Six Year Study Compares Cohabitation with Marriage

shutterstock_294024353Cohabitation has come a long way in our society. Years ago it was referred to as shacking up, and in some areas “living in sin.” Today, Gen Xers and Millennials are choosing this form over traditional marriage in numbers far above that of their parents. There are many reasons for this. One is a lot of children of the 80s and 90s had divorced parents, and vowed they themselves would never go through it. The cost of going to college and setting up a career both in time and finances make a wedding impractical. The sheer cost of weddings today are astronomical, which is a hard price tag to swallow, since student loan debt and other personal debts are high. Meanwhile, after pushing off marriage and cohabitating for some time, couples just get used to living together, and don’t see the point of going beyond “Facebook official.” Couples who cohabitate see many advantages. They still retain a certain level of independence. What’s more, a person can extricate him or herself from the arrangement without significant cost or legal wrangling. Of course, long-term cohabitation is considered common law marriage in some states. Anyone cohabitating long-term should look into the law, for their own knowledge.

Still, many couples today wonder what advantages, besides tax incentives and for some health insurance coverage, they would warrant by being married? A six year study looked into happiness rates between the married and those who cohabitate, and the results are fascinating. Advocates of marriage say that a relationship cannot have the depth and breadth without the strong commitment a marriage provides. Some studies have also shown health benefits that do not carry over to cohabitators. This study compared the health and wellbeing of married versus cohabitating couples, as well as how much time each partner spent with friends and family. This was a national sample including 2,700 U.S. adults. Participants at the onset were people who were single and not cohabitating. They were questioned in 1987 or 1988, and then followed up with six years later. Researchers examined three particular romantic arrangements: those who went from single to married, those who were cohabitating, and those who had lived together before marriage. They were all compared among seven different aspects: happiness, health, depression, self-esteem, contact with parents, time spent with friends, and the quality of relationship with parents.

In the final analysis several things of interest popped up. In terms of happiness, there was no difference between those who got married without cohabitating, and those who married after living together. In all cases, contact with parents and relationship with parents remained the same. Those who cohabitated first before marriage spent the least amount of time with friends. Whether they got married or not afterward, cohabitators had higher self-esteem than married people. If the couple only stayed together for the six initial years of the study, cohabitators rated happier. Overall with all couples, there was no difference in happiness between married people and those who lived together, whether cohabitators decided to get married or not. Researchers concluded that married people may be healthier because of their ability to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance. Other than that, marriage and cohabitation lined up the same category by category. There was some indication however of additional satisfaction with cohabitators, due to their flexibility and a little extra autonomy. This should be food for thought for anyone considering whether to continue to cohabitate or get married. Though social pressure may be off, expectations fulfilled, and access to health insurance and other incentives gained, if you are expecting it to make you happier, closer to your partner, and more fulfilled, think again, at least as far as this study is concerned.

For more information on cohabitation read, Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller.

When Low Self-Esteem Hurts Your Love Life

When Low Self-Esteem Hurts Your Love Life

Everyone feels insecure at certain moments in their life, especially their love life. Whether it be an awkward crush like many of us go through in middle school, your first kiss, first real love, or a spouse who did everything right and swept you off of your feet. The feelings that surround these moments can feel so overwhelming, that we feel small by comparison. But for some, self-esteem is a sustained, ongoing, even lifelong struggle. A relationship is best when it is engaged in by two equal partners. If one person is constantly struggling with self-esteem issues, though it may feel like a personal problem, it is affecting your relationship in a myriad of ways. When you have low self-esteem you have a hard time believing your partner when they pay you a compliment. This lack of appreciation can hurt them, putting space between the two of you. Those with low self-esteem have trouble setting boundaries. Everyone crosses a line once in a while. But without the ability to say something, your partner can walk all over you, and all you can do is wear a shirt that says, “Welcome.” Those with self-esteem issues do not know how to ask for what they want in a relationship. They fear their desires will be met with disapproval. So they never get what they want, leading to a secret little pit of hell, an inner cubby hole of frustration as one can never feel comfortable expressing themselves truly to the person they love most.

Do you hold back from engaging in open and honest dialogue with your partner? According to a study out of the University of Waterloo in Canada, this can be viewed as aloofness on the part of your beloved. It makes them think you do not care. But what is actually going on, you hold back because you are afraid of becoming vulnerable, of driving the person away, or of getting hurt. The author of this study Megan McCarthy, said that the partner with low self-esteem is resistant to address problems in the relationship. But in doing so, things cannot develop or progress. The relationship becomes stagnant until it no longer ceases to be. Those with low self-esteem believe that if they do speak up about problems, they will be rejected by their partner. But this causes them dissatisfaction. What researchers suggest is interpersonal communication. Work on telling your partner little problems or small wishes and wants that you have. When they fulfill them, be happy and reflect on it. Then work toward bigger problems or desires. On another front, work on yourself. Improving your self-esteem can only help to improve your relationship. You are indeed half of it. So what can you do to build up your self-esteem?

