Cohabitation: A Poor Substitute for Marriage and a Lousy Preparation

cohabitation-hands.jpgIt would be easy to simply criticize those who cohabit as making bad decisions or, worse, being bad people. Instead, I wonder what drives this recent trend in cultures around the world. I think a lot of young people are observing the unhappiness that exists in the marriages (and divorces) they know and are reacting against the institution because it doesn’t seem to work. They conclude (wrongly, I think) that marriage is just a piece of paper or that it has become an outmoded form of living.

Are those who chose to move in together simply giving the relationship a trial run to ensure that the marriage that follows will be lasting? Statistics show that this doesn’t seem to work. More than half of the marriages that originate with cohabiting couples end within five years.

Are they thinking that a relationship free of obligations or commitment will be stronger? Again, the facts say no. Half of cohabiting relationships end within one year. However, rather than judging these people, I wish we in the married community would work harder to create authentic harmony and deeply rooted stability so that we could be a model to follow.

I think if we would surrender ourselves to one another, keeping our focus on God’s design and purpose for marriage, reasonable people would ask “How can I build a good marriage like that?” rather than “How can I find relational fulfillment in some way other than marriage?”

There is wonderful resource of statistics and perspective on cohabitation that provides statistics as well as perspectives on this trend that amounts to a dead end street. The stated goal of the site is

“The goal of this web site is to help couples build strong quality relationships that will grow into marriages lasting a lifetime. Its purpose is to (1) detail the harmful effects of living together on the stability and satisfaction of relationships, in general, and marriage, specifically; and (2) suggest ways to help minimize these adverse effects in order to have a successful marriage.”

In addition, The Institute for the Study of Civil Society provides another good site with sensible perspectives on this and other related issues.

Smart Marriages just sent a UPI announcement of a recent study at Cornell showing that cohabitation is a poor preparation for marriage:

Consumer Health\UPI

ITHACA, N.Y., July 10 (UPI) — A U.S. study finds that one-half of all
cohabiting unions end within a year and 90 percent within five years and may
just be “an intense form of dating.”

Cohabitation is easily entered into but is unlikely to lead to the altar, especially for poor and minority women, according to researchers at Cornell University.

The study, published in Demography, reports the cohabitating unions end because couples break up. “The common view of cohabitation as a steppingstone to marriage needs to be seriously questioned,” said Daniel Lichter, professor of policy analysis and
management and director of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell.
“Instead, serial cohabitation may be an emerging norm as cohabiting unions
form and break up.”

If marriage promotion programs hope to target poor cohabiting women, our results seemingly suggest that the likelihood of success is not assured, according to Lichter.



5 Responses to Cohabitation: A Poor Substitute for Marriage and a Lousy Preparation

  1. […] Are these non-committal relationships successful? No. Let us look at the numbers (H/T: J. Lee Lagers, PhD Blog): […]

  2. Scott W says:

    You’ve really hit on a hot topic.

    There’s a growing trend today to see the failure of so many marriages as a categorical condemnation on the institution itself. Following the logical fallacy, if the institution is failed, all parts of the institution are wrong: the marriage certificate, church ceremony, white dress, vows, rings and the like must be meaningless.

    Those who following this thinking rightly argue that none of these prove commitment, but they wrongly conclude that they are consequently of no value. This is not a new argument, but only a retread of the legendary free love movement of the 60s and early 70s.

    Unfortunately, the cultural frailty of marriage has led many young people to see the institution only for its tradition and miss its value. True, none of the symbols accurately depict the love of one person for another, but with every commitment like rings, vows and papers, a person proves his or her our intendend commitment in the time of deep devotion, and hedges against backpedaling when things aren’t going so smoothly.

  3. I think that it is a very interesting and amusing article. Practically all its main points are true.

  4. I read your posts for a long time and should tell that your articles are always valuable to readers.

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