Don’t nag couples to get married

The Atlantic reports new research suggesting that a big determinant of the success of a relationship is how the couple deal with relationship milestones. If they make a proactive decision to say get married or move in together then that appears to work out better than just sliding into them:

For couples, deciding means taking the time to communicate and to make mutual decisions when something important is at stake. Couples who decide rather than slide also have more practice working together and are likely better at proactively talking through important life issues, a skill that could help them build a happy marriage.

When partners slide, they tend to be less thoughtful, which could have negative consequences, like marrying a poor match. For example, couples who slide into cohabitation without formal plans to get married could continue on into marriages that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The problem with cohabitation is inertia. It is much harder for couples to put an end to their relationship when they live together. They buy furniture together, get used to the routine of living together, and split bills and rent. Research shows that these constraints could prevent them from breaking up.

Deciding rather than sliding revolves around commitment—not just to each other, but to the decision itself. Making a decision, research shows, sets individuals up for better follow-through. Further, most cultures have strong and public relationship rituals that help the couple make the decision and see it through. The engagement is the perfect example. There is a societal script for getting engaged that makes it less likely for couples to slide into an engagement. As two people approach an engagement, each partner has (hopefully) determined that he or she wants to spend his or her life with the other, there is usually an expensive ring involved, and the engagement announcement tells the world that the couple plans on getting married. The very act of making the decision to get engaged leads to all of the preparations for the marriage and likely to a stronger commitment to it.

I might speculate that one of the things which makes this ‘sliding’ easier is the expectations of friends and family that you really should have moved onto the next milestone by now. I know I’ve done it: ribbing couples I’m friends with about how they’ve been going out for x years longer than such and such a couple who are getting. And I’m far from the worst culprit in my social circle at trying to play puck. However, the most serious offenders seem to be parents* and grandparents, who really seem to think that their desire for a wedding to plan or (great)grandchildren to spoil should be a serious factor in how their progeny’s relationship progresses.

What I take away from the research above is that we all really need to stop. Relationships are between individuals and as such will not move along according to someone else’s timetable. Life is not a rom-com and meddling is more likely to result in bad decisions than true romance.


*Fairness requires me to point out that mine don’t.

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