Cohabitation effect
Cohabitation effect

Very often young people decide to live with their partners. Why does the test of everyday life and sex do not guarantee a happy family life? How not to make mistakes that will take too much time to fix.

In addition to living together, there are other ways to test relationships, including not limiting them to just dating and sex. You can find out if there is love between you and your partner (or at least attachment, which we will talk about in more detail below), and somehow differently. I am not categorically against cohabitation, but I believe that people in their twenties and thirties should understand: living together with someone can not only make their life unhappy and lead to divorce, but it also increases the likelihood that they will make a mistake, to correct which will have to spend too much time.

When Jennifer was thirty-two years old, her parents arranged a lavish wedding with lots of pink tulips and great music. By that time, Jennifer and Carter had lived together for over three years. The wedding was attended by their friends, relatives and two dogs.

When Jennifer signed up for my psychotherapy six months later, she was finishing writing thank-you cards while looking for a divorce lawyer. Carter had already worked as a surf coach somewhere, so in a few days everyone should have heard that they were breaking up. Jennifer admitted that she feels like a liar. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I lived in a happy marriage,” she lamented, sobbing.

Jennifer always looked as if she came to me either from a business meeting or from a party. She dressed elegantly, but often seemed tired and disheveled. She studied in one of the best educational institutions and began a career as a public relations specialist, but at the same time, she was selflessly having fun.

Carter was constantly changing jobs and had no professional identity. After dropping out of college, he went on tour with his country music band. The group did not become popular, but Carter retained his love for music. He worked here and there as a recording engineer or music promoter. Jennifer and Carter were arguably the coolest and most stylish couple in their bunch. They loved to talk about what shows to watch.

The secret to a happy relationship
The secret to a happy relationship

But after the wedding, the topics of their conversation changed. The real estate agent puzzled them with mortgage calculations. Given the birth of a child, their financial situation looked even worse. Jennifer hoped to be able to work part-time until the kids were older, and Carter could make much more money. She began to think about returning to New Hampshire, where everything was cheaper and her parents could help them. Carter wanted to stay where he was, perhaps forever. As a result, clouds began to gather over their cloudless life.

Cohabitation effect
Cohabitation effect

Jennifer was most discouraged by the fact that she felt like she did everything right. “My parents got married young. They dated for about six months or so, and I know Mom didn't have sex before she got married. How did they know that their marriage would be successful? Carter and I were older. They lived together for about three years. How did this happen? " she cried, burying herself in her handkerchief.

Psychotherapists like to remember the proverb: "The quieter you go, the further you will be." Sometimes the easiest way to help patients is to get them to slow down enough to analyze their own thoughts. In the reasoning of each person there are certain mental gaps. If you pause and shed light on them, you will find the underlying assumptions that affect your behavior when you are not even aware of it. As I listened to Jennifer's story, I noticed this assumption of her: living together is a good test of marriage prospects. This is a common misconception.

Secrets of girls that men don't know about
Secrets of girls that men don't know about

In the United States of America, the cohabitation rate has increased by 1,500 percent over the past fifty years. In 1960, approximately 500,000 unmarried couples lived together. Nowadays, there are almost 8 million such pairs. About half of young people from twenty to thirty years old at least once during this period live with their partners. In half of the cases, couples cohabit before marriage. Such changes can be largely attributed to the sexual revolution and contraception; in addition, the economic factors of the onset of maturation played a large role in this. But if you talk to the young men and women themselves over twenty, you can hear something else: cohabitation is a preventive measure.

In a representative survey conducted nationwide, nearly half of 20-year-olds agreed with the following statement: “You would only agree to get married if your partner decided to live with you for a while to determine, can you get along with each other? " About two-thirds of young men and women in their twenties are convinced that living together is a great way to avoid divorce.

Jennifer was in that category. She believed that her marriage would be more successful if she did not rush to marriage and first lived with her lover. However, such couples are actually less happy with their marriage; in addition, they are more likely to divorce than couples who did not live together prior to marriage. Sociologists call this phenomenon the cohabitation effect.

The cohabitation effect has puzzled many researchers in the field of marriage. Some explain it this way: couples who live together before marriage tend to break up with accepted norms and are more willing to divorce. However, research results suggest that the effect of cohabitation cannot be explained solely by individual characteristics such as religion, education, or political beliefs. My practical experience shows that there is no such pattern for liberals to choose to live together before marriage, and conservatives not. In fact, the trend towards cohabitation is observed both in states that traditionally support the Republican Party and in states where the Democratic Party is popular. The situation is similar in any other Western country.

Tricky questions to a girl
Tricky questions to a girl

So what is the reason for the effect of cohabitation? Why doesn't a try-before-buy approach guarantee a happy family life? Recent research suggests that cohabitation itself is the cause.

Sliding a dangerous slope, not a solution

So, Jennifer and I started looking for an answer to the question: "How did this happen?"

