When it comes to having a successful, long-lasting marriage, there are two bits of conventional wisdom that are almost universally espoused: Don’t marry young and live together first.
And it seems to make sense on the surface of things, doesn’t it? Let’s bracket off the moral dynamics of living together and just play it out.
If you marry young, you are marrying when you have the least amount of money and the least amount of life-experience. That can’t be good, right? A lack of money and a lack of maturity must increase the odds of divorce.
There’s even more stacked against the idea of marrying young. Many see their 20s as the time to play and party. Once you get married, things become dull and dreary. So, you want to delay it until you at least “sow your oats” as they say. Also, there are careers to think about. Marriage and potentially children come after professional success, right? The idea is that marrying before reaching your professional goals would simply hinder things.
And then there’s living together on the front end. Isn’t that like taking a car for a test drive? Who wants to buy a car they’ve never sat behind the wheel of? It seems to make sense you would want to live together for a season first to see whether you could live together for life. If you find out during the first week of marriage that you can’t stand living together, then again, that has to hasten the likelihood of divorce. As a result, more than 70% of those who marry live together before marriage.
But according to new research from the Institute for Family Studies, conventional wisdom is false. Their analyses indicate that “religious men and women who married in their 20s without cohabiting first… have the lowest odds of divorce in America today.”
The researchers gave several ideas as to why this counterintuitive discovery bore out. They write: “We suspect one advantage that religious singles in their 20s have over their secular peers is that they are more likely to have access to a pool of men and women who are ready to tie the knot and share their vision of a family-focused life. [Also,] shared faith is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment and higher relationship quality.”
One Harvard study revealed that women who were regular church attenders were approximately 40% less likely to divorce. The “norms and networks” found in churches provide a pillar for marriage.
And why does cohabitation have the opposite effect those who engage it desire? One reason is that “most young adults today who cohabit do so with someone besides their future spouse.” This establishes a mindset of “leaving as an option.” Once married, that mindset doesn’t vanish.