As a young twenty-something I thought I had it all: an apartment in a hip part of town, a fun job, a cool dog, and a smart and charming live-in boyfriend. It didn’t occur to me that living together wasn’t just something my parents disapproved of: It was unhealthy.
As I’ve written before, it was heartbreaking to have completely given myself to this other person for all those years only to realize it was not mutual. I was all in, but there was some amount of withholding on his part that I was completely unaware of.
The sheer fact that we lived together made our relationship unhealthy. In hindsight, I think we would’ve ended our relationship sooner had our lives not been so intertwined. Making decisions based on what was best for me as an individual was almost impossible when we were cohabiting. Sharing an address makes it much harder to walk away, even if breaking up is what’s best.
We were living together, but made no promises to each other about the future. We also had no plan for what would happen when things got hard. Or when we disagreed. Or if life took us in different directions. It sounds naive now, but I never planned ahead because I never thought those things would occur.
The difference between marriage and living together is that marriage is not an open-ended arrangement. My husband and I signed up for a lifelong commitment to each other, not just a lease. We will have tough conversations when we’d rather go in different rooms and slam doors. We will go to counseling when we’d rather spend our time and money on something fun. We will apologize and seek forgiveness when we’d rather pretend it wasn’t that big of a deal.
It’s not that being married is easy and my husband and I always agree or want the same things from life. Far from it. But when things are hard, we know each of us will stick around and make the sacrifices to make it work. It is because our marriage is a commitment rather than an arrangement that we sacrifice even when we don’t feel like it. And it’s exactly those sacrifices that make our relationship strong.