Sliding vs. Deciding

Sliding vs. Deciding: Cohabitation vs. Marriage
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s talks about cohabitation and marriage, which love story will last?

There’s a quaint line in Taylor Swift’s song Love Story when Romeo kneels down, pops out a ring, tells Juliet he “talked to her dad” and now it’s time to pick out a white dress.

That courtship ritual may have been quite common just a few decades ago, but today’s mating habits are far less traditional. Modern Romeos and Juliets date for a bit, then start sleeping over at each other’s places. Eventually she puts a toothbrush and a change of clothes at his place. Soon she’s only going home to do laundry or to purge the fridge of rotting food, and it occurs to them, why don’t we just move in together?

So our intrepid couple does. It saves money, after all! They may even decide to spruce the place up, buying furniture on a “don’t pay for 12 months” sale. They get a dog. They start spending holidays with each other’s families.

Several years into this arrangement one of them gets antsy. Perhaps they have children together, perhaps they don’t. But one of them needs more. One of them needs commitment.

And so they have The Conversation. And they decide that they should tie the knot.

Our culture tends to believe that this order of things is a good idea. If you live together you will be able to tell if you’re compatible enough to get married. In fact, getting married without living together first seems irresponsible!

Research, however, shows that this hypothesis, while sounding smart, actually doesn’t work. Galena Rhoades’ study of 1000 married couples published in the Journal of Family Studies found that those who cohabited first were far more likely to have problems in their marriage and report less marital satisfaction. And the National Center for Health Statistics in the United States found that roughly half of couples who cohabited before marriage reached their tenth anniversary compared to 70% of couples who didn’t live together first.

Why the difference? I think it stems from how the relationship begins. Our threshold for deciding whom to date or whom to live with is quite a bit lower than our threshold for deciding whom to marry. But once you’ve been living together for two years, and you’ve got the dining room set, and you’ve got the dog, it becomes harder to split up.

Instead of deliberately deciding to get married, you’re sliding into marriage. And it often fails. In fact, couples who were already engaged before they cohabited saw far less of a difference in divorce rates than couples who cohabited before they committed to getting married. It’s the sliding instead of deciding that’s the problem. A good marriage requires commitment first.

That’s why cohabitation isn’t a trial marriage; it’s completely different, because you can’t, by definition, have a trial marriage.

A marriage says: I commit to you. I will work to ensure your happiness. You will become my priority. A “testing” cohabitation says: I will see if you make me happy. I will be judging and watching you. I will see whether you measure up. In marriage, the other person is your priority; in a testing relationship, you are your priority. And marriage only works if both parties put each other first.

Marriage is not based on seeing if someone measures up to make you happy; marriage is about giving of yourself and committing to one another. If you start off a relationship testing, you’re going into marriage with the wrong attitude.

A happy marriage isn’t about testing or convenience or saving money; it’s about sacrifice and commitment. And you can’t slide into that; it has to be deliberate, or it isn’t a love story that will last.


  1. I wish I would have listened to the advice of my very wise dad who has already been through marriage and kids. But when your young your way is right no matter what!
    I have read your blog for months now. It has helped me and my husband so much. My husband is no longer having problems with pornography, he has become the leader of the home including spiritualy, he has taken over the care of our finances (which is just fine by me since I am no good at math and it doesn’t take nothing at all for me to bounce a check). Our sex life is wonderful now, absolutely wonderful! And it all began when I found your blog. I began by forgiving him. Then confronting him with his porn addiction. (That was very, very hard. Not only did he deny it but it was humiliating for me.) After that I just began showing him love (even when I didn’t feel it) that was hard too.
    Today we have a relationship and a bond that is very strong. But in the beginning I thought he hated me.
    I tell you right now It is not you! He is in a trap caught so tight that he probably thinks there is no way out. Satan creates these traps to look so nice to begin then your trapped. Before you know it your trapped. So if you want your husband out if Satans trap love him!

  2. First off, huge blessings and congratulations to Melanie — keep it up! It’s worth the work, and my husband and I have traveled that path, too, with a different addiction in the mix.

    Our culture’s attention span has constricted to such a short length it’s a wonder most people can make a menu choice and stick to it at the drive-thru window. I have felt leery of present-day living since I was a teen, and my husband and I have raised our kids with some attention span-enlarging “laws” that never change: they take car trips sans DVD movies and without music plugged into their heads or games lodged in their hands. We insist that they sit with adults at a family dinner and listen to the conversation, contributing when invited and appropriate. We discuss why we object to the content in various media and let them help make choices about what to watch based on the criteria they have begun to understand as important. We discuss personal relationships, dating and marriage (with lots of groans and yuck/ick noises, sometimes gagging).

