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.

Dear Young Christian Guys: Love Her Like a Man

Christians and Cohabitation: Hey, guys, love her like a man and do the right thing.

As I speak around the country and talk to young 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 type of relationship.

Today I’d like to write an open letter to these young Christian guys–guys who may be involved in relationships that are heading down the wrong path. It is not that I think the girls have no part to play in the destructive relationship that they’ve developed, or that the girls shouldn’t make better choices. I’ve written to girls many times before about not sleeping together before they’re married, too. I would simply like to say something to the guys, because in several specific cases I’m thinking about, the guys are the stronger Christians, yet they’re still choosing to cohabitate. And here is what I’d like to say:

You guys know God.

I know that the church hasn’t always been kind and accepting of you the way you would want, and I know that people like me, who seem to have it all together, are part of the problem. I’m sorry for that.

I also know that you really love your girlfriends.

You’ve been searching for love, and you think you’ve found it. You’re with someone who makes you feel alive. You’re with someone who looks up to you, and that’s special, because you’ve often felt like everyone else wanted you to get your life together, but you’ve never really been able to do that.

I don’t doubt your love. I don’t doubt your sincerity.

But love is not only feelings.

And if you REALLY loved your girlfriend, then perhaps you’d consider these things:

She’s still young. She desperately, desperately yearns to be loved, probably even more than you do. Girls are like that, you know. They dream of their weddings. They dream of their Prince Charmings. And you come along and you make her feel loved.

But do you know what girls need even more?

They want to feel safe.

It is a scary world out there for a girl. And most girls will never really grow emotionally, and will never really mature, until they do feel safe. When they’re safe, they can look seriously at their options and decide what to do with their careers, or with kids, or with where they want to live. But when they’re not entirely safe, their emotional energy is spent trying to get safe.

And for them, you seem like the safest option.

But are you?

Safety means that you’re cherished. That you know that you’re loved for a lifetime. That you’re loved for who you are, not just for what you can give someone.

You may have given her those words, and she may have eaten them up.

But have you given her your actions?

If you truly love her, you will love her like a man does. And what does a man do? A man accepts responsibility. A man makes commitments. A man exercises self-control.

To me, that means that if you truly love her, you should be ready to commit to her. Marry the girl, for pity’s sake! And if you’re not in a position to marry her, then don’t say, “well, we can’t get married now, but that’s not our fault. So we’re married in our hearts, and we can act like we’re married anyway.”

No, you can’t. You’re taking the short cut. What kind of a man takes a short cut? If you’re not ready to get married right now, then you’re not married. Instead of just moving in with her and sleeping with her and treating her as if you’re married without actually promising her anything THROUGH YOUR ACTIONS (and not just your words), why don’t you put your energy into making yourself ready for marriage? Look for a good job. Upgrade your education. Work your hardest to be able to support her. That’s what she needs–safety. She needs to feel as if she has a safety net. Right now she’s clinging to you, because you’re living with her and you’re promising everything. But you’re not acting on those promises.

If you’re not married, then make yourself ready to get married–even if that means marrying young.

And a man exercises self-control, too. I know it’s hard to wait for marriage to have sex, and I know you likely feel there’s no point now, since you’ve already slept with her anyway. But here’s what you’ve told her through your actions:

I like being with you, and I like sleeping with you.

That’s really it. How have you shown her that you love her? Moving in with her simply shows her that you like being with her, and that you enjoy sleeping with her on a regular basis, and you’d like to make that more convenient. So once again, you’re showing her that you love her for what she can do for you, not just for her.

If you really loved her, you would move out. You would stop sleeping with her and show her that you love her just for her. So many girls are broken inside because of what has been done to them in the past. Their fathers have walked out. They haven’t had stable childhoods. They haven’t had unconditional love. And so they’ll grasp at anything that looks like love. If you really love her, demonstrate real love.

Stop sleeping with her and get yourself ready to support her.

Because if you love her, and you want to be with her forever, then you should also want to get that relationship off on the right foot. And if you live with her first, you’re 70% more likely to divorce after you marry. Get yourself sorted out first, and the relationship is far more likely to succeed.

I know you feel all kinds of things for her. But please, step outside of yourself for a moment and ask yourself this,

what is best for her?”

If you really love her, you’ll be honest. And you know that what is best for her is if she is in a stable relationship with someone who can show that he loves her unconditionally and is prepared to look after her. With the way you are acting right now, you are really showing the exact opposite, no matter what she may say.

She’s afraid of losing you. You’re afraid of losing her. You want to feel close and cement the relationship, which is why you chose to sleep together in the first place. But you’re not assuaging any fears; you’re just clinging to the relationship without building it up.

Can you imagine what a transformational thing it would be in her life if you were to say to her,

I love you so much. In fact, I love you so much that I am going to treat you like a lady. I’m going to get myself ready to support you. I’m going to aim to commit to you for life. I’m going to not demand that you fulfill my sexual needs, but I’m going to wait for that until we’re both more mature and ready to handle it.”

