,” fear of commitment, fear of “making a mistake,” and fear of being controlled. They are running away from the things that they are afraid will happen if they get married, but quickly learn the things they thought they'd avoid show up in the living arrangement as well. The solution to fear is not giving into it, but making a choice against those fears by knowing where you are going. Living together is like jumping in a car with a stranger and driving, but neither person knows where they are going. They are just enjoying the ride. They don’t know if they are coming or going, but hey, they are on the journey together…for now.
Marriage is not the problem: Selfishness is. A marriage only works when two people commit to make the other person’s life better by being better themselves. When two people love each other, want to be together for the rest of their lives, and are willing to do the ONGOING work necessary to make the marriage thrive and grow, those people experience a deep and meaningful relationship.
The Bible defines love as:
4 Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride. 5 Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone. 6 Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth. 7 Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
A marriage is two people agreeing on a destination and putting together a road map on how to get there. Just like you wouldn’t map out your drive across the country and put away the map never looking at it again, it’s important to pull the map out, make adjustments if you’ve gotten off course, and move back in a direction toward your destination. It’s also important to make sure your vehicle is prepared for the long journey and taking it to a mechanic (aka therapist) for trip preparedness helps to gain confidence that you’ll make it to your destination. But don’t forget to do regular maintenance along the way: check the oil, rotate the tires, and put good gas in the tank so that you won’t find yourself in a ditch wondering if you’re relationship is coming or going.