Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cohabitation Practice

I asked the "Family Life" class to talk with their friends about what they thought of cohabitation vs. marriage.  Since many of my students effectively live together on campus, I thought that many had already voted with their feet in favor of cohabitation.  To my surprise, they did not regard living together on campus as real cohabitation, because the couple was not cooking together, or splitting the rent, or responsible for most of the things involved in living in the 'real world' yet.

This is a fair enough distinction.  It did give me an idea, though: encourage the couple who are living together to conduct experiments simulating, as realistically as possible, what real cohabitation would be like.  They could, say, make all their meals together for a week.  They could spend another week really pooling their finances, and facing together what sharing all their costs would look like.  They could start interacting with one another's families in a routine way.

Such an experiment might be eye opening.

An important point that we make in the "Family Life" class is that cohabiting is not really the same as marriage.

We could go back one step earlier in the chain to get students to come to grips with the ways in which sharing a dorm room is not the same as cohabiting.

And all of this is in the interest of 'deciding not sliding' into the biggest decision of your life.


Adriana said...

This is quite interesting - cohabitating is complex. Honestly, Wally and I didn't experience much difference between cohabitation and marriage, with the exception of the future tense and finality of it. If we hadn't cohabitated, we probably would have married sooner - however, we wanted to make sure that we were making an intentional choice to marry rather than sliding into it. During cohabitation, we found it necessary to be open and honest about our finances (as we purchased a house together out of wedlock), future life goals (even as they shift), meal planning, and other logistical considerations. The biggest shift for us is the future life planning, such as being on the same page about the size of our family, our retirement savings, life insurance plans, and wills. We've seen some couples fall apart, regardless of whether they've cohabitated or not, due to not focusing on the big future picture of reality (not the romanticized version, such as the features of a wedding or how you'll decorate a home or nursery). Reality looks different for everyone, but certain principles seem to be universal to making marriage work.

Gruntled said...

One big difference between cohabitation and marriage that we study is how the rest of the world treats you, especially your families. Did you find that to be different when you married?

Adriana said...

Possibly a bit. It doesn't seem like it was too different with our parents (as both sets were immediately welcoming of both of us), but it did seem to be different with W's siblings, as I became more permanent. I've noticed that strangers treated us differently, though - saying "husband" instead of "boyfriend" has a different connotation, and one that seems to be more well-respected in these parts. Plus, we were able to shed any negative perception of shacking up out of wedlock :)