Ask Dr. Tracy

Living Together vs. Getting Married

Living together in general is a good way to approach marriage when you're not sure how compatible you'll really be on a day-to-day basis. It's also a good way to "try out" being married.

Couples who live together often wind up happily married for the rest of their lives. My husband and I lived together for over a year before we were married. And that didn't make getting married any less exciting or important in our lives than if we hadn't lived together.

Some people do ask, "Why marry, if you can live together and have all the advantages of being married without the ceremony?" They say, "It's just a piece of paper. What's the difference if we feel married without it?" The truth is that when you're not married there is always a little nagging tickle of insecurity, as if there's one commitment you haven't been able to make.

You can make all the private promises you want to each other about "forever," but there's something about making those promises in front of friends and family and that makes them more serious.

When you live together without being married for many years, you may feel married, but you're not. Certainly you're not entitled to the legal rights and protections that a married couple has. One of you could become ill and the other one may not be able to take care of their affairs or even visit them in intensive care in the hospital. Relatives can step in and claim that they, the blood relatives, have the right to decide how your loved one will be cared for.

Having children makes marriage even more important. The children will constantly be faced with the problem of explaining that their mother lives with someone who's not their father or even her husband. This isn't really fair to the kids.

Socially, you will never be accepted in exactly the same way that a married couple will be. Your "living together" status will come up over and over again, and will constantly be something you will have to explain. Being 40 or 65 and introducing your boyfriend or "significant other" can be awkward.

Nevertheless, there are couples who have both decided for their own reasons that they don't want to be married. These couples, usually childless or with grown children, manage to live together and co-mingle their finances and lives, working out the problems that come up. They face their friends and families secure in the decision they have made.

Related Keyword: Commitment

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