Sherri was shaken. She was living with her fiancé and planning their wedding and had just learned that her best friend had filed for divorce. Sherri said, "I was in her wedding party just a year ago. Everything was wonderful when they lived together. They were together for 5 years before they decided to get married. Things started going downhill right after the wedding. We've been living together for 3 years. Now I'm scared that we won't make it either!"
There's a good reason for Sherri to be worried. Fortunately, addressing her worries now, before she gets married, will increase her chances for creating a successful marriage. Living together before marriage is certainly no guarantee that a marriage will last. In fact, couples who live together before marriage divorce at about the same rate as all couples who marry. What Women Wish They'd Known Before Marriage
Writing about The Downside of Cohabitating before Marriage in the New York Times, Meg Jay suggests that sliding into living together before a couple is committed to marriage increases the likelihood that the marriage won't last. Jay believes this convenient arrangement gives couples a false sense of security so that they never really discuss the complex issues they'll have to face in marriage.
I believe there's another important reason that marriages of people who've been living together for a long time get into trouble. We each carry a set of unexamined personal rules about what a marriage is supposed to be like and how married people are supposed to behave. When you're just living together, you have no reason to worry about those rules. When you marry, the rules are activated.
We learned these rules as children by watching our own parents and the parents of our friends. We also learned them from the movies and TV programs we watched and from the books and magazines we read. These rules may or may not be helpful. In any case, you probably don't know what they are. How Laughter Can Save Your Marriage
If you are fortunate enough to have parents who modeled how to behave in a successful marriage then your rules will probably help you create one too. This will work well if your husband also had successful role models. However, since so much media portrays very unrealistic pictures of what relationships are like, you each probably carry negative role models as well.
Another problem with these unexamined personal rules is that you and your husband each have your own unique set of rules because all families are different. You'll each tend to think that your rules are right and your partner's rules are wrong.
Women whom I asked what they wish they had known before they were married often told me that they wish they'd known more about their husband's families and values before saying "I do." These women share their advice in my new book, 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Saying I Do. Why Marriage Doesn't Always Equal Happily Ever After