Over the course of several sessions, she told how she and Carter stopped just dating and started living together. In line with the research findings, Jennifer also admitted that "it just happened" and "it was just easier that way." She explained, “We paid rent for two apartments and often slept at each other's. I constantly forgot, either in one apartment or in another, what I needed for work. We liked to be together for a long time, and besides, it was just cheaper and more convenient. We made the decision to live together quickly enough, but if we didn’t succeed, we would just as quickly find a way out of this situation”.

Jennifer talked about a famous phenomenon called "sliding down a dangerous slope, not a solution." The transition from dating to occasionally spending nights together, then to spending many nights together, and then to living together can be a "slippery slope" with no wedding rings, no wedding ceremony, no discussion of a common future. As a rule, such couples avoid such topics.

When researchers ask young people in their twenties why they chose to live together, women are more likely to explain that they need access to love, while men talk about easier access to sex. Most often, two partners have different unspoken (even subconsciously) goals of living together. However, both men and women unanimously declare that their standards in relation to cohabitants are much lower than for spouses.

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How to refresh your relationship? 70 ways to improve relationships

I asked Jennifer if her decision to live with Carter was the same "sliding down the hill" and if she was thinking about the possibility of living together less than marriage.

“That's the point,” she said. - It was not a marriage, so there was no need to think about all this.

- And if you think about it now?

- I guess I took into account such factors as good sex, fun weekends, interesting company and not so much rent.

- Were you worried about anything about living together?

- I was very worried that Carter did not think about his career. Probably, it seemed to me then that living together would allow me to check how seriously he takes such things. It's only now that I realize that we have never really taken cohabitation seriously enough. Carter's background in music made him the perfect guy. His life was, by definition, a good time. This is how we lived.

As with many young men in their twenties and thirties, Jennifer's and Carter's life together was more like a bond between roommates or sexual partners than a relationship between committed spouses. They had a rather vague idea of checking relationships, and they did not even think about those things that have to be paid special attention to in marriage: they did not pay off the mortgage, did not try to conceive a child, did not get up at night with their children, and did not spend holidays with relatives. when they did not want it, they did not collect money for the education of children and for their own pension; they didn't even see each other's paychecks and credit card statements. There may be benefits to living with someone, but getting married isn't necessarily one of them. This is especially true at a time when everyone is talking about the age of twenty to thirty being the best way to have fun.

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How to conquer a girl? Step-by-step instructions for conquering a girl

- What happened next? I asked.

- A year or two later, I started thinking about what we are doing.

- So a year or two? How much exactly? - I asked a clarifying question.

- I don't know … - Jennifer was confused.

- So time has slipped somewhere too? - I asked.

- Quite right. This entire period is as if in a fog. This uncertainty turned out to be the most unpleasant thing in that life. I got the feeling that I was going through years of never ending auditions for the role of his wife. Because of this, I felt very insecure. There were a lot of verbal games and arguments between us. I have always doubted that he was faithful to me. To be honest, I don’t think so now.

Perhaps Jennifer's fears were well founded. In order to understand the reasons, it is necessary to take into account that the effect of cohabitation is observed only in cases when two live together before the engagement, before taking any obligations to each other, and not when this happens before marriage. Couples who live together before marriage but after their engagement and who have made public commitments are no more likely to have a failed or divorced marriage than couples who do not live together before marriage. These couples are not affected by the cohabitation effect.

Less effective communication, a lower level of commitment and the instability of married life - all this is characteristic of couples who live together before publicly acknowledging their obligations to each other. Numerous studies indicate that such couples are less likely to remain faithful to each other, both before and after marriage. It has been established that this is especially true for men.

How often should you change your soul mate?
How often should you change your soul mate?

Jennifer and I talked about how she and Carter went from cohabitation to marriage, because this transition is usually accompanied by so many alternatives and rituals that it could hardly "just happen."

“And our marriage didn’t just happen,” Jennifer said, opening her eyes wide. - I had to constantly push Carter to make decisions about the rings, date, location of the wedding ceremony, invitations.

- Why did you spend so much energy on it?

- He never became a person who could make a good husband, but our life was not focused on the fact that we behave like adults. I assumed that all this would come after the wedding.

- You guessed.

“I was hoping so,” Jennifer smiled coldly. - And I also thought, "Do I have any other choice?"

“You could have stopped it all.

“But it was not as easy as it seems.

- Too many difficulties for the quick exit you mentioned.

“It looked like a bog,” Jennifer said grimly.


It didn't surprise me that Jennifer mentioned the quagmire. Cohabitation would not be a problem if it could be easily abandoned. But things are not as simple as they seem.

Very often young people in their twenties decide to live with their partners, believing that it is cheaper and does not carry any risk. However, after a few months or years, they realize that they cannot break this vicious circle. It's like getting a credit card at zero interest for the first year. Twelve months later, when the rate rises to 23 percent, you find yourself in a dead end, because you have too much debt on your balance sheet for you to pay it off, and you no longer have time to transfer this balance to another card with a low interest rate. In fact, the same thing happens with the cohabitation effect. In behavioral economics, this phenomenon is denoted by the term "consumer closure."