Look back your accomplishments. Celebrate them. What have you done, and what positive personality traits do you embody that these accomplishments signify? What skills did you have to use to get there? Set slightly higher goals for yourself and work toward reaching them. Celebrate after each one. Smile more. Just the act of smiling can make you feel brighter. And people respond to you when you are smiling. It makes you seem more attractive and more confident. Positive interactions with people will help further your self-esteem journey. Talk to trusted friends and confidants, and let them know about your struggles. Ask their unadulterated opinion of you and any advice they may have. Usually, those close to us will say nice things and make us feel good. But they can also offer some fresh perspective which you may be in need of. Surround yourself with those who support and uplift you. If you have people in your life who are pessimistic, always critical, who disrespect you or tear you down, get rid of them, or if you have to see them, severely limit the time you spend with them. They can only hamper your efforts. Be positive and find things to be positive about. People love enthusiasm. If you can dig deep and find it, you can attract more people to you. Their desire to be around you will help you to feel confident. Lastly, try and get some exercise. The feel good, natural chemicals it releases will give you a boost that others and even your baby will notice and it will make them feel good, basking in the energy you radiate.

For more pick up a copy of, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff.

ADHD and Relationships

couple at therapy

ADHD and Relationships

When one person has ADHD in a relationship, and the other person doesn’t, unique problems can occur. The power dynamic can become that of a parent to child, which isn’t healthy. The non-ADHD person becomes the one with the power, guiding, reminding and helping their partner. When the ADHD partner has a chore to be done, their counterpart may remind them, indeed several times, until the ADHD partner does it. Or the non-ADHD partner may give up and do it themselves rather than keep reminding their other half. Eventually, too many chores or responsibilities are allocated to the non-ADHD partner.

The symptoms of ADHD unmanaged are permanent. Distraction, memory problems and other symptoms start to weigh on the relationship. The non-ADHD partner becomes the parent, the ADHD partner the child. The power dynamic in this relationship becomes off kilter, leaning only to one side. This leads to a lack of respect on the part of the non-ADHD partner as they begin to view their partner like a child, and a condescending attitude can ensue. The ADHD partner begins to resent their significant other.

Adaptation is generally considered a good thing. One partner sees an issue arising and both partners change to meet and overcome it. Some research has shown however that stronger couples see problems coming down the pike and counteract them before they become an issue in the relationship. For ADHD, this power dynamic increases over time. As more and more control is lent to the non-ADHD partner and the more they become the parent, the other the child, the more resentment builds. Both people in this relationship have their problems with the other. One doesn’t want to do all of the work of the other. The ADHD partner doesn’t want to be treated like a child. They get tired of constant reminders, general bossiness and nagging. And the non-ADHD partner gets tired of doing so. And this dynamic puts a strain on the relationship. The couple feels less inclined toward positive feelings of love, affection, physical intimacy and romance.

Child/parent dynamics will almost inevitably lead to relationship or marital dysfunction. ADHD should be treated with the help of a mental health professional. Both partners should be involved. But if you are married or seriously involved with someone who has ADHD or if you have ADHD make sure to talk about it in depth with your partner. Treatment should also be sought. For more advice read, The ADHD Effect On Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov.

Ethical Non-monogamy or Polyamory


Ethical Non-monogamy or Polyamory

With so many options today and many professionals independent and not interested in settling down, people are looking for new romantic options that fit their modern day attitudes and lifestyle. Though it isn’t a significant part of the population yet, ethical non-monogamy, also known as polyamory, is a growing trend. So what is polyamory? It comes from the Greek meaning many loves. There is no hard and fast definition. The practice is having more than one loving or sexual relationship at a time, which all parties involved knowledgeable and consenting. No one should be pressured into entering into this kind of relationship. It should be an arrangement all parties are interested in. Another definition less often used, it could also mean a couple taking part in non-monogamous activities such as swinging. Many believe that the human heart is too wild and free to be tamed by a certain social construct. Outside of such expectations, no one can really say who they will love or how many they have the capacity to love, be it one or twenty. Though we have familial love and friendship, polyamory refers specifically to having romantic relationships that include intercourse. The point is to grow strong relationships, enjoy the powerful feelings and the act and have deep, profound intimacy in all of them. Everyone involved has to be consenting. These need to be open-minded individualists. But they also need to be good communicators.

