Marriage ‘test drive’ is no love substitute

Couples should think twice about living together before marriage.

Jonathan Scrafford

Despite some misinterpretation, the Nov. 1 column on cohabitation never claimed a causal relationship between cohabitation and divorce. However, a statistically significant correlation means the association is not due to random chance. That is, there are real reasons that couples who cohabitate before marriage experience marital dissatisfaction and divorce more frequently than those who donâÄôt live together before marriage. Some attribute this to pre-selection bias (couples morally comfortable with cohabitation are more prone to be comfortable with divorce), and they are right. That a couple would vow to be faithful âÄúuntil death do they partâÄù while only actually committing to be faithful until theyâÄôre unhappy with each other speaks volumes about their love. Indeed, the weak fidelity of such a love could be a cause of marital demise. Cohabitation, though, does remain another potential cause for the correlation. The âÄútry before you buyâÄù logic behind cohabitation is perfect for making shopping decisions, in which the relationship between agent and object is conditional: If a car stops working or clothes stop fitting, we get rid of them. However, true love between human persons should be unconditional; we shouldnâÄôt âÄútest driveâÄù people we truly love. Cohabitation typically says of a relationship that its love is conditional: âÄúIf and only if we live well together now should we continue our love.âÄù Cohabitation doesnâÄôt guarantee marital failure, and living separately doesnâÄôt guarantee marital bliss. The different lifestyles just say different things about love, and the love is ultimately what makes or breaks the relationship. If the love is conditional or not conducive to commitment through lifelong vows, then cohabitation is probably what best fits the bill for what each person wants from the relationship. But if the love is such, why enter the unconditional lifelong commitment of marriage at all? Jonathan Scrafford University graduate student