    Now, they are teen/preteen ages, and they already have ideas about what they would look for in a mate, and have strong opinions on even the friends they choose to associate with, and they share their thoughts and opinions with us very freely.

    I feel blessed — my husband and I could not have made this happen, and we don’t know for sure where it will lead, but our kids are not followers, they won’t sway in the breeze, nor bow to peer pressure. Evidently, my stubbornness is genetic! :)

    We pray that this choosy and purposeful behavior continues, and that they will not fall prey to the “sliding” of convenient relationships. I see exactly what you have shared here in the lives of people we know or meet, and the whole “cost-effective” arrangement is only an excuse. It’s a cop-out for doing the right thing, and for taking the time to know someone carefully and as completely as possible through discussion and sharing.

    A happy life together IS about the sacrifice of self. I feel saddened to know that many of our younger people can’t imagine sacrificing even a morning latte for the good of the finances, let alone sacrificing the time, energy and tears involved in growing a relationship.

    Thanks, Sheila!
    Amy recently posted…Real Marriage Done Right: Respect and Love (link-up)My Profile

  3. You make an important distinction here between two ways of arriving at marriage, and I think Amy’s point about short attention spans in our culture is a big factor, too. It’s hard to swim against the tide, but then again, worthwhile things rarely come easily!

    And, Melanie, I am so happy to hear of the growth in your marriage.
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life recently posted…Cerebral Homemaking, Part 10: Keeping the “Stand” in Standards without Losing the “Flex” in “Flexibility” – The No-Go-There RulesMy Profile

  4. You hit on a great point, Sheila. I’ve seen this with lots of young adults in churches as well. They simply don’t view the sequence of engagement, marriage, cohabitation, children as important. Their generation sees that as a fluid grouping that can be mixed up in whatever way they wish. My heart aches especially for all of the children affected by this approach to marriage.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…11 Reasons I Love My Sexy HusbandMy Profile

  5. I just have to say AMEN.
    Alyssa recently posted…You’ll Find Me in the ClosetMy Profile

  6. I second that! God’s commands are there for many good reasons–not only will we please and honor Him by being obedient, but they are there for our long-term protection and overall health.

    • BTW, if anyone needs more convincing about the logic of God’s design in marriage, take a look at this:

      • Thanks, Greg! I’ve been looking for an article just like that with references and footnotes to the original studies. Very helpful!

      • While I can agree with most of them, some of them are a little more far reaching. Like more children from non-married families are diagnosed with asthma. That is due to more issues than marriage. Allergies, environment, family history. Married or not, these are the clinical reasons that someone would be diagnosed with asthma. Parents being married doesn’t have anything to do with it. Except in the possible environment. (better income= better living conditions.) Still, it’s the environment not the parents state of marriage that determine the diagnosis.

        My son is allergic to dust mites (carcass and fecal matter. These are different tests on the standard allergy prick test) and no matter the environment he is in, there is dust. He was diagnosed at 2 after having been hospitalized several times for breathing troubles. So, our marriage or non-marriage has nothing to do with his diagnosis.

        Though many of those points I’d say is pretty spot on, some of them are too far-fetched.

        • Tracy, I’d actually agree with that one, though. I think the problem you’re having is that you think there’s something else going on that’s actually causing the asthma, rather than the family situation, and I’d agree with that. In this case, my most likely guess would be smoking in the home. You’re far more likely to be diagnosed with asthma if you grow up in a home where there’s smoking, and there’s more likely to be smoking in families where parents aren’t married.

          Your wider point is absolutely right on–it may not be the family formation per se that’s the deciding factor here. But regardless of that, it is true that more kids in non-married parents’ homes have asthma. But I do think they could have been clearer that marriage wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor!

        • You are forgetting stress. I wouldn’t know how kids feel when they’re parents are not married but I can imagine
          if I was living with a man who wasn’t married to me and I bore his children I would be at least slightly on edge all the time. Children pick up on their mothers stress.
          Asthma can certainly get worse with stress. I had asthma-like symptoms for a while because I was very stressed out (also dust mite allergies).

          It may be a bit far fetched but it isn’t unreasonable. Also correlation does not equal causation and any scientist worth his salt shouldn’t be saying it does. A scientist should just report data.

          Just my two cents.

