Sliding vs. Deciding

How Cohabitation Changes Marriage My colleague Scott Stanley and I put out a report in the summer of 2014 that was called “Before I Do,” sponsored by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia; that report is the foundation for this article.[1] A generation or two ago, people formed relationships and made commitments differently than they do now. We were interested in looking at the ways dating and commitment sequences have changed over the years, and how those sequences might be related to later marital quality. One of the perspectives Scott Stanley and I have been working on is what we call “sliding versus deciding.” This concept refers, in part, to the number of choices young people have today. This variety of choices might be one of the biggest differences between dating today and dating a generation or two ago; now people have many more options, not just in the partners that they choose, but also in the paths that might or might not lead them to marriage. Our general premise is that we can expect better outcomes if people make conscious decisions rather than sliding into new circumstances. “Sliding versus deciding” summarizes the distinction between “dedication” and “constraint” commitment. “Commitment” usually implies the idea of a relationship having a long-term future, and that is what we call “dedication.” It is a sense that the couple is working together as a team; there is the expectation of a future together and of planning for the future. The flip side of dedication commitment is “constraint” commitment. Constraint commitment comes from things that build up and make it harder to leave the relationship. Some examples of constraints are buying a home together, having a child together (that one does not happen to be predictive of whether or not couples stay together if they are unmarried, interestingly), or adopting a pet together—things that might make it harder to end a relationship regardless o
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