Will living together before marriage really doom your relationship?

by: Linda and Richard Eyre - March 3, 2015
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Linda and Richard Eyre

We were chatting with an acquaintance of ours who lives with his girlfriend and, during our discussion, we asked him if he was planning to get married.

He said, “Well, we hope to if everything works out. We just want to live together long enough to be sure we are compatible before we make a commitment.” He used a cliché that we’ve heard before: “You wouldn’t want to buy a car before taking it on a test drive.”

We didn’t know him well enough to start giving advice, but we would have liked to tell him that he and his girlfriend’s chances of things “working out” were less than half of what they would be if the two were married. We would also have liked to tell him that, even if he and his girlfriend married, their chances of divorce would be higher than if they had not cohabited before marriage.

But the biggest thing we wanted to tell him had to do with commitment — when commitment should come and what it can do for a relationship. His view of commitment as something you do after you are sure that a relationship will work out is backwards.

In truth, commitment is the one thing that causes a relationship to work. Commitment is not a culmination. It is a strong beginning. It is not a nice celebration you have if and when you decide you can be happy together. It is the thing that makes it possible to be happy together.

Commitment is not something you do after you have made it through the hard times. It is something you do that will get you through the hard times.

The reason people are afraid of commitment is because commitment involves risk and vulnerability. When you commit to someone in a way as visible and public as marriage, you risk that the relationship won’t work and that it will be hard to get out of. You give up some of your “freedom.” You eliminate some options. You get into a situation that requires some sacrifice and some extra responsibility.

The easy way out is to just live together. Just try it out. Leave yourself a backdoor. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Easy come, easy go.

But when nothing is risked, nothing is gained. High risk, high reward. Low risk, low reward.

Marriage is not for the fainthearted. We agree with that. Marriage is for the adventurous. Marriage is for risk-takers. But the beautiful irony is that, as we take that risk, our odds of relationship success get better.

Commitment should come at the beginning of a relationship — not at the end of some experiment.