Trapped in an unhappy cohabitation, living together

People don’t get trapped in an unhappy marriage. They get trapped in an unhappy living together.

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Fifty years ago, it was frowned upon. But today, everybody does it.

Living together, or cohabitation, is a win-win situation. Sharing the same house or flat gives you the chance to get to know one another better. You get more time together for starters. It makes good economic sense as the two of you can live more cheaply together than apart. And you never know, if things go well, then thoughts can turn to marriage.

But there is a downside. What happens if living together doesn’t work out? How will you be able to bring the relationship to an end?

Smart couples will say that they can just move out. But it’s not that simple.

You don’t have to live together for long to make your life very complicated indeed. You probably sign some sort of joint lease together or at least agree how to share the rent. You may have done the same for your utility bills with the electricity, gas and telephone companies. All of your clothes and belongings are now in the joint home. And your friends and acquaintance now know for sure that you are off-the-market. This means your potential choice of alternative partners is a lot more limited than before you moved in.

If things go wrong, none of these obstacles are surmountable.

But if your relationship does start to drift, or you start to question whether you have made the right choice, then you can easily find yourself trapped.

Other than the legal niceties, it’s much the same as if you are trapped in an unhappy marriage. Only you are trapped in an unhappy living together.

Researchers call these obstacles “constraints”. Constraints add ‘inertia’ or ‘premature entanglement’ to a relationship that make it harder to leave.

Faced with a marginal choice – should I stay or should I go? – the more constraints you have, the more likely it is that you will stay.

Your relationship isn’t what you hoped. Yet still you stay. After all, it’s so much easier to stay. You can persuade yourself that things will get better. Maybe a baby will help. Maybe marriage will make the difference.

They won’t.

What’s keeping you from leaving is that you live together. This constraint is probably the single biggest driver of family breakdown in the UK.

The downside of cohabitation is that it keeps relationships together just long enough to tempt fragile couples into the next stage of fragile parenthood or even fragile marriage.

I’m not for one second saying that couples shouldn’t live together. That genie is long out of its bottle.

What I am saying is that you should take your time before you move in together. Living together can set you on the path to a life together. But it’s not risk-free. Make sure a life together is what you really want before you have it thrust upon you.

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2 thoughts on “Trapped in an unhappy cohabitation, living together

  1. Comment from Disqus, Dave: The other side that is overlooked is domestic abuse. With no security in the relationship, no promise, no commitment, one or both parties resort to self protection, jealousy, control, and the unmarried are far more likely to be a victim or perpetrate domestic abuse. Those “dumped” are consumed with betrayal, which impacts on future relationships. Perhaps even stalking or harassment of the “ex”.
    The married couple are far less likely to be a victim of, or cause domestic abuse.

  2. Comment from Disqus, Harry Benson: Thanks for your comment. You’re right about abuse but I’m not sure I would be so absolute about no promise, no commitment, etc. After all, some cohabitees do just fine, albeit a small minority. A bigger minority also get married along the way.
    For me the general principle is that moving in without interpersonal commitment is risky because cohabitation itself will lock in a low quality relationship. Lower quality relationships and no way of leaving explains greater likelihood of people losing it (though it doesn’t explain the terrorist version of domestic abuse). And those conditions are more common among cohabitees than marriages. It’s cohabitation without commitment that is the real culprit.

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