  7. I just want to make a comment on one sentence in this article (which is a good article that I agree with).
    You said “A marriage says: I commit to you. I will work to ensure your happiness.”. It’s been my experience that that is a “political” promise made in the engagement. I’ve been married more than once and every spouse I’ve had has quit working to ensure my happiness almost as soon as we got married. I work for a while to make them happy then give up. My current husband and I live like roommmates
    Sharon recently posted…ExhaustedMy Profile

  8. While I do agree with this for the most part, I think there’s more to say about the disposable lifestyle we lead than the “sliding” nature of things. I’ve known people who “slid” into marriage and have been married much longer than those who’ve been more traditional. Not saying that the traditional way isn’t still wiser in this society. It forces you to slow down. It forces you to THINK about whether or not you REALLY want to spend forever and always with someone. For many, when you add sex, you bring in another element that confuses many people. And a majority can’t separate “good” sex from love. I think the thing in those couples that “slid” into marriage and are married for the long term, they made the choice to BE committed through thick and thin. Also, many of the quick to divorce traditional marriages that I’ve personally seen were married really young, when the ideal of the wedding was more important than the forever and always.

  9. LOVE this article!! not to be annoying or nit-picky here, but i have to say being married for almost ten years has taught me that
    “…. marriage only works if both parties put each other first.”
    is simply NOT true…..
    a marriage only works the right way and the healthy way if both parties put GOD first!!! We are human and we WILL fail each other on a regular basis. Only when we focus on God will we be able to love our spouse the way THEY need to be loved. Only through HIM will we be able to see our spouse as a child of GOD not an annoying person we are “stuck” with!!!:) lol!!! Only when our focus is on GOD will we be able to prioritize our life and the people in our lives properly. GOD must come first, not our spouse, not our children, not our jobs…..GOD!!!

  10. AWESOME article. As a wife of a traditional marriage of nearly 29 years. I see so many young couples not married having multiple children and most are struggling at being friends and good parents.
    I actually dated my hubby for nealry a year before we married. It has had its hills, mountains and deep valleys too. We have a severely disabled son who is 24 and living at home where he will remain, and one sone older and one younger who see the love we have for each other. We have been in Christian Counseling and willcontinue until some of the communication and some personal issues are taken care of…but we are committed. Like our counselor said last week at 50 & 56 yrs and married 29 years people change and some choose to leave the marriage or break the vows and commit sinful activity but others like us seek professional help because of the commitment to each other and to GOD first and foremost!

    Sorry to be long winded but I appreciate all of your learning experiences you share with us each day!
    Good luck to everyone!

  11. Great article and so, so true!! Heard a brilliant sermon once that told women “not to give him “the thing” until you have a wedding ring” because then there is a commitment between two parties. Breaks my heart to see so many girls/women jumping into bed with guys and then moving in etc. in HOPE of getting their guy to marry them, only to find out it will never happen…. The guy gleefully enjoys the sex without any commitment beyond it and the girls lose their self esteem, and.sadly, often repeat the cycle again and again giving more and more of themselves away… God knew what he was doing when he set things up and oh that more churches would teach and stand by this much more boldly!!

    • So true, Marisa! Although, I have to say, I’ve seen situations where it’s the GUY who wants to get married and it’s the woman who hesitates. We’ve really become a messed up world.

      • Sheila- you could write a book on just this statement!! I have 6 female cousins, all between the ages of 20 & 25; NONE of them value marriage, or are even looking forward to it. 3 of the 6 have conceived out of wedlock. As a matter of fact, you could add my sister-in-law, who is in her 30’s to this mix. None of the 4 want or wanted to marry the fathers, although all four fathers wanted to marry the mothers. Two of the four, finally, (after 2 and 3 years) married the fathers. All 7 women claim that school, careers, money, and or living their youth are way more important than marrying men, who they find themselves in a deep and meaningful relationships. ALL 7 come from christian homes ( several actually went through christian schools).

        They are delaying marriage, but are not delaying the type of relationship you have in a marriage…..even after their children are born! I watch as their parents and older women in their churches stand idly by, throwing baby showers and grand house warming parties for these “couples”. They pray that God will continue to bless them as parents and so on, but where is the prayers for wisdom and conviction; the prayers for repentance and understanding of God’s design for marriage and relationships? The unashamedness of this lifestyle, in the church, is shocking. I think you could defiantly keep writing on this subject. I would love to hear your thoughts for the parents, and the church, on how to respond to this “New Norm.”

        What I have witnessed in my family is just raw selfishness. The women in my family are running on worldly advice and understanding ( when they know better), and are looking to satisfy only what they see will benefit themselves. They use cliches’ as life mottos, and look to feminist ideology to justify their narcissism.

        • I’m not arguing with anything here – but I do see a difference between throwing a baby shower for a single mom and a housewarming party for a couple living together outside of marriage. To me, the baby shower would normally be primarily to care for the baby, as gifts are traditionally baby items. I don’t think it celebrates the mother’s lifestyle as much as it cares for an innocent, completely dependent life.

