Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Swedish Sambo

DCP is was my sambo. It’s an interesting concept here in Sweden that has its own term attached to it. If you’re living with your girlfriend or boyfriend but aren’t married you are sambo. Sam being short for samman, together, and bo being short for boende, accommodation. So you live together. Makes sense right?

There is also särbo. Separate living. The Swedes have it all. These are people who might be in a relationship but don’t necessarily live together. The term gives a little bit more seriousness than to your average high school couple though.

The fact that Swedes give terms to these different styles of a relationship is very interesting to me. Some people even forego marriage and instead live as sambo, deciding never to take that plunge, while others, as DCP’s father may say, practice catch and release sambo living, and switch it up every year or so.

This is something that you just don’t see categorized to the same extent in the US. It just seems so different to me. Granted, couples throughout the United States live together before being married, some live together without ever marrying in the first place, and others have incredibly committed and serious relationships without ever living together. But given the discussions in the US about the sanctity of marriage and all that goes with what some would call the perfect holy union I just don’t see these relationships being acknowledged so openly as to give them official names. Hell, some people still have a problem with couples living together before they are married, to say nothing about giving this living together a specific name. And that’s too bad.

Personally, I’m all for it. Obviously. But I think it’s a good idea to test things out. Some people just can’t live together. Happens with roommates in college all the time, happens with relationships too. So why not give it a shot? The prevailing attitude in the US against living together often seems to be religious based. So that excludes me for sure. And maybe that’s why the Swedes have such little problem with living in sin outside of marriage. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Sweden isn’t exactly a bastion of religious fervor.

Of course, all this being said, Sweden is considered to be the divorce capital of the world. So either this whole sambo thing just doesn’t work. Or there is something else at work here. Maybe the numbers are skewed because there are so many people in sambo relationships that work out so well they never feel the need to marry and thus never move on to divorce. Seeing as marriage tends to be a very important first step towards getting divorced.

I actually read a very interesting article about the Swedish divorce phenomenon and the sociological aspects as related to the Swedish way of life. I’m going to try to dig that up and write a post on that in the next day or two.

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  1. I'm either too old to remember why people actually marry or I've lived on top of a rock for too long. Särbo is my kind of life. Even if I rarely visit my own home.

  2. With articles like this, who needs insightful comments! A nice study here.

  3. It is interesting to see how views on marriage change from generation to generation and country to country.

  4. It's a relationship phase in the blogging front now. First Mogli's commitments, then your sambos and now I did a long postponed post on 6th commandment!

  5. whos next? me?
    i dont know if i can be bothered to blog about such too lazy, probably coz im american...hehehe

  6. C'mon, Mrs cecrux! Join the fun! LOL. Why not write about inter-cultural marriage, which you are in?

    Regarding this entry, I must say that marriage is also a very delicate topic back home, being a pre-dominantly catholic country. I admire the Swedes for recognizing the rights of two people building a family together whether they are sambo or särbo. I also find it comforting to know that (most) Swedes are not judgmental when it comes to relationships. I mean you don't get stigmatized in the society just because you build a family with someone without getting married.

  7. @smek this - It's true. Mogli got the ball rolling I think!

    @Mrs. CeCrux - Seriously. You are lazy. Like all Americans. At least they don't divorce as much as the Swedes! Too much work.

    @mogli - I am alaways amazed by the influence of religion on certain aspects of life. Especially marriage. Unfortunately, something that is supposed to be such an amazing institute is so often extremely prejudiced and judgmental.

  8. ahhhhhh for gods sake.. you mean i have to get off my lazy ass and post now? if you insist!

    and hairy..i cant be too lazy because i am once mogli i am in an inter-cultural marriage now...ill make a post right now on my thoughts on all this.

  9. Ha! I've been involved in the catch-and-release sort of sambo relationship. That is not very fun when you are first figuring it out.

  10. yeah the whole serious relationship thing is intense. A whole lot of stuff to figure out!

  11. totally worth it once you find the right person and figure it all out! Need to make the committment to make it "stick" though!

