Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Spite of ... Everything??

I recently came across this article, which was adapted from In Spite of Everything: A Memoir by Susan Gregory Thomas. I haven't read the book, but the excerpt focuses largely on Gen X couples who, determined not to put their children through the same hell they went through as a result of their own parents' divorces, seem to stop at nothing to ensure the security of their own marriages. Divorce for them, they say, is not an option.

After reading the article, my mind races with about a million things to commentate on, but in an effort to keep this post relatively short, I'm going to focus on one aspect: premarital cohabitation. The title of her book is In Spite of Everything: A Memoir. Well, as you can deduce from the title, the marriage of this Gen X couple did indeed end in divorce. The title is what strikes me as so ironic, because although I do not know this couple personally, and am in no way privy to all the distinct nuances of their marriage, from the information she provides, I can think of a great deal of things they could have done to save themselves from their self-dreaded, self-fulfilled fate! 

One of the measures the couple took in order to ensure the stability of their marriage was premarital cohabitation.
“Before we get married, we like to know what our daily relationship with a partner will be like. Are we good roommates? A 2007 Study published my the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that, among those entering first marriages in the early 2000s, nearly 60% had cohabitated with their future spouses…
My husband and I were as obvious as points on a graph in a Generation X study. We were together for nearly eight years before we got married, and even though statistics show that divorce rates are 48% higher for couples who have lived together previously, we paid no heed.”

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but would not paying heed to that last startling statistic have been a measure this couple could have taken in order to avoid the chances of their marriage ending in divorce?!
She goes on to say:
"We also paid no heed to his Catholic parents, who comprised one of the rare reassuringly unified couples I'd ever met, when they warned us that we should wait until we were married to live together. As they put it, being pals and roommates was different from being husband and wife. How bizarrely old-fashioned and sexist! We didn't need anything so naive and retro as 'marriage.' Please. We were best friends." 

What's interesting here is that you can see she's even poking fun at her own self! She seems to recognize the ridiculousness of their "we know everything; we're invincible" mindset. But would not paying heed to the advice of "one of the rare reassuringly unified couples" have been a measure this couple could have taken in order to avoid the possibility of divorce?!

And yet, somehow, despite her apparent self-awareness of the mistakes they made, she still expresses sad surprise when their marriage ultimately hits a dead-end:
"'I'm done,' he said. It was as if a cosmic force had been unleashed; the awful finality of it roared in like an enormous black cloud blotting out the sky, over every inch of the world. It was done. That was four years ago. Even now, I still wonder every day if there was something that I—we—could have done differently." 

I want to reach through the screen to this woman and say, "But... there were things you could have done differently!" Don't get me wrong, I am in no way bashing on this woman. She, as she herself claims, is a product of her generation. She, like so many other Gen Xers, gave into the false notion that premarital cohabitation is a good idea, a way to add security the present and future of the relationship. She, like so many other Gen Xers, gave into the naive notion that we are all powerful, all knowing, invincible, and therefore perfectly capable of avoiding any ill fates that statistics or those MUCH WISER than us warn us against! She, like so many other Gen Xers, was devastated by the negative outcome, and trying to pin the blame accurately, relentlessly over-analyzes the details, while ignoring the elephant in the room.

Roomates & Pals vs. Husband & Wife

In the end, I found this article intrinsically sad, and I pray for all couples who are struggling with their marriages, and considering divorce. And I continually advise friends and acquaintances of mine against premarital cohabitation, not to condemn them, but to LOVE them. Because I care about their happiness, and true happiness so often comes from joyfully working towards delayed gratification, rather than impatiently indulging in instant gratification.


  1. I know quite a few couples who cohabited and have made it more than 30 years - including my parents, who lived together for several years pre-wedding. I've always disliked that statistic, that people who cohabit are more likely to divorce because it lumps us all together. I moved in with my fiance in April, about 2 months before we got engaged. Neither of us had ever lived with a significant other before and talked seriously about what would happen. Contrast this to my ex-boyfriend who had lived with at least two girlfriends previously and broke up with both of them (including one who relocated to stay with him). I've always believed that the people who are more likely to be divorced are the ones who entered into that relationship (either serious dating or engagement/marriage) and the seriousness of living together with less thought to the consequences.

    I'll be more interested to see how our generation (Generation Y) changes or continues those statistics. A lot of people are living together for economic reasons (that was one of our many reasons - money for a wedding has to come from somewhere! even when it's a cheap wedding, it costs a lot), but a lot of people are staying married because they can't afford to get divorced. I'm not sure which is worse.

  2. I take a lot of personal offense to this post.

    My fiancee and I have lived together for five years now and our relationship is healthy, as marriage on the the horizon.

    Am I a sinner? Are our upcoming nuptials already doomed because we've lived together? I certainly don't think so, nor do our families.

    The decision to move in together was an extremely personal one between us that required a lot of thought and discussion. It had nothing to do with "instant gratification."

    I think you clearly view the decision by a couple to live together before marriage the same way you would a couple who went to Las Vegas and got married at a Drive-Thru Chapel O' Love. I assure you, in many cases, choosing to live together is just not that simple. And that's not to say that there aren't some people out there who just move in together without giving the decision the consideration it deserves.

    Furthermore, it's very unfair of you to make such blanket comments on this. Every couple is different (even the non-Catholic ones), and in most cases, there are a lot of factors involved in that decision. Not everyone has the luxury of not living together.

    Shame on you for this post. I sincerely hope that you give some more thought to this issue. Just because cohabitation doesn't fit in your world view doesn't make it wrong for everyone.

  3. From what I have read and understood that often couples who go into cohabitation with a 'let's try this on for size' attitude and then marry often end in divorce. The ones that know that they are headed for altar do better.
    I think that some couples who 'try it on for size' are probably people who should not be together in the first place. Once you live together it becomes difficult to back track that much and break up.

  4. Liz and Anonymous - I certainly meant no offense to you! When I really think long and hard about premarital cohabitation, I think my opinion of it stands with the statistic quoted in this article (the 48% one). As Lara pointed out, those couples moving in together with a "let's try this out" mentality are the ones whom would likely be the couples ending in divorce down the line, the couples I would define as giving into instant gratification.
    On the other hand, there are a good deal of couples who DO think it through before moving in together.

    Do I believe that all couples who lived together before marriage are doomed for divorce? No. Just about half of them. Namely, the half that went into it with the "let's try this out" mindset. Because those people are usually focused on themselves - on how comfortable they will be in this living situation... and as soon as it gets uncomfortable, they walk away. And in a marriage that's going to stand the test of time, there's no room for selfishness.

    So I actually think the 48% statistic is pretty accurate. It's not throwing everyone who lives together before marriage under the bus - and I'm not either! It's simply saying that there is a much higher likelihood for relationship failure. Likelihood, not guarantee.

    If I were trying to win a race up a mountain, and there was a statistic that I was 48% more likely to fail if I were wearing Adidas shoes, well, I'd have a choice to make, based on just how determined I was to win. What if Adidas were my absolute favorite shoes? What if that's all they sold in all the stores near me? What if all my friends said I could probably win anyway with them? What if I just flat out wanted to wear them?! After all, 48% is not 100%. There's still a good chance that I could win. But, if I truly wanted to win, and would stop at nothing to do so, then I would certainly have to take some sacrificial proactive measures to make my chances of winning as high as possible. So I'd buy Nikes.

    What I was trying to point out in this post was not that premarital cohabitation is a guarantee for failure, but that for a woman who declared herself as determined to stop at nothing to ensure she would never have a divorce, could have done well to heed this statistic and the advice of her would-be in-laws.


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