Commit and Cohabitate?

“Mutual I’m sure.” The twang of these words Bing Crosby hears in the film, White Christmas, from his prospective date are like nails on a chalkboard to his ears, for they could not be farther from the truth. As this woman fawns over Crosby, his only desire is to rid himself from this rendezvous immediately. Unfortunately today many couples can find themselves in comparable situations. Scott Stanley, a research professor at the University of Denver and a fellow of the Institute for Family Studies, wrote in a recent article about today’s growing difficulty of asymmetrical commitment, especially in unmarried couples and how this lack of mutual commitment in relationships is a recipe for disaster.

Stanley, referring to his and other studies, identifies two types of commitment: dedication and constraint. He writes, “Dedication reflects the desire to be with a person in the future, to form an identity as a couple, to sacrifice for and prioritize the relationship. Dedication can lead you to do the right or best thing for your partner and the relationship, now and into the future. What we call dedication often goes by the simple name of ‘commitment’ in much of the literature where commitment is measured relatively well.” In contrast, constraint consists of past and present factors that make leaving a relationship more difficult and consequential. Financial factors are often examples of this. Stanley states: “While it’s become easy to have positive perceptions about the benefits of cohabiting prior to, or instead of, marriage, what people fail to recognize is that cohabiting also increases constraints to remain together before dedication has become clear or matured.”

Stanley concludes that unhealthy relationships (which tend more toward aggression) tend to have lower dedication and higher constraints, especially common among couples who cohabitate. So, when considering the concept of cohabitation, ask yourself, “Am I committing to this relationship or avoiding commitment?”