First comes love, then comes an indeterminate period of conveniently living together to decide whether your partner’s dishwasher-loading habits are a dealbreaker, then comes marriage.
Today a lot of young daters assume moving in together is a prerequisite for matrimonial success. But it actually hikes up a couple’s proclivity toward divorce compared to spouses who wed without first cohabitating — a statistic that shocked hosts Jordyn Woodruff and Alex Bennett of Barstool Sports’ “Mean Girl” podcast in Wednesday’s episode.
“Couples who live together before marrying have nearly an 80 percent higher divorce rate than those who do not,” Bennett noted incredulously.
“Which is crazy because you’d think you’d be the opposite,” Woodruff responded. “I lived with my boyfriend of five years and we broke up because we knew we weren’t compatible because we lived together.”
“Because living together is the way you find out,” Bennett added, even though, as she noted, she and her husband didn’t move in together before marriage (mostly as a matter of coincidence).
“Of course the natural step would have been to move in together,” she continued. “You save on rent, I get to know how you do the dishes, we get to do all of these things beforehand, before we get married.”
For most young couples, that’s the prevailing mindset. Producer Alanna Vizzoni piped in to note that she didn’t know anyone who hadn’t lived together before tying the knot: “I feel like that’s just kind of how people do it now.”
Instead of leading to better marital outcomes, however, the cohabitation trend is making marriages less successful. Why?
Maybe it’s because the mentality that encourages moving in together also fosters an approach to relationships that is focused on self-fulfillment instead of mutually gratifying self-sacrifice and permanence — while stripping the dating-to-marriage process of its natural tendencies toward steadfast commitment.
The common mindset toward marriage on display in Bennett and Woodruff’s conversation asks: Does this person meet my needs? Does he make me feel happy? Those are questions easily answered by living together outside the sacred commitment of marriage. But they are the exact same questions that, as a rubric applied within marriage, often culminate in divorce as soon as one spouse is perceived to not sufficiently meet needs and inspire happiness.
That self-focused mindset is revealed in Woodruff’s theory about why the statistic might be true. “When you’re not living with someone you’re continuously keeping your own life, your own hobbies, your own things that fulfill you,” she suggested. “But when you live with someone, because I did this, your life becomes their life, and you forget to take care of your own life and your own needs.”
Woodruff is right about one thing: it’s a lot easier to be selfish when you don’t live with another person. Seeing the ability to “take care of your own life” as the top criterion for a healthy marriage is a recipe for failure.
If you enter a marriage with the ultimate goal of meeting your own desires, you’ll likely walk out as soon as those desires aren’t met. And since the practice of living together before marriage is typically a convenient means of testing out how well those wants are met, it simply indulges that mindset further.
But the primary function of marriage is not to make us “happier,” even though it does. Marriage is designed to glorify God by sanctifying us and creating families that reflect his intimate and unconditional love, in ways that also offer us joy and strengthen our communities.
That is a goal that can survive the annoyances of living with another imperfect person’s habits and quirks. It can survive seasons of heartbreaking loss and moments when “feelings” run dry, because marriage is an intentional commitment to sacrificial, unconditional love.
While it’s absolutely wise to thoughtfully evaluate a relationship through dating before making such a holy commitment, that doesn’t require testing out the sacred vulnerabilities of marriage with none of the promise of permanence. In fact, it is that very security of permanence that makes the vulnerabilities wonderful.
Later in the episode, Woodruff and Bennett ponder the reality that, when making the decision to marry, few people ever feel “100 percent” sure they’re making the right decision. For many, moving in together first feels like a way to make the marriage decision less “risky.” But that unhealthy risk aversion paralyzes us from finding joy in commitments that might close off other options.
“I don’t know if anyone will ever be 100 percent [sure,] because we’re always looking for the next best thing, like that’s in our genetics these days,” Woodruff notes.
Her diagnosis is accurate — and sad. The root of that risk aversion, and the “fear of missing out” that nourishes it, is usually selfishness. We don’t want to commit ourselves to anything (or anyone) without a guarantee that we’ll receive the greatest possible gratification in return, because we’ve been taught that self-love is the greatest love of all. That cautious instinct can be good to an extent; obviously, we shouldn’t continue in relationships that are abusive, unhealthy, or simply going nowhere.
But to approach relationships as means to the end of loving ourselves is to deny ourselves the joy of loving another person unconditionally, of giving and receiving each other fully. (Incidentally, it also makes the marriage as futile a pursuit as “self-love” is.) It cheats us of participating in the ultimate earthly replica of Christ’s love, and destines us to eventual dissatisfaction. It makes marriage more fearsome, since a marriage’s success suddenly depends on unpredictable feelings of satisfaction instead of an intentional, constant commitment to love.
Any real love requires giving yourself, and that’s a “risk” that terrifies disciples of the “Mean Girl” hosts’ self-love gospel. The irony is, it’s riskier (and less rewarding) to give time, trust, and emotional and physical intimacy to a person who is only bound to you, as you are to him, by your present satisfaction of his desires. The guard rails of marriage aren’t just safer — they’re ultimately far more liberating.