  12. I can only speak from personal experience. I was not a Chrisitan until I just before I met my wife. whom I did not meet until I was 34. Even so I was brought up from an early age to respect women and I could not imagine having sexual relations with any woman who was not my wife because God forbids pre and extra marital sex. Even from a purely secular viewpoint there are obvious dangers because with all the care in the world the woman could become pregnant; we conceived our first born on our honeymoon, albeit unintentionally. Saving ourselves for each other certainly benefitted both of us as our love has grown the longer we have been married and our sex life keeps getting better.

  13. I’m a little offended by the people who say you have to put God first in your marriage. I’m not religious, neither is my husband and I resent the implication that only Christians can have satisfying, successful, and long-lasting marriages. My husband and I have been married nearly 10 years (and *gasp* we dated/co-habitated for 5 years before the big day) and are more in-love and committed than ever. We have two kids ages 5 and 3. Our marriage comes first. We didn’t “slide” into anything. We just didn’t want to rush into marriage like a lot of people with religious backgrounds are pressured to do. We wanted to build a solid foundation first, and we did. Every marriage has rough patches where you take the other for granted and forget to appreciate what you’ve got, but if you continuously remind yourself of what’s important, your marriage can over-come any obstacle. Also, we have no problem with porn in our marriage, how come so many of you “churchy” types do?

  14. I agree, Sheila! I talked with a friend about this a while back, trying to explain that marriage is very different from dating and even coinhabiting. Marriage adds something to a relationship that is very unique – a covenant! I believe he told me that it was foolish to get married before figuring out if this is someone you can live with and I told him that you can do that without living together. Many now married couples have, after all. Unfortunately, not long after that converstion he moved in with his girlfriend. :/ I’m afraid what you have expressed in this post is very common among young singles and I don’t really understand their reasoning. As someone else said, the whole cost effectiveness is just a cop out to doing the right (and wise) thing.

  15. Too many people who live together before marriage, also have the mindset that marriage is just a “piece of paper” well, so is toilet paper. I think if you look at it that way, you will treat your marriage like toilet paper. That is a gross analogy, but to the point, I think. My mindset, if I thought shacking up together was ok and that marriage was just a “piece of paper” would be: Why get married? I get all the “goodies” of marriage and don’t have the “headache” of committing to one man. What a sad society we live in today.

  16. Just read this old post this morning. I agree with it wholeheartedly. My husband left me (after 13.5 yrs. of marriage and with 2 young children). A short while later I fell into sin and I found myself with a “live-in” — It wasn’t something we thought about or even sat down and discussed … he just started staying the night. And I was a preacher’s daughter! After 2 yrs. we ended up getting married to one another — and in hindsight I think that I went to the altar and made it permanent simply because I felt if it was legal then it was okay and all the sin was swept under the rug. I didn’t THINK about if I wanted to be married to someone who had been divorced twice and had numerous live-ins, spent time in jail, had a drinking problem etc. If I’d been deciding — it would have been an obvious NO. But, thanks to the SLIDING, here I am after 4 yrs. married and 6 yrs. together, praying and believing God to work miracles. I believe God can make “all things work together for good” but it would have been better if I’d followed His plan and not given in to the lusts of the flesh. It was like I SLID and then my choice to say No was taken away! Keep preaching the truth, Sister!

  17. Too many people who live together before marriage, also have the mindset that marriage is just a “piece of paper” well, so is toilet paper. I think if you look at it that way, you will treat your marriage like toilet paper. That is a gross analogy, but to the point, I think. My mindset, if I thought shacking up together was ok and that marriage was just a “piece of paper” would be: Why get married? I get all the “goodies” of marriage and don’t have the “headache” of committing to one man. What a sad society we live in today.
    Tulisa recently posted…Can You Really Capture His Heart And Make Him Love You Forever?My Profile

  18. Catness says:

    So you are saying don’t move in together until married…does that include not having sex before marriage?

  19. Such a great article, Sheila! Thank you for posting it.
    I’m a wife & mom of young adult kids (18, 20 & 23). Each of them are clinging tightly to the values set forth by our family and I couldn’t be more grateful. Only God can protect them from falling for the lies society wants them to believe.
    My hubby & I felt it was our responsibility to teach them the TRUTH about what God expects of them. It’s still their lives and their choice but thankfully they want to please God with their lives and aren’t interested in cheating themselves out of the blessings that await them. Waiting …… rocks!
    Wanda recently posted…Strongest Friend I KnowMy Profile

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  1. […] people, one thing that really disturbs me is the cavalier attitude so many Christians have about living together before marriage. And I think of a few young men that I know in various geographical areas right now who are in this […]

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