Cohabitation Versus Marriage

Lisa May, Executive Director, Live the Life South Florida

Last month we explored the trend of Christian couples living together from a faith perspective.  We know what Jesus says about premarital sex…. it’s a big no; it’s a sin. The assumption is if you’re living together, you’re having sex. Let’s explore what the secular, academic communities research reveals versus what we choose or want to believe because it’s convenient and culturally accepted.

Cohabitation has been practiced for generations but for a variety of reasons. In colonial days ministers and officiates were less available, so couples formed homes and families without a legal declaration. This was the birth of common law marriage. In the 1960s, the sexual revolution birthed the free love movement with the opinion that a legal document was just a piece of paper, and that love itself would keep a couple together. Although naïve and idealistic, the young adults of the ’70s and ’80s embraced cohabitation, although they espoused marriage and family were still life goals. Sadly, the couples of the ’90s and the early decades of the 21st century adopt different reasons for cohabitating. Some are fear-based. Many of them are products of divorced homes, and their goal is prevention.

The Pew Research Center reports that American Millennials have the strongest desire to marry of any generation alive today. Most children of divorced parents will tell you it was excruciating, a defining event in their life, and some will say it was the end of their childhood. They want to get it right to the point they’re afraid to make the commitment without a trial run. Andrew Cherlin, author of The State of Marriage and the Family in America today reports that 62 percent believe living together is an excellent way to avoid divorce.  Others want a domestic relationship, but they haven’t found the person they are willing to make a legal and lifetime commitment too.

The Research Says:

  • Cohabitating couples compared to married couples have more disagreements and breakup five times more often than married couples.
  • Aggression is twice as common among cohabitators than married people. The most frequently reported relationship between domestic batterers and victims is cohabitating couples with the lowest being married couples.
  • Infidelity is twice as high for cohabitators than for married couples. The National Sex Survey found that live-in boyfriends are four times more likely than a husband to cheat and cohabiting women are eight times more likely than wives.
  • Married couples save and earn more than cohabiting couples.
  • Married men are more likely to help with household chores; eight more hours a week versus cohabiters.
  • Cohabitating couples compared to married couples are plagued by higher levels of sexual infidelity; they’re more violent and much less lasting.
  • Marriage makes a statement to everyone that you’re in a committed relationship. You become a legal member of a family.

Does Cohabitation Help Prevent Divorce?

No, this is where what young adults believe and what research from the scientific community is finding are as far apart as the east from the west. Data reveals that people who have cohabitated are 50-80 percent more likely to divorce than married couples who have never cohabited. Research from UCLA found that cohabiters experienced more difficulty in their marriages with adultery, alcohol, drugs and independence than couples who did not cohabit.

Professor Jay Teachman from Western Washington University noted that cohabitation increases the possibility of divorce by as much as 50 percent. He even calls cohabitation one of the more “robust predictors of marital dissolution.” Over 50 percent of cohabitating unions in the US, whether or not they are eventually legalized by marriage, end by separation within five years compared to roughly 20 percent for marriages with no history of cohabitating. Cohabiting relationships are five times more likely to dissolve than marriage, and when separated, cohabiters are only 33 percent as likely to reconcile. Cohabiters that live with a different partner and then marry face double the odds of divorce of those who cohabited without their spouse.

Cohabitation creates an environment where intimate, emotional, physical, and spiritual bonds are being made without the support and weight of commitment they require. Marriage provides the commitment and security that allows the relationship to thrive. Cohabitation is really: I’m not entirely sure about you, so I want to test drive first.

Glenn Stanton, the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family states, “Seldom is something believed so widely, but lacking any shred of evidence, than the belief that living together before marriage makes for better relationships. There is nothing so many couples do at their own hand, by their own consent, to so seriously harm their future marital prospects than to live together before marrying.”

Start Smart!

If you or someone you know are considering a long term commitment and are trying to decide whether or not to live together, enroll in Start Smart, a research-based premarital program offered by Live the Life South Florida for seriously dating or engaged couples.  For additional information, questions or concerns email LisaMay@livethelife.org

Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at LisaMay@livethelife.org or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308

Lisa May

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