Is traditional marriage relevant?

Published 11:40 am Friday, May 13, 2011

This article first appeared in the Venus edition of Southern Minnesota Magazine. Call 507-434-2220 to subscribe to Southern Minnesota today!

– This article first appeared in the Venus edition of Southern Minnesota Magazine. Call 507-434-2220 to subscribe to Southern Minnesota today!

Many women know the feeling — that feeling of drifting off into a daydream wonderland of engagement rings, wedding dresses, honeymooning and the oh-so-mystical idea of happily ever after.

It’s a feeling that can bring on the warm fuzzies faster than a tanning bed but can also spark the overwhelming urge to vomit from sheer terror.

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However, with the number of couples living together before marriage hovering a few percentage points below 50, some women may be opting for a trial period before heading into the unknown territory of lifelong commitment.

David Jamison, licensed marriage and family therapist of the Rochester Marriage and Family Wellness Center Inc., said about half his clients are couples who are unmarried and living together or who at some point cohabited before marriage. Jamison said these couples usually live together to see if they’re compatible for marriage.

“That’s a misnomer, though,” Jamison said. “There’s a higher percentage of divorce among couples that have lived together before marriage.”

Elizabeth Newman, 23, disagrees that divorce would be more likely among couples who cohabitate pre-maritally.

“It seems a little ridiculous to say someone got a divorce because they lived together first,” Newman said. “Why would you not live with somebody before you marry them? You don’t know anything about a person until you live with them.”

Newman lives in Kasson with her boyfriend, Spencer Klemm, of a year and a half. Although she admits some people may think she and her other half jumped the gun by moving in together after only five months of dating, she said it seemed like the natural course of action since she spent so many nights sleeping over at his house.

The only difference between cohabitation and marriage for Newman is that her last name will change.

“People seem to think there’s going to be a huge change when they get married,” she said. “It’s kind of just a label to me. What would change but my last name? Nothing.”

For Jamison, marriage is a bigger commitment than simply living with someone. Since there is nothing legally binding about cohabitation, couples can sometimes be blindsided by the gravity of marriage. According to Jamison, if a couple hasn’t worked on its communication skills enough prior to marriage, things can unravel quickly.

“‘Communication is the key to marriage’ is much more than a cliche. It really is the key,” he said. “Defensiveness probably destroys more marriages and cohabitating couples than anything else.”

The biggest issue Jamison sees in unmarried, cohabitating couples is just that — a lack of communication and an overabundance of defensiveness in arguments. The lack of communication, in Jamison’s opinion, is because cohabitating couples may not realize the enormous amount of work that goes into a marriage-like relationship, therefore they tend to fall short when it comes to relationship upkeep.

“They’re playing at marriage,” he said. “They may work a little harder at keeping their relationship going because they’re thinking of getting married, but marriage is a whole new ballgame.”

For those couples who already look at their relationships in the same light as marriage, the communication issue has already been dealt with.

Amanda Campbell, 24, has lived with her fiance in Owatonna for over a year. Although they only got engaged a few weeks ago, she agrees with Newman that, overall, marriage won’t change the way in which she and her fiance relate to each other, particularly because the two already have good communication skills.

“Neither of us have ever come across any major issues with each other,” Campbell said about their relationship. “I’m able to tell him when he’s pissing me off and he’s able to do the same. We talk about our problems — we don’t just let them slide under the table.”

“I’ve never had that in any kind of romantic relationship,” she added.

Other than communication skills, one of the most important parts of marriage is simply being ready for the commitment it entails, Jamison said. A lifelong commitment can be overwhelming, and couples should be emotionally prepared, otherwise happily ever after may never come.

“Preparing for that commitment and learning how to have an ‘I care about you’ attitude — if those things aren’t there and practiced, then the marriage isn’t going to make it,” Jamison said. “Love is a commitment. Feelings are the byproduct of doing the right thing in that commitment.”

– This article first appeared in the Venus edition of Southern Minnesota Magazine. Call 507-434-2220 to subscribe to Southern Minnesota today!