September 2016: Skip the Test Drive
It happened again today. I was having a casual conversation with a young man about to be married, and the subject of living together came up. His comment was one that I’ve heard many times before: “I wouldn’t buy a car without giving it a test drive, so it just makes sense to ‘try out’ living with someone to see if it will really work” – as if one followed logically from the other. I shook my head sadly as I tried to explain that this very popular notion might seem to make sense, but in fact is way off the mark, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, let me agree that test driving an automobile before purchasing is certainly a wise idea! No argument there. But it does not follow that living together with someone is analogous to taking a spin around the block in a new Chevy. For starters, cars are inanimate objects that are relatively easy to test. Because they are mechanical in nature, they obey certain physical laws fairly consistently. People, on the other hand, are unique emotional creatures who are not always consistent in their behaviors or attitudes. If a car brakes, accelerates and handles well on my test drive, I can pretty safely assume that it will operate similarly when I get it home. Anthropomorphisms and cute names aside, we can’t have a relationship with a car. But the fluid dynamics of human interactions are such that they are infinitely more complex – and therefore far less predictable – than the mechanics of automobile engineering. So the first problem with the “test drive” metaphor is that living together is not an accurate predictor of the marriage relationship.
That is true in part because the forever promise of marriage – “until death separates us” – is something that can’t be experienced temporarily. How do you “try out” forever? The very essence of marriage is the lifetime commitment at its core. It’s like the difference between drawing a design on my arm with a pen and getting the same design tattoed on my arm. They may look similar to an outside observer, but I know the pen drawing is not permanent. “For now” is vastly different from “forever.” That may be one reason why there are many more cohabitors who separate, as compared to married couples.
Then, too, if you have doubts about the relationship – if you’re not sure this is the person you want to spend your life with, why get into a situation where it may be more difficult to extricate yourself from the relationship if it doesn’t work out? Co-sign a lease, buy some furniture together, get a dog or have a child… and suddenly you have a lot of constraints that make breaking up a much bigger deal than if you kept your lives more separate while you were trying to decide. And most cohabitors do break up: Out of 100 cohabiting couples, only 55 will ever marry. Of those, only 12 will still be married one year later. I don’t know about you, but in my book those are lousy odds.
The statistics and facts simply don’t support the idea that living together is a good idea. There is no scientific proof that living together in any way improves marital satisfaction or longevity. In fact, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Cohabitation is a far less stable relationship than marriage, and that has especially dire consequences for children, who suffer the most when their parents break up.
So how do you “test out” a relationship to see if it’s going to last? More on that in next month’s Marriage Memo. Meanwhile, skip the test drive.
For help and resources to improve your marriage or relationship, contact Compass Marriage & Relationship Services. We can point the way to better love!
Contributed by: Larry Compter, Executive Director