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Agression, Violence & Abuse   ::   Mental Health   ::   Alcohol & Drug   ::   Living Together  ::   Resources

Living Together Before Marriage - Cohabitation

"Cohabiting unions tend to weaken the institution of marriage and pose clear and present dangers to women and children."
- David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

Discussion: Prevalence of Cohabitation

For a variety of reasons, many more couples are living together prior to getting married or instead of getting married than in the past. Couples may have seen and experienced the pain of their parents divorce, and they are trying to avoid that in their own lives. Couples may believe that this is a good way to enjoy some of the benefits of marriage without incurring as much of a risk (e.g., potential divorce). Couples may also believe that cohabiting is a great way to share expenses while learning about their partner and weighing the potential for a long-term relationship in marriage.

Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that nearly 5 million unmarried couples live together. Researchers also estimate that more than half of all couples marrying today have already lived together. Although many people believe that living together before getting married is a good training ground for marriage, much research suggests that just the opposite is true.

Discussion: Cohabiting Is a Risky Business

Research indicates that in most cases, cohabiting does not appear to be in anyone's best interest and that it is a poor substitute for non-cohabiting engagement or serious dating. Many scholars believe that cohabitation is problematic because it emphasizes and formalizes the lack of commitment in a relationship. Couples then attempt, or are forced, to work through many of the hardest transitions in romantic relationships without the level of commitment necessary to see them through.

One scholar explains the phenomenon of cohabiting as buying something from a store that you are not sure you will really like, but you buy it anyway because you know you can return it if you do not like it. Marriage is more like buying a product from a store with a no-return policy. If you can't take it back, you will be less likely to rush the decision to buy, and if you do buy it, you will be more committed to your decision.

The following list will highlight some of the research findings of David Popenoe, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Linda Waite, and Maggie Gallagher, some of the foremost experts on cohabiting relationships.

  • Cohabiting prior to marriage increases the risk of divorce after marriage.
  • Cohabiting prior to marriage increases the risk of domestic violence for women and children.
  • Children living with a cohabiting couple have poorer emotional development than children living with a married couple.
  • Cohabiting couples have lower levels of happiness and wellbeing than married couples.
  • Cohabiting couples are more likely to be unfaithful than married couples.
  • Cohabiting couples have less support from family, friends, and society than married couples.
  • Cohabiting couples are less likely than married couples to support one another financially.
  • Cohabiting couples have much lower levels of household income than married couples.

Discussion: Should We Live Together?

Since cohabiting is probably here to stay, even though research reveals there are drawbacks of doing so, David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead offer four ideas for couples to consider prior to making a decision to live together.

  • Consider not cohabiting at all prior to marriage - Research indicates that cohabiting prior to marriage does more harm than good in terms of a couple's long-term potential for having a successful relationship.
  • If you do decide to cohabit, don't make it a habit - Serial cohabitation (moving from one live in partner to the next) only increases your chances of experiencing the negative effects of cohabitation. You will not learn to have better relationships from multiple failed relationships.
  • If you do decide to cohabit, limit the length of time you cohabit - The longer you live with someone without marrying them, the less committed your relationship will be.
  • Don't cohabit if children are involved - Children deserve to live in a stable home with committed parents (whether biological or adoptive). Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriage and increase the likelihood of the child being abused.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 07). Things to Watch Out For. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/Family__Consumer____Human_Development/Marriage___Family_Relationships/Things_to_Watch_Out_For_5.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License