Millennials, perhaps more than any other generation, grew up with the reality of broken homes and divorced parents. But in their efforts to avoid those mistakes, they often go in the wrong direction and end up in the same situation.
In the NPR story, “For More Millennials, It’s Kids First, Maybe Marriage,” we meet Michelle Sheridan, her boyfriend Phillip Underwood, and their children. Their lives were characterized by scraping by with low income jobs and government assistance as well as having no real desire to get married.
Their reasoning continuing to live together without the rings sounds like many other millennials and the common misunderstandings they have about marriage. Here are four things Sheridan, Underwood and millennials in general miss about living together and getting married.
Living together brings more negatives.
One of the reasons they don’t want to get together is that they saw unhealthy behavior in their parents.
Underwood says when he was a baby — or when his mom was still pregnant, he isn’t sure — “my dad left for a loaf of bread and never came back.”
Sheridan’s parents stayed together but fought a lot.
“That was hard to watch,” she says. “I don’t want to go through that, and I don’t want my kids to see it.”
The unfortunate reality for them is that they haven’t solved any of those issues by living together. In fact, they’ve made the two things they were most worried about more likely.
Cohabitation prior to marriage leads to an increased risk of divorce and domestic violence. That is not to say every relationship that starts with living together ends in abuse and separation, but it does make it statistically more likely.
You will never be “ready.”
In discussing the initial reaction she and Underwood had when they found out she was pregnant, Sheridan said getting married would change “the dynamic of the household.”
“I had a friend who put off her marriage. Got pregnant, and she’s like, ‘Let’s just wait, ’cause we don’t know if we’re going to be able to make it through this.'”
While I appreciate their recognition, as tiny as it may be, that marriage is to be entered into seriously, she misunderstands the situation if she thinks the way to treat marriage most seriously is to test it out by having kids first.
Everyone goes into marriage with trepidation because you don’t feel ready. But you do not get ready by living together prior to tying the knot. Again, that is one of the worst steps to take to prepare for marriage.
The moment when you are truly ready to be a spouse will never come. It is something you can only learn to be when you are one – much like parenting. You can’t learn to swim with one foot on the shore, just as you cannot learn to be a husband or wife by being a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.
Money will not fix things.
For many millennials, growing up in the Great Recession has taught them to value financial security. The idea of marrying without being established financially frightened Sheridan.
But isn’t marrying young and poor and then working your way up the time-honored way?
“That seems terrifying at this point,” Sheridan says. “It’s hard enough to work up just on your own.”
Yes, it is hard to work your way up on your own or as a married couple. But living together doesn’t alleviate any of those problems. (I seem to be repeating myself.) And shockingly enough, money is not enough to seal or save marriages.
Have you seen how long marriages last in Hollywood? If anyone is financially secure, it is actors and actress making millions of dollars a year. Yet, very few are able to build a marriage that lasts.
Right after my wife and I were married, I was let go from my job, she hadn’t found a job yet, and we found out we were pregnant. There was no security in that situation – except the security of knowing that both of us were completely committed to one another. And that is the most important thing that many millennials have missed when thinking about marriage.
Commitment is the solution, not the problem.
In a New York Times op-ed, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, describes a client lamenting that she spent more time planning her lavish wedding than she did actually being married to her now ex-husband.
For Jay, part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the girl had lived with her boyfriend before being married. Instead of feeling as if they were progressing as a couple, the girl felt constant pressure within the relationship.
Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her. “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said.
Thankfully, not all millennials miss out on what marriage can be (just as not all Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers have marriage figured out). One millennial who recognizes the benefits of marriage as opposed to living together is my friend Chris Martin. He wrote an excellent piece about the benefits of marrying young – one of which is the freeing security that cohabitation cannot offer.
I try to woo and impress Susie every chance I get. But, just as Christ’s covenant with his Church doesn’t hinge on performance, my covenant with Susie doesn’t hinge on performance. We impress and woo each other as an overflow of our covenantal love for each other—not in an effort to earn each other’s love.
I know that Susie will comfort and convict me when necessary because of the covenant we made with each other. No amount of money in the bank or butterflies in our stomachs can make us feel as secure as does finding our foundation in Christ’s covenantal love.
As Chris knows, avoiding a marital commitment because you want to better your relationship is like avoiding exercise because you want to get healthier. It is, in fact, the opposite of what you should do.
I appreciate millennials wanting to place value on marriage, not enter into lightly and avoid repeating the mistakes of their parents. But that will not be solved by attempting to gain all of the benefits of marriage through cohabitation without the commitment.
Valuing marriage does not mean avoiding it because it’s hard and could end. It means embracing the difficulties and commitment required knowing that you and your spouse will be better for it.