In many cultures, living with someone before marriage is strictly taboo. Yet, in liberal democratic societies in Europe and the United States, a different set of cultural values are adopted. In the latter regions pre-marital relationships are quite common. Varied sexual orientations and alternative living arrangements are also taking shape. There is also a tendency and greater tolerance toward newer lifestyles, including homosexuality, bisexuality and open relationships. In many ways, the prevailing cultural Zeitgeist has moved into unexplored territory, the sustainability and moral merits of which is yet to be ascertained. As these developments are happening in modern societies, traditionalists have raised a few objections. Mainly, they oppose these alternative social arrangements on grounds of religious and moral judgements. In these times of uncertainty, it is safe to say that there is no general consensus among the intellectuals, academicians and politicians. But the fact that the institution of marriage has held its ground for much of human history implies that there is intrinsic wisdom behind it’s success. This essay is an attempt to present arguments from both sides. Relevant scholarly sources have been perused for providing supportive evidence.
One of the common terms used in popular discourse these days is “intimacy”. Many modern psychotherapists and family counsellors qualitatively measure intimacy between a couple, in order to assess the health of their relationship. If the ultimate standard of measurement of interpersonal relationships is intimacy, then research indicates that it is elusive for most couples. The fact emerges that it is not the legal status of being ‘married’ that determines the attainment of healthy intimacy, but rather the duration for which the couple stay together. While statistically speaking, married couple have a greater chance of attaining this superior state than unmarried ones, there have also been exemplary cases of success among live-in partners. It is important to note that casual short term relationships are not considered here, for relationships that are founded on factors of temporary convenience, are set to fail from the outset (Mccabe, 1999).
Furthermore, scientific research and analysis to have emerged in the last fifty years points to the high probability of enduring love and intimacy only among long-term partners. As the following passage suggests, temporary live-in relationships are not conducive for the proper development of feelings of love and intimacy:
“Marriage or relationship therapy considers coupled people as natural units, and seeks to prevent or fix problems faced by couples. The advice literature of intimacy depicts couples who communicate their feelings to one another, rely on one another as confidants, and self-consciously work to preserve their relationship. Intimacy discourse claims that couples will be equal within the relationship–always a difficult goal in a sexist society–and also that they maintain a delicate balance between autonomy and fusion.” (Mashek, 2004)
Another important aspect of successful relationships is ‘commitment’. A couple who are committed to love and support each other can sail through rough times that would otherwise topple a relationship. Misunderstandings and the scope for minor offences are an integral part of all social interactions. Marriage and live-in relationships are no exception to this rule. When a couple first commit themselves to each other then rough moments that occur later can be capably handled. For a couple who are not married, there is always the option of breaking up the relationship, which serves as an easy escape from life’s challenges. By opting to break up a relationship unmarried couple fail to develop virtues such as patience and tolerance, which are crucial to all aspects of life. Hence an individual who has had commitment-free relationships in the past will be ill-equipped to handle minor marital problems when he/she eventually gets married. This in turn predisposes such individuals to resort to divorce. In other words, while live-in relationships are not unhealthy per se, they lack the necessary incentive for the couple to work through their problems. (Dinovella, 2005)