  12. a good point. but I think that probably goes for any long term relationship whether it be marriage or a sambo relationship

  13. The divorce rates in the USA are almost the same, please look up your facts and don't sound so good damn dramtic or smug even about things you clearly don't understand.
    And who says high divorce rates are something bad? Should people continue living with each other even though they are unhappy? Hell no.
    If my parents weren't happy together I'd personally encourage them to divorce. Anything else would just be incredibly selfish and inmature.

  14. you're right. they are almost the same. strangely enough, this post had really very little to do with divorce. instead it was about the sambo phenomenon in Sweden.

    that being said, Sweden still has a higher rate. plus, that doesnt take into account all of the sambo relationships that dont work out.

    dont sound so dramatic and smug by trying to read into something I didn't write.

  15. I believe that the reason to why the divorce rate is so high in Sweden is because no one cares :)

    With that I mean the society, no one will accuse you if you want a divorce, it's not a "forbidden" thing to do in Sweden.

    And like Anonymous said, people over here think it's better to get a divorce instead of being unhappy.

    And just because it's so accepted, I think people rush to get married... to later realize that it wasn't such a good idea.

    It's sad though that Sweden have such a high divorce rate :(


  16. I think it is very good that people are willing to get a divorce rather than be unhappy, although it seems to me that people get married much later in life in Sweden than in the US. and I base that solely on my experiences and not a single shred of imperical evidence.

  17. The negative attitudes against cohabitation (sambo in Sweden) is not simply religious as you assume. Research has clearly shown that "testing out" does not typically give couples positive results. For example, those who have cohabited before their marriage have higher divorce rate than those who have not and those who has cohabited and never married have even higher separation rate (the word "separation" is used since they have never married). So, it is now widely recognized among scholars and researchers that cohabitation does not work as a method for "testing out" even though couples who are in such a relationship tends to believe it would work.

  18. Anonymous,

    You're missing an essential point: marriage, in Sweden, is considered by many to be religious.

    Also, your comment implies that separation is a bad thing. It can be a good thing and something that would need to happen rather than allow two people to remain unhappy. If a couple cohabitates and separates... what's wrong with that?

  19. @anonymous - that may be, but all those people who did test it out and then bailed before getting married were able to figure things out.

    @Jennifer - well said.

  20. 1) Divorce rate is a sad problem, regardless of country. Not because people shouldn't get divorced, but because many people shouldn't get married in the first place. Divorce is not just a challenge for a couple but the entire family, and the greatest effects are on children...

    2) Current divorce rates are about 50%, so maybe people are not a very good judge of long term compatibility, or there are far too many factors that are affecting the decision to get married. Maybe there is lacking education in the populous about what is needed for a marriage to survive. It is will established that cohabitation prior to commitment (eg. Marriage) does not predict the strength or longevity of that commitment. Simply, different strokes for different folks, but the data suggests that the resolve of the commitment is the primary determinant of successful long term relationships. Maybe people who choose not to cohabitate before marriage are generally more committed than couples that do?

    3) Marriage is just a word, and it has slightly different meaning and connotation (religious affiliation) for different cultures, but it is fundamentally different from Sambo in my opinion. Sambo does not imply any level of long term commitment, and marriage clearly does. Even though it fails frequently, the intent of the couple, and the societal implication is a "permanent" arrangement.

    4) I am not a person that feels the need to have a strict definition, "label" for every kind of relationship, and I don't intend to discuss terminology. I do think that people who Sombo as an alternative to a long term committed relationship "marriage" are missing out on one of the greatest types of relationships that someone can have. I believe that it is not for everyone, of course, but it is something worth striving for. It is good to be independent and strong, but there is something uniquely empowering, and fulfilling in a relationship that had the feeling of permanence. Marriage is fundamentally, a promise between two people to hang in there when the chips are down, just like the traditional sickness, and Health.

  21. What does "sambo" mean in regard to black people?
    jiu jitsu

    1. This is entirely unrelated to the derogatory term "sambo." In Swedish, it's a combination of "sam" (a prefix to "together," like samla - to gather - for one example, and "bo," to live. Apparently "sambo" referring to a black or mixed person comes from the Spanish / Lat-Am word "zambo."