The Worst That Could Happen… to Who Exactly?

The Worst That Could Happen? To Who Exactly?

Normally I am a fan of songwriter Jimmy Webb. He gave us such fantastic songs like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the somewhat incomprehensible “MacArthur Park” and many others. But around the same time he wrote those classics, he wrote a real stinker from a social science perspective; “The Worst that Could Happen.”

Maybe you remember it?

The Worst That Could Happen

 Girl, I heard you’re getting married
I heard you’re getting married
This time you’re really sure
And this is the end

They say you really mean it
This guy’s the one that makes you feel
So safe, so sane and so secure

And baby if he loves you more than me
And baby if he loves you more than me
Maybe it’s the best thing

Maybe it’s the best thing for you
But it’s the worst that could happen to me.

I’m never gettin’ married, never gettin’ married
You know that’s not my scene
But a girl like you needs to be married
I’ve known all along you couldn’t live forever
in between.

And baby if he loves you more than me
And baby if he loves you more than me
Maybe it’s the best thing
Maybe it’s the best thing for you
But it’s the worst that could happen to me.

And girl I don’t really blame you
For having a dream of your own
Hey, girl, I don’t really blame you
A woman like you needs a house and a home.

Baby if he really loves you more than me
Maybe it’s the best thing
Maybe it’s the best thing for you
But it’s the worst that could happen to me.

Oh girl don’t wanna get married
Girl I’m never, never gonna marry
Oh it’s the worst thing that could happen
Oh, girl…..

Lack of Commitment is Only a Part of The Story

Well, according to research we probably know a lot more about this guy that the song isn’t telling us. Most likely, he was a mediocre student in high school and had a tendency to get into trouble on a regular basis. He’s probably had a few DUI’s and has been less than faithful to his girl. In fact, “the worst that could happen” would be if the girl in question coerced our hero into marriage. He’s gotta be in it to win it.

Social scientists were shocked to find that there are real and profound differences between long-term married couples and those who are merely cohabitating long-term.  A recent study by Pepper Schwartz and Philip Blumstein studied over 12,000 straight and gay cohabitating couples and compared them to married couples. They reasonably figured that long-term cohabitators would be pretty similar to long-term married couples.

Boy, were they surprised!

The worst that could happen

Married Men Live an average of 8 years Longer

Even US law cuts cohabitators social slack. If you can hang in there for seven years, you are more or less married in the eyes of the law. This research proved the exact opposite.

The longer a couple cohabits, the less they look like married couples!

Safe Sane and Secure? Not!

Cohabitating couples are less likely to have each other’s back in times of financial stress, and less likely to be faithful during the relationship. They were also more likely to “better deal” their partner and leave for a more attractive relationship.

What is especially sad was the finding that cohabitating men were less liable to stick around during any sort of tough times. As a whole, these men tended not to have their partner’s back. The research is not an indictment of all cohabitating couples. Just the long-term ones. Couples who are long-term cohabitators are not similar to couples who have been married for the same length of time. Now I realize it’s not exactly politically correct to emphasize the word “marriage.” The word “relationship” offends fewer people these days.

But please don’t understand me too quickly. I’m not saying that married couples are morally superior to cohabitators. However, this is a massive study that was very well designed. It produced a startling and sobering set of facts that may be hard to accept.

Even as cohabitation has become normalized, researchers have bestowed little curiosity about the consequences for its subsequent impact on the union. Cohabitation has become widespread across all social classes (). Yet its increase has been greatest among those with a high school degree or some college.

Between 1987 and 2002, the percentage of women with a high school degree who had ever cohabited increased 115%; among women with some college schooling (but no degree) the proportion grew by 93%. Growth in cohabitation among college-educated women was considerably less, only 45% ().

Class differences in transitions from cohabitation to marriage also appear to be widening, with living together more likely to serve as a springboard to marriage for non-poor women than for those who are disadvantaged ().

What Does This Research Mean?

The findings from this study have implications for practitioners and researchers. Even though “common sense” suggests that those who live together are at least considering marriage, research demonstrates that many partners had not discussed future plans at the time they started living together.

Furthermore, the wolf is not far from the door for many of these couples.

Many study subjects report the importance of financial necessity or convenience. Economic drivers may make strange bedfellows. Relational security may be tenuous, and the future is uncertain.

Researchers went as far as saying that Couples Therapists should be aware of these findings and use caution in encouraging greater formalization of such unions, given research suggesting that such relationships are more volatile, with one partner often expressing low levels of commitment ().

Moreover, ongoing counseling regarding fiscal management, family planning, and relationship skills courses may be necessary to provide such couples with the skills necessary to maintain healthy relationships ().

Essentially long-term cohabitators lack two fundamental qualities that married couples demonstrably possess: Commitment and Long Term Thinking..

Baby.…If He Loves You More Than Me……

Well, I don’t know about that, but he’s certainly in it to win it.

It might be the worst that can happen for you.. but trust me, chances are you’ll probably get over it soon enough.

Long-Term Cohabitating Men like our Hero Need a House and a Home Too!

Living “in between” is bad for our hero’s health too. Committed men like the guy she will marry live an average of eight years longer than uncommitted men.

Gottman cites this compelling research, and advises men that a strong, committed relationship with an intimate partner is, as he puts it “the best form of self-interest.”

So if getting married “is not your scene” give it another look. If you’re too legit to quit… why not commit?

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About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.

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