April 19, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The belief that living together before marriage helps to avoid divorce is “contradicted by experience,” says a New York Times Op-Ed by clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, published this past Saturday.

Jay, a specialist in young adult development, professes to be “neither for or against” cohabitation, but offers a searing critique of the practice, which she says is becoming “a norm” among young adults. According to her article, the phenomenon has increased by more than 1500% since 1960, when there were about 450,000 unmarried couples living together. There are now over 7.5 million such couples.

Recent studies have indicated that there is a causal relationship between the rise in divorce that has accompanied the rise in cohabitation, says Jay. In the past, she notes, some researchers have rejected the suggestion that cohabiting can actually cause divorce, attributing the correlation between the two to “selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce.”

Drawing from research and from her own experience working with young adults, Jay argues that there is actually something internal to the practice of living together that can put a future marriage on shaky grounds.

The decision to live together is often one that couples “slide” into simply because it is economical or convenient, she says. After moving in, they feel “locked in” because of all the entanglements of living together, such as co-ownership of furniture or pets, which can in turn lead to a mentality of sliding unreflectively into marriage.

Jay cites the situation of one her clients, a 32-year-old woman she calls “Jennifer,” who lived together with her boyfriend for four years, married him, and was looking for a divorce lawyer less than a year later.

“I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” Jennifer had told Jay. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

“I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together,” Jay writes. “Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love.”

Studies have also revealed that men and women tend to go into a cohabiting situation with different mentalities, she notes, with women seeing it as a “step towards marriage” and men often viewing it as “a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment.”

“This gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage,” she says.