My Blended Family

What does your family look like? Below, musings and findings on the ways loved ones transcend cultural obstacles and build their own families.

The Committment Gap

Women who cohabitate before engagement are more likely to divorce.

A new Rand Study finds that there is a cohabitation "commitment gap" between the sexes. The research of sociologists  Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris found that cohabitating young adult males have a lower commitment to their relationship than their female partner. Interestingly, this "commitment gap" has been shown  by psychologists Scott Stanley and Galena Rhodes to disappear if men do one key thing differently. These researchers showed  that women who live with their future husband before becoming engaged are 40% more likely to divorce than those who wait to move in together until after making the firm shared commitment of future matrimony.

We discussed last year how University of Virginia Clinical Psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, author of "The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter- and How to Make the Most of Them Now",  made the distinction between these two types of couples. Those who cohabitate before marriage plans are known as "Sliders" while those who wait until after becoming engaged are the Deciders".

 Dr. Jay and  fellow researchers  discovered that some couples are "sliding, not deciding" into cohabitation. Sliding means that an initial dating relationship acccelerates into a sexual relationship and, after initially just staying over at the partner's place, they gradually added a toothbrush, a change of clothes, personal hygiene items and eventually all their things. Another word for it would be "mission creep." Why go through the walk of shame at 6AM or a long drive home after a night of no sleep when you could just wake up together? Wouldn't It be nice?  Like a swimmer caught in a undertow, the couple finds themselves swept into a relationship much more permanent than they intended.

Dr. Jay reports that the problem is based on two conflicting hidden agendas. Researchers have found that in general women see cohabitation as a step toward marriage. Some men see it as a way to enjoy all the thrills of  love and romance without having to make any commitment to a permanent relationship, as the Rand Study said. Dr. Jay reports that both men and women agree on one thing: that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than their standards for a marriage partner.

 After living together for a while,  the second phenomenon, "lock-in", takes center stage. Dr. Jay defines lock-in as "the decreased likelihood to search for or change to another option once an initial investment has been made." Living together decreases costs for both partners who share rent,furniture, utilities, car and food expenses. The couple often develop a coterie of shared friends, neighbors and even pets that bind them together. The painful emotional cost of ending the romance and having to return to the scary dating world instead of having a sure if less than perfect relationship with a lower standard partner at home is prohibitive.  Many just learn to live with a low level of happiness.

Inertia is defined simply as a body at rest stays at rest. It's simply easier for human beings to not expend energy and to stay in the known. Dr. Jay reports of patients who wasted their Twenties locked in a weak cohabitating relationship that wouldn't have lasted more than a few months if they weren't living together. She observed that for many in poor relationships, sliding into marriage  is the next logical life step  after frittering away their time in a weak cohabitation in their 20s. This supports the research of Scott Stanley and Galena Rhodes that couples who live together before engagement and slide into marriage passively are more likely to divorce.

The research clearly indicates that if women are looking for an intelligent,  long-term, committed relationship that might lead to marriage, don't move in with the guy. Avoid the Slider.  Wait until a Decider makes the commitment on bended knee with a diamond ring.