Cohabitation or Marriage: A Scandinavian Perspective

When listing your civil status in Sweden, official applications have 3 boxes: unmarried, married, and sambo. Sambo, or samboförhållanden, means cohabitation or living together as an unmarried couple. If being a sambo means basically being given the same rights as a married couple, what would motivate a sambo couple to marry? When investigating commitment and relationships, is cohabitation or marriage better?

The topic of cohabitation or marriage is a sensitive one. I personally come from a more traditional Christian American upbringing. Marriage was always to come before sex and cohabitation was a strict no-no. On the other hand, there are many who believe living together before marriage is a wise decision. When deciding if cohabitation or marriage is for you, we must also take into account cultural backgrounds.

Upon announcing my engagement to my American friends and family, two questions ensued: “How did he propose?” and “When is the date?” The proposal was casual. Given our long distance relationship, we had openly discussed all options. As far as a calendar date goes, after having been engaged for one year now, we still don’t have one. In America, the usual pattern goes as so: get engaged, spend a year or so of stressful and whimsical wedding planning, start married life. Thus, I understand why to many of my American compatriots that us still not being married is somewhat against the grain.

Cohabitation Marriage scandinavia lifestyle relationships

Indeed a controversial question: does commitment mean any less if you cohabitated prior to marriage?

You will find in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, that cohabitation is a normal part of life. Gay marriage and visas for partnership are commonly accepted, and approximately 50% of all children are born into families of unmarried couples. Many married couples I have met in Sweden have done it the “Swedish way”. This means they were sambo couples who lived together for many years before deciding to marry. For example, my boyfriend’s parents lived together for 15 years and had two kids before they decided to wed. His mom told me they decided to finally marry because they wanted a celebration, as well as secure a future for their kids. For them, nothing changed in love or commitment before or after marriage.

Cohabitation Marriage swedish lifestyle relationships

When couples in Sweden say they did it “the Swedish way” they are often referring to cohabitation and kids before marriage.

Gender is also a factor when investigating commitment. Supposedly, women and men often start living together for different reasons. Women tend to agree to live together because they think it will lead to marriage. While men may cohabitate as a way of delaying commitment. I cannot speak for both sexes, but I do not feel commitment is our fear nor do I believe cohabitation before marriage means the relationship is doomed. I also think the whole concept has sort of evolved. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard from those belonging to other cultures, the ones that often marry within a year or less of engagement, that everything changes after marriage. It is frequently in the form of people learning things about their partner they wished they had known prior. Things they would have known had they cohabited, such as hygiene and habits.

Cohabitation or Marriage

Regardless of marriage or not, children are happier when the parent’s relationship is stable.

If you are thinking of getting marriage because you want kids, note this: children tend to be happier and healthier the more stable the union is of the parents. The stability of a union is not necessarily defined by paperwork. Bottom line: a document will not define the love, compromise, and hard work needed for a successful relationship. Commitment in relationships is about honesty, effort, and not walking away when the going gets tough. Some might tell me, ‘If you love each other, why not get married?’ I have nothing against marriage, and my plan is to eventually get married to my partner—we just don’t have a deadline. The reasons behind us waiting have been financial and trying to get settled (I did recently move to a new country to be with my boyfriend after all). This all being said, we have made a promise to each other and we are committed. In a case for commitment, I cannot really say if marriage without cohabitation means greater success or failure, but both seem to be working in Scandinavia. Whatever your stance, commitment in relationships is a big deal and be it cohabitation or marriage, both should not be taken lightly.

Images from hereherehere

Tiffany Lee
25 Sep 2014

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