She may not take that well, because she’s likely afraid, at heart, that if she stops sleeping with you she’ll lose the hold she has over you. And she probably enjoys sleeping with you, too! But honestly, if you keep with her over the next few months, spending time with her, talking with her, showing her that you’re interested in HER and not just her body, you’ll see a change in her. She’ll become more confident. She’ll become less self-destructive. She’ll become a better person. Isn’t that what you want for her?

There is a reason God tells us to wait for marriage. God wants the best for us, and God wants us to experience real love, not conditional love.

You want this relationship to work? You love her?

Then step up to the plate and love her like a man.

Real men treat women well.

UPDATE: A commenter pointed out that I missed a huge point: how about REPENT BEFORE GOD? So true. The reason I left it out is because that’s ALL many of these guys have heard: what you’re doing is wrong, and you need to turn away from it because it’s sin. I completely agree, but that message hasn’t touched their hearts. So I’m trying this one instead. But I still should have mentioned it, because it absolutely is true!

Breaking the Mold

Amandaphoto © 2010 Henrique Pinto | more info (via: Wylio)

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

Recently I was chatting with a woman who’s walking through a bleak time in her marriage. She’s not sure if it can survive, though she desperately wants it to. But one of the things that breaks her heart the most is that her children, who are in their twenties, have told her, “why would we get married when we see how awful marriage has been for you and Dad?”

Excuse me while I get a little worked up here, but I find that conclusion, while understandable, completely illogical. I hear variations of it all the time: “Mom and Dad were such bad parents, how I could bring a child into the world? I might do what they did!” Or, “Mom and Dad just hated each other; why would I get married? I’ll end up hating my spouse, too!”

So let’s deconstruct this for a minute. If you believe these things, you obviously have plenty of negative feelings towards your parents. You did not have the kind of childhood that you deserved. And so you’re angry. And your anger is directed first and foremost at your parents. Yet who are you taking it out on? Yourself. You’re saying: they did me wrong, and so I am going to punish myself by making sure I never have a family of my own. Despite the fact that marriage is one of the best routes to happiness, I’m not going to participate. Sounds kind of backwards to me.

Or let’s look at it from another angle: you obviously think they were not good parents, or even good people. But do you have the same opinion of yourself? Are you simultaneously saying, “I think Dad was cruel and distant, and so I’m not going to get married because I’m cruel and distant, too?” If the things that bother you most about them are simultaneously in you, then what right do you have to feel cheated of your childhood?

Now, of course, you may not necessarily believe that your parents’ marriage failed because they were wrong; it may have failed because marriage itself is a bad institution. That’s a pretty commonly held belief, but it’s not supported by evidence. Instead, studies show that those who are most likely to be happy, least likely to be depressed, more likely to live longer, healthier, and wealthier lives, and more likely to raise well-adjusted children are the married. We may think marriage is dead because that’s loudly proclaimed on the covers of magazines, but outside of freaky Hollywood it isn’t. Marriage is good for you, and it’s good for society. And here’s another tidbit: the majority of first marriages still succeed.

Does that mean every marriage will be good? Of course not. But marriage is not the problem; people who get married are the problem.Divorce is not like the flu that you suddenly catch for no reason; if you work at a marriage, in most cases it will thrive. And if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you can choose not to continue that pattern. Read books about how to have a great marriage. Go to a parenting class. Talk to people who have a great marriage. Figure out what makes it work. I grew up without a dad, but I married a man who is an awesome dad. I figured my childhood was lonely; why should my adulthood be lonely, too?

If you are blessed enough to find someone you love spending time with, whom you can truly be yourself with, and who shares your values, then cling to that person for life. You are not your parents, and if they messed up with you, you don’t deserve to punish yourself for it. Break the cycle by committing to love someone over a lifetime. Then you won’t be that hurting child all your days.

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Wedding of the Century

Royal Wedding of William and Kate +23photo © 2011 Jens Rost | more info (via: Wylio)

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

The hats were plentiful, colourful, and unforgettable. The guests were delighted to be included. The participants were nervous–except for the best man, who looked like he was having the time of his life. And the spectators, at least on this side of the pond, were bleary-eyed and coffeed up.

It was a wedding to be remembered, of which I only watched highlights, because my dedication to cultural moments only goes so far. Nevertheless, I did find the wedding lovely, especially Harry’s whispered, “wait til you see her” to his brother, who was staunchly facing straight ahead, just as he was supposed to, while the eyes of two billion people were on his bride.

Her image will now adorn not just books but plates and mugs and spoons and teacups forevermore. And yet as over the top as much of the coverage was, I can’t say I was altogether sorry to see a million people lining up to catch a glimpse of the couple, or billions more tune in to see the vows.