It isn’t a competition. No one should be keeping score. Instead, it’s about making an emotional connection with others and not dictating to the heart who and how. Some believe that we have the capacity to love many others without constraints. They say this is a way to escape serial monogamy. In monogamous relationships there is the problem of the relationship going sour. Another problem is cheating, lying and hurt feelings. Here, those things are eliminated. Of course, there can be jealousy. But it’s how that jealousy is managed that counts. Really jealous people should steer clear of this sort of arrangement. There are all kinds of poly relationships. What most people are looking for is the freedom to love how they wish without hurting others, and the ability to determine what kind of arrangement works for them. How long does such a relationship last? Just like all relationships, it depends on the people that are in it and how they relate to each other. Some last for years while others only for a short while. Each person in any type of relationship brings baggage and pre-conceived notions. Communication is really what it all comes down to. You don’t have to be bisexual to be poly. Some couples are looking for an extra to form a triad. Some triads are open, others closed.

For those who live together, arrangements such as everyone having the same bedroom and bed, to each person having their own separate bedroom, to certain people maintaining a schedule where they sleep in a certain bed on a certain night are all well-known arrangements in poly communities. If it’s a closed triad, it’s important that each member relate to the other, and spend time with each other so no one feels left out. Each person’s relationship has to be strengthened. Sometimes a schedule is formed so each member can have quality time with each other. Some people practice polyfidelity or polyfi meaning their triad is closed. But others are more open. There is also a unique term called compersion in the poly community. This is when someone you love is being loved well and taken care of by another, and it brings you great joy. Certainly there is no test of whether or not you are poly. Most are of a very open-minded, progressive mindset and nonreligious and so not tethered to monogamy as such. Many are intellectuals and professionals. To learn more of whether or not polyamory or ethical non-monogamy is right for you read, More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.

Marriage in America Today


Marriage in America Today

The number of people getting married is declining. Experts say the marriage rate today is lower than it was in 1880, another time when extreme differences in income affected the social landscape. Though marriage is touted in America and many societies as helping to preserve the social order, the atmosphere with which we operate is far from conducive in promoting it. In the original Gilded Age as Mark Twain called it, a new class of industrialists slashed wages and with it the prospects of workers of marrying age, mostly male factory workers. Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin at John Hopkins University wrote that one difference today is many are choosing to cohabitate and have children without a marriage license filed away in the family home. That would never do in the 19th century. But today it’s quite common.

One problem is the gatekeepers to pop culture, the TV and movie writers, musical artists and others have failed to keep up and give us an image we can hang onto for this new state of affairs in how long-term love should be.  Zoë Heller at the New York Review of Books says films today and other cultural milieu are filled with simplistic plots and clichés about love, without delving into the complicated minutia of modern relationships and how best to navigate them. They don’t reflect what people are actually experiencing, nor do they give a strategy for which to encounter the prickly paradigm of modern love. Supporters of traditional values decry the end of marriage as it once was. But couples staying together longer show greater stability, know each other better and perhaps can best negotiate differences. The expense of a wedding, weakening norms and lack of financial benefit may result in a further decline in marriage, experts believe. On the upshot for advocates, statistics show that those who are getting married stay together longer. Also, the divorce rate has dropped dramatically. In fact, since the 1980’s, divorce has been in deep decline. 70% of those who married in the 1990s celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary today. That’s 5% higher than those who married in the 70’s and 80’s. Those who tied the knot in the new millennium have an even lower divorce rate.

According to economist Justin Wolfer at the University of Michigan, two-thirds of married couples today stay together. For those cases where divorce does occur, two-thirds of the time it’s the wife who wants it. The reason is women’s expectations for marriage have vastly changed. Gender roles in America saw a dramatic paradigm shift over the past two decades due to the Feminist movement. This in turn affected how both sexes interact with one another. Today, marriage isn’t only about raising a family or having financial support. It’s about love and partnership. People also want someone who will help lead them into personal growth. They want to grow and better themselves and they look to their partner to help them complete their metamorphosis. A lot of times, when we feel as though we are in a stale relationship and the well has gone dry, we feel it’s time to move on. The baby boomer generation remains the one with the highest rate of divorce. People are living older nowadays, and so when the children have moved out and they still have decades of life left, they want to make the most of it. That sometimes means leaving someone they no longer connect with in order to enjoy those years with someone they do. For more on this topic read, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today by Andrew J. Cherlin.