The Pros & Cons of Cohabitation
Is cohabitation a good idea or a recipe for heartbreak?
Living together outside of marriage (cohabitation) is becoming increasingly more common. In fact, among young adults, cohabitation is up, and marriage is down.
Opinions On Cohabitation
According to PewResearch.org, among adults ages 18 to 44, 59% have lived with an unmarried partner at some point in their lives. It further reports that 69% of Americans believe cohabitation is acceptable even if a couple doesn’t plan to get married. Another 16% say it’s acceptable, but only if the couple plans to marry. Only 14% say it’s never acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together.
Why People Live Together Before Marriage
Here’s the rationale for living together before marriage: it gives the couple a chance to get to know each other and work through common problems that typically threaten the relationship in the first year of marriage; plus, it’s considered cost-effective and helps a couple to decide if marriage is a good fit for them; it’s a trial run. Besides, breaking up is easier (and cheaper) than divorce.
But is that how it actually works in real life? Keep reading.
And The Research Says…
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in 2002 called Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States. They found that 41% of American women ages 15-44 have lived with a different-sex partner at some point.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2000 that the number of unmarried couples living together had increased by 72% between 1990 and 2000. That number was only 500,000 couples in the 1960s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It seems that people increasingly give cohabitation a test run to guarantee that they’ll be happy and satisfied after marriage. But according to pewresearch.org, married adults are likelier than those who are living with a partner to say things are going very well in their relationship (58% vs. 41%).
And according to an article published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, women ages 20 to 37 who had cohabitated were 3.3 times likelier to have an extramarital affair compared to those who hadn’t. And, women described a cohabitating relationship as more similar to a dating relationship than to a marriage.
Cohabitation: Reasons for Concern
Despite the strong opinions people have on cohabitation, many researchers believe that living together before marriage will actually weaken the marriage when a couple does get married. In a study at the University of Western Ontario, scientists found that Canadians who lived together before marriage were twice as likely to end their relationship in divorce than couples who didn’t cohabitate before marriage.
Disturbing results from another research study published by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead describe that cohabitating couples report lower levels of happiness, poorer relationships with their parents, higher depression and female physical and sexual abuse rates.
Interestingly cohabitating doesn’t always lead to marriage. Some research has found that after five to seven years, 21% of those who are cohabitating are still living together. In fact, one of the top 10 reasons men don’t marry after living with a woman is because they can simply live together and enjoy all of the same benefits.
Even more disturbing is that research on cohabitation consistently finds higher rates of domestic violence among cohabiting couples compared to married couples.
Test the Waters?
Perhaps a couple should give serious thought to whether it’s a good idea to test the water before tying the knot. If a healthy, happy, satisfying marriage is what they really want, there’s a good chance that cohabitating won’t give them the happily ever after they’re longing for.