By Deanne Ririe
Shacking up was a term for cohabitation used in the 1940s. Over the years the expression has evolved to living together, sleeping together, moving in together, or hooking up. They are different expressions that mean the same thing; two unmarried people who are living together and having a sexual relationship. Although not widely accepted in the ’40s, cohabitation today is accepted and is the current trend in the United States. In America today, 7.5 million unmarried couples are cohabitating.
Most marriages are preceded by cohabitation, but not all cohabitating couples get married. In the early 1980s, only 41% of marriages were preceded by cohabitation, and by 2009, 66% of cohabitating couples transitioned into marriage. When we look at these numbers, it seems that cohabitation is strongly linked to marriage, but the reality is that marriage has become more selective and rarer during the transition to adulthood, whereas cohabitation has not.
Cohabitation often starts as a test drive for marriage. Couples want to see if they are compatible before they commit to marriage. “While cohabitating couples often marry
at some point, cohabitations frequently dissolve within five years or much less time.” The “Journal of Marriage and Family” studied what they call the “premarital cohabitation effect” and found that “two people who live together before getting married are more likely to struggle during their marriage.” In their effort to strengthen their relationship, cohabitation essentially destroys the connection by creating instability and insecurity in the relationship.
If the couple is cohabitating, they will likely have children out of wedlock. “Cohabitation fosters enough intimacy to facilitate childbearing but not enough commitment to make people deliberate about their choices to become parents. The result, an unplanned birth, can pose real problems to their relationship and to their future odds of successfully marrying.”
Studies have also shown that children of cohabitating couples are at higher risk of depression, aggression, and other behavioral problems, as wells as child abuse. The rise in cohabitation in this country increases family instability and is generating a society of children with emotional, social, physical, and behavioral problems. President John F. Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resources and its best hope for the future.” What are we doing to protect our resources and our hope for the future?
Sliding into relationships
Jennifer shared her experience with cohabitation:
“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time, we liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision, but if it did not work out, there was a quick exit.”
Couples who cohabitate are at higher risk of breaking up. Besides the apparent emotional rollercoaster that breaking up creates, it is quite often a couple when they decided to live together did not think ahead, and they fall or slide into the relationship without considering or deciding what the outcome will be.
Sliding into the relationship is often easier than sliding out. One study concluded that “premarital cohabitation has short-term benefits and longer-term cost for marital stability.” This can create economic and emotional trials for the individual. “Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later.” Feeling stuck, Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her.
“I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up.”
The wider effect of cohabitation
We are not an island; the actions of others in our society affect us all. With the upsurge of cohabitation, there is the prospect of poverty, instability, abuse, a risk to children (physically, emotionally, and behaviorally), and an increase of abortions.
Protecting our future generations should be our highest concern.
As parents, teachers, and leaders of our children, we need first need to lead by example. Adults need to be role models and provide the scaffolding of a good marriage and raising a family. Our children also need to be educated about the dangers of cohabitation so that they understand the consequences of their choices. We need to take an active role in educating our policymakers on the importance of family. They need to be more committed to strengthening the family and protecting the institution of marriage.
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, stated that “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” We can make a difference when it comes to protecting marriage and family by exposing the fallacy of cohabitation as a prelude to marriage.
Deanne Ririe is a student at Brigham Young University Idaho majoring in Marriage & Family Studies. After graduation in 2020, she hopes to acquire a position working with children. She and her husband reside on the Central Coast of California and have been married for 36 years. They have six children and twelve grandchildren.