How to control women and manipulate girls
How to control women and manipulate girls

A closure is a situation where choosing one option significantly reduces the likelihood of choosing another after an investment has already been made in something. The initial investment, also called start-up costs, can vary. For example, the registration fee, or the cost of creating an online account, or the first payment for a car. The higher the preparation costs, the less likely it is to move to a new, possibly better situation in the future. But even a minimal investment can lead to such a closure, especially if the transition costs are to be incurred.

The cost of transition (the time, money, or effort required to change something) is a more complex category of cost. When we make an initial investment in something, the costs of changing the situation seem to us hypothetical and distant in time, so we tend to underestimate them. It's easy for us to assume we'll get a new credit card at a later date or terminate the lease when the time is right. The problem is that when the time does come, the transition costs seem to be more significant to us than before.

Cohabitation has a lot of start-up costs, or transition costs - the basic elements of closure. Living together can be fun and cost-effective, and the upfront costs are subtle. Having lived for many years in the same room with our neighbor's belongings, we are happy to share with our partner the rent for a good one-room apartment. These couples share the internet, share pets, and enjoy buying furniture together. Subsequently, the costs of the initial stage affect the likelihood of one of the partners leaving.

“Yes, we had furniture,” Jennifer said. - There were common dogs, the same friends. We have developed our own procedure for spending the weekend. All of this made it very, very difficult for us to part.

The unspoken rules of a happy and good relationship
The unspoken rules of a happy and good relationship

When I explained the closure problem to Jennifer, she swallowed a lump in her throat.

“As a teenager, I judged my mother for staying with my father for so long, even though they were not happy together. Now I understand her much better. It's not so easy to break off a relationship, even with a person with whom you just live together. But she had to think about two children. I stayed with Carter because I could not afford a new coach,”Jennifer confessed with remorse and tears.

“For a twenty-year-old girl, a new coach can really seem like an insurmountable obstacle,” I agreed, waiting for Jennifer to cry a little more. - But I can assume that the reason lay in something more than just the need for a coach. What other transition costs were there in that situation?

Jennifer thought a little and said:

- My age has changed everything. When we started living together, I was more than twenty years old. It seemed to me that if I wanted to, it would be easy to leave. But when I turned thirty, everything changed.

“After thirty, the cost of starting all over again seemed much more,” I continued her thought.

- Everyone got married and got married. I also wanted to get married. And then it turned out that Carter and I got married only because we were already living together and exchanged for the fourth decade.

- You thought it was important to get married as soon as possible.

- It is very difficult for me to admit it, but I almost did not care how it all ended. I thought that even if we didn’t succeed, I would at least be married, like the rest. I'll be on the right track.”Jennifer sobbed. - But the divorce turned out to be a much more complicated matter than I thought. I don’t regret being with Carter, but I wish I never lived with him, or that I could leave before it all got too far. Now I am starting a new life anyway. But now it is much more difficult.

The inner beauty of a person
The inner beauty of a person

“But you’re breaking this vicious circle,” I reminded her. - How do you manage it?

“I had to face facts. Carter was a wonderful guy in his twenties, but after thirty he did not become a good husband and is unlikely to ever be. I have a great job and I want to have a family. Carter is not ready for either. For some reason, I did not notice this until we entered into an official marriage.

Recently, the unfavorable relationship between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be diminishing. Here's more good news: According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans consider cohabitation to be the first step towards marriage. Taking cohabitation seriously before marriage can play an important role in mitigating the effect of cohabitation. Recent research suggests that people who live with all of their sexual partners, couples with varying levels of commitment to each other, and those who choose to live together to test relationships are at greatest risk for the cohabitation effect.

For young people in their twenties who live together and just enjoy it, divorce may seem like a distant and unlikely consequence of such a residence. In fact, when I bring up the issue of cohabitation to clients, many of them say, “Don't worry, I'm not going to marry or divorce this person. I just spend time with him. " But even if we leave aside the problem of closure, we should not forget that an unhappy marriage and divorce is not the only danger, and Jennifer is far from the only client of mine who regretted starting with someone else. Many clients, in their thirties or early thirties, regretted very much that they had spent their best young years on relationships that would have lasted no more than a few months if they lived separately. They ended up wasting much more time than expected, and subsequently very worried that it could not be returned.

Girl wants to leave
Girl wants to leave

Some young people in their twenties or thirties are ready to make serious commitments to their beloved, but they doubt the awareness of their choice. However, if the relationship is based on convenience and uncertainty, it can make it difficult to find your true love.

Cohabitation before marriage is widespread today, although there are several ways young people in their twenties can protect themselves from the effects of cohabitation. One of them is not to live with a partner. But since this is not a completely realistic proposal, experts recommend another way - to determine how serious the partner's intentions are, before starting to live with him. In addition, it would be helpful to anticipate and regularly evaluate the constraints that might prevent you from leaving, even if you want to.

In addition to living together, there are other ways to test relationships, including not limiting them to just dating and sex. You can find out if there is love between you and your partner (or at least attachment, which we will talk about in more detail below), and somehow differently. I am not categorically against cohabitation, but I believe that people in their twenties and thirties should understand: living together with someone can not only make their life unhappy and lead to divorce, but it also increases the likelihood that they will make a mistake, to correct which will have to spend too much time.

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