Monday, September 25, 2006

Cohabiting Before Marriage: Good or Bad?

The recent release of Bollywood film ‘Salaam Namaste’ (copied from English version of the same theme) created quite a furore in India. Set in Melbourne, Ambar, played by Preity Zeinta and Nick, played by Saif Ali Khan are a young unmarried couple who have decided to continue to develop their relationship by moving in together. The story unfolds further when the two have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy.
Although living patterns are changing, and ‘love-cum-arranged’ marriages are more prevalent, Indian parents still prefer to take the responsibility of choosing a spouse for their children. When their children reach a mature marriageable age, an Indian parent will go to great length to find a spouse for their children of equal social and financial status, matching horoscope and a similar family background.

However, as Indian families are spreading to different parts of the world, the pattern of love and marriage is also changing and the concept of a ‘Trial Marriage’ or ‘Cohabitation’ is slowly creeping in. Even our latest Bollywood hit film, Salaam Namaste, encourages this notion.

But before we accept such concepts as acceptable or perhaps beneficial, we must consider the results of societies where cohabiting as a couple is part of the norm. According to a recent study by Reuters Health, approximately, 25% of the women living with a man say that they don’t ever plan on marrying him. “This result suggests that for many people, living together is not a step on the road to marriage,” author Dr. Wendy D. Manning of Bowling Green State University in Ohio told Reuters Health.

Having a Trial Marriage to make sure that you are compatible before plunging into the real thing seems sensible. Anjali Daryanani, a young girl from Spain, feels that living together before marriage is the best way of getting to know your partner. She says, “How many times have we heard ‘but I never knew...’ why should we spend so much money on wedding dresses and parties only to realise later that he/she is not the right person. We are living in the 21st century and we have to keep up with the times. Why should we (the Indian community) be different from other cultures where this is accepted? Those who decide to live together before marriage should not be looked down upon by the Indian community. Their decisions should be accepted because we live for ourselves not for the society we are part of.”

Unfortunately, data from the University of Wisconsin provides a painful bottom line: Couples that cohabit before marriage increase their odds of divorce by 50 percent. Dr. Ed Sondick, director of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) National Center for Health Statistics, said that the analysis went "beyond the basic bookends of marriage and divorce to look more closely at how the issue of cohabitation impacts the life of a relationship." The study found that the likelihood of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within five years is 20 percent, while the probability of a pre-marital cohabitation ending in a breakup within five years is 49 percent. After 10 years, those figures rise to 33 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

Cohabiting partnerships are not legally bound together—that is, of course, the whole point of cohabitation. They are also not institutionally supported. This makes it difficult for others—family, society, social institutions- to offer their support since they are not sure what the cohabiters themselves expect from the relationship. Cohabiters are less likely than married partners to have been introduced by family members, less likely to have met through religious ceremonies, less likely to know each other’s family, and less likely to know each other’s friends. Eventually this affects the relationship because they are left alone to fend for themselves in time of crisis.
Cohabiting couples are much less likely than married couples to pool their finances, to assume responsibility for support of their partner, to own appliances or property together. Returning to the film ‘Salaam Namaste’ Nick and Ambar are young, they're cool, they're independent - and together they make the BEST pair! Or do they? Surrounded by quirky friends, bosses and landlords but far away from home, they take a huge leap of faith as they decide to move in together. And now they must tiptoe towards getting to know each other. They are attracted to each other - but they fight. They live together, but as friends and in different rooms. They seem to want the same things, but also seem to have very little in common. So are they really made for each other? Are they actually compatible? After all, if a relationship is what happens when you're busy not thinking about it - then what does it mean when everything has to be such a "decision?"
There are more effective ways to get to know a potential spouse than living together. You can start by asking yourself whether you’re ready to make an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. Take time to consider whether you and your potential partner have physical attraction, friendship, common interests, companionship, and share similar values. Ask yourself if you are willing to put another person’s interests and needs above your own. Seek the counsel of other people, especially those who are happily married.

So, stop, take a deep breath, and think before you plunge into the muddy puddles of this complicated adjustment. Whatever decision we make, we have to carefully consider all of our options and make sure that cohabitation is for us and we are ready to take the full responsibility of the possible consequences.

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