Talking commitment: Upcoming Hinckley Lecture on cohabitation, commitment and marriage

Cohabitation is not an issue at BYU.

In fact, as well-educated, religious and generally economically-sound individuals, students at BYU are among the least likely to cohabitate before marriage.

But BYU students and couples are just as susceptible as anyone to experience the negative trends and effects of cohabitation on familial outcomes by avoiding commitment and relationship decisions.

At the 15th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Scott Stanley, research professor and co-director of the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies, will expound on how relationships form, how commitment develops and the dangers couples face by “sliding” through potentially life-altering relationship transitions and decision making as opposed to discussing and deciding on a future.

Dr. Stanley’s lecture “Sliding vs. Deciding: Cohabitation, Commitment, and the Future of Marriage” will be held on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall.

Sliding: The non-decision

Talking about your relationship—especially the future of it—can be hard. But the repercussions of not having critical conversations and making relationship decisions are much harder.

“Sliding,” or moving to the next stage in a relationship without discussing the consequences and making a definitive decision and commitment to the future of the relationship, can be seen in relationships at every stage.

 “The people we’ve identified that are at greatest risk [of marital stress] are people who have decided to live together [or move forward in their relationship] before they’ve decided as a couple that they want a future together,” says Dr. Stanley.

Individuals who are not cohabitating face similar risk when they likewise forego crucial clarifying conversations and decision making. In the process of creating relationship ambiguity, couples, in Dr. Stanley’s words, “increase the inertia for their relationship to continue before talking clearly about whether they’re on the same page and where they’re going.”

Following trends and giving up choices

The combination of relationship inertia developing before a couple’s commitment has matured and the cultural trend of individuals preferring ambiguity results in individuals bypassing relationship steps and stages, and in the process, giving up future options.

“People don’t want to be clear,” says Dr. Stanley. “They don’t want clear [relationship] steps and stages because they don’t want to give up any options too soon. Ironically, that’s exactly what happens when they’re sliding through these stages. They’re giving up options before they make a choice.”

With societal trends questioning marriage as an essential life stage, individuals find themselves in situations that they never actually decide on because they bypass the stages and opportunities to make clear decisions for their futures.

Recognizing—and taking—proper steps

According to Dr. Stanley, commitment forms strongest when there are a set of steps and stages that couples move through.

Marriage not only acts as a signifier of higher commitment between two individuals, but it also acts as a major life-orienting step where individuals can make choices that influence their future lives and families.  

“People slide through potentially life-altering relationship transitions now without necessarily seeing what the consequences might be in terms of their future options, [relationship] stability, marriage and family,” says Dr. Stanley.

Recognizing—and taking—these steps and stages throughout a relationship are essential to establishing the commitment that creates the formation and foundation of sound, stable marriages, families and communities.

Regardless of a couple’s living situation, communication and commitment to a couple’s future need to be made before wedding invitations are sent or closets are merged.

Learn about commitment and the dangers couples face by “sliding” through relationship transitions at the 15th Annual Hinckley Lecture with Dr. Scott Stanley on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall. Admission is free to the public.