For better or worse, cohabitation is becoming an increasingly common choice in the world today. What does it mean to cohabit? Oxford Dictionary defines cohabitation as the act of living together and having a sexual relationship without being married. Between 1974 and 1994, the percentage of couples who cohabitated before marriage increased from 10 percent to 56 percent. In the mid-1990s a national sample revealed that nearly 60 percent of high school students believe that living together before marriage is a good idea. Numbers have only increased since then. A study published by the CDC revealed that between 2006 and 2010 nearly half of all women cohabitated before they married.
How Cohabitation Impacts Relationships
Many couples begin cohabiting as a “trial marriage”. They want to see how things are going to work before they actually commit to a real marriage. They live together out of convenience and fear that an actual marriage will not last. Overall, cohabitors have a less traditional view on life than do those who marry. They value their independence and cherish the option to easily leave a relationship if things get too difficult to manage.
Researcher Jeffry H. Larson states, “…cohabitors are more likely than noncohabitors to have negative attitudes about marriage and are more likely to accept divorce as a solution to marriage problems.” Even if the cohabiting couple does decide to marry, that marriage is more likely to end in divorce. This research discusses how the lack of mutual obligations and relationship security decrease the satisfaction of cohabiting couples in comparison to married couples. They are also more likely to experience conflict and breakdown more often.
The relationship formed by the cohabiting couple is not the only one that is impacted. Although cohabiting is no longer considered a “sin,” many parents still view it as morally wrong. This leads to conflict within the family. When couples choose to cohabit, they run the risk of permanently damaging the relationship that they have with their parents and even siblings. Due to the damaged relationship, the cohabiting couple loses the outside support that they once had from extended family.
How Cohabitation Impacts Children
As cohabitors decide to stay together without getting married, it is more likely that they will have children out of wedlock. A 2002 study revealed that, “In Canada, over 530,000 cohabiting-couple households, totaling 46% of non-marital unions, include at least one child”. Choosing to have a child out of wedlock may harm the child’s development. The child is at risk of internalizing their feelings and become depressed, or may externalize their feelings and become aggressive.
In this same study it was found that children living in a home with a cohabitating couple tend to have worse behavioral outcomes than those living with married couples. Why is this? The children do not have the example they need from a committed marriage relationship and have more trouble forming bonds with the parents. The child may feel less connected and therefore try to find ways get attention that may not be the ideal. The child may also have trouble dealing with transitions that come with a cohabitating couple and don’t have that stable environment and therefore, may act out.
Why Marriage Is The Better Choice
A recent article covered many great benefits of marriage; the following are just a few of them. Married couples are better off financially. When married, most couples view their income and expenditures as “this is our money” and most make all financial decisions and commitments together. They work as a team to meet their financial goals, rather than working on their own to meet their own financial needs as most cohabiting couples do. Married couples seem to be more committed for the long run relationship. They work hard to stay together and view their relationship as long term. Those who cohabit have more of a view towards being committed to the relationship as long as their individual wants and needs are being met. It has also been proven that married couples have better sex lives. There is a certain level of security and commitment that comes with marriage that makes a sex life much more meaningful and enjoyable.
Marriage and family have always been the building blocks of society. Without them, our communities crumble. If we want our society to be strong and stable, we must lead by example and teach our children the value of having a good marriage and raising a family. If we, as communities, continue to normalize and give the stamp of approval to cohabitation, we will hinder the growth of our children and negatively impact our future societies.
Ashley Barber and Whitney Mackley are both seniors attending Brigham Young University – Idaho, majoring in Marriage and Family Studies.