We have lived through turbulent days. As I’m writing, our country does not yet know who will win the election. We have witnessed tornadoes and floods and earthquakes and tsunamis and wars and disasters. So it seems fitting that we should, for a time, focus on something as seemingly mundane as a wedding.

After all, the best remedy for much turbulence, I think, is weddings. It is family that keeps our society functioning and strong, even when all around us is falling apart. Government can’t do that; it is only family that gives you the sense of belonging, love, and constancy. So William and Kate have the right idea. It is a good thing to find someone to spend your life with, not just because you love them, but because you vow and promise that you yourself will stay true. That commitment changes us, and has ripple effects through the whole culture.

Unfortunately, these effects are growing slimmer as more people eschew vows altogether. Though in the United States 83% of the upper middle class are currently married (and tend to stay married in huge numbers), less than half of working class adults are currently married, and those marriages are less stable. Much of our society no longer believes in the dream of marriage because they have not seen it work. This does not mean that people have given up on love; they have just given up on the thought that love could last forever.

I think that’s a tragedy, because marriage brings huge rewards. Married people have the best sex. They’re healthier. They live longer (especially the men). The women are less likely to be victims of crime or even domestic violence. They earn more money. They’re far wealthier.

Their children are happier, healthier, better adjusted, and more likely to go on to higher education and marriage themselves.

And a society where kids are healthy and make good decisions, and where adults are in stable relationships, is a society where people can use their limited resources, time, and emotional energy to focus on their neighbours, on their communities, on their jobs, and on their hobbies, because there is not as much dysfunction in their lives.

I know not every marriage is perfect, and not every marriage is worth saving. But marriage is still a worthy goal, and for a brief moment last week the world was captivated by it. If that causes a few more little girls to dream of their wedding day again, or a few more little boys to start thinking about the girl that they’re going to see walk down the aisle, then maybe the monarchy has proved its relevance once again.

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Wifey Wednesday: Why Marriage Matters

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Today I want to do something different. Instead of writing a long post on why marriage is important, I thought I’d just post this really well-done 2 minute video clip. Watch it!

That’s the truth. Too many people think that “living together” is good practice for marriage, because when you live together, you learn about each other. But living together and marriage actually have very little in common. When you’re married, it’s based on a commitment. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to learn to love you. I’m going to learn to consider your needs.

Living together, on the other hand, is based on “testing”. Is he meeting my needs? Is he making me feel loved? And when you’re always testing, he’ll always fail.

That’s also why, in my opinion, marriages that follow cohabitation are 70% more likely to fail than marriages where the couple did not live together first. The relationship didn’t start out in this testing mode.

For a marriage to work, commitment has to be at the root. When it’s just about “love”, or “feeling good”, or “making my needs met”, it won’t work. Cohabitation is only about feelings, not commitment. You need the promise to keep a relationship together.

I wish more couples understood that. So spread that video around! Hit “share on Facebook” below, or “share on Twitter”. Thanks!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

He's My Husband, Not My Partner

One of the things that really annoys me about modern society is how it devalues marriage by putting it on the same footing as any number of other types of relationships.

When I was in university, especially in the sociology department, it was especially acute. People knew I was married, yet they insisted on asking, “how is your partner doing at medical school?”. If the department was having a social, they would say, “you’re welcome to bring your partner.”

I so wanted to say, “he’s not my partner, he’s my husband,” but I didn’t. These were my professors, after all. But I stood in front of a minister and all my friends and family and before God and pledged to love him and be faithful to him for the rest of my life. Doesn’t that somehow distinguish our relationship from one where two people are just living together?

I know all that stuff about how “a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything”, but the statistics don’t bear that out. If you live together, you’re far more likely to split up. And if you life together before you’re married, your marriage is far less likely to succeed, too. I think it’s due to two factors:

1. When you live together, the relationship is under scrutiny. You’re always asking: is this the one for me? Is he/she making me happy? It’s hard to turn that voice in your head off when you get married.

2. Our threshold for choosing someone to live with is lower than it is for choosing someone to marry. So we may start living with someone, be with them for several years, and then fall into marriage because it’s easy and it’s the next logical step. But if we hadn’t lived together, we likely wouldn’t have chosen this person to marry.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t understand this. They think that the best way to prepare for marriage, a lifelong commitment, is by having numerous relationships in which one commits and then breaks off. It makes no sense!

Marriage is unique. On university campuses and when we worked in downtown Toronto the culture was such that it wasn’t polite to even acknowledge that people were married, so we were always talking about “partners”. In the small town I live in now, it is mostly marriage. But every now and then I come across someone who still says partner. Now I could understand it if they were homosexual, or if they were living with someone. But often it’s married people. I had someone introduce themselves to me as “such-and-such’s partner” recently. They’re married! And they know I’m married! So there’s no possible offense to be caused anywhere. But even married people have adopted the language, and I think in so doing we’re denigrating the institution.

Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I’d love to know what you think!