In recent times, there has been a shift in society from dating to cohabitation before marriage. Today a staggering 7.5 million unmarried couples live together. Contrast that to about 450,000 in 1960. The vast majority of young adults in their 20s will have lived with a romantic partner at least once before marriage. Moreover, more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This trend can be attributed to changing values and morals, the availability of birth control, and the option of sharing the responsibility for bills. When talking to the 20-something crowd, you find that cohabiting can even be a preventative measure against disease.
In 2001, the National Marriage Project conducted a nationwide survey about cohabitation. Nearly half of those in their 20s agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds of respondents said they believed that living together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.
This mindset is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage tend to make less of a commitment, are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Negative outcomes like these are called the “cohabitation effect”. Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to the idea that couples were less conventional about marriage and more open to divorce. Factors such as religion, education, or politics can also affect cohabitation and ultimately marriage.
Now that cohabitation has become the norm, we are finding out that part of the problem may be in cohabitation itself. More couples are gradually falling into cohabitation by spending more overnights together as opposed to making informed decisions based on the relationship. Researchers call this “sliding, not deciding.”
When asked, researchers found out that women viewed cohabitation as a step toward marriage. On the contrary, men saw it as a way to test a relationship or postpone a commitment. This difference in perspective leads to a lower level of commitment even after the marriage. Couples agree that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.
While it might be fun and economical to live together, some wish they did not have spent years on a relationship that would have lasted only months had they not been living together.
The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, as reported last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center discovered that almost two-thirds of Americans view cohabitation as a step toward marriage.
Most research indicates that couples who live together with differing levels of commitment and who use it as a test are more at risk for a poor relationship and eventually dissolution.
Whether we agree or disagree, it appears that cohabitation is here to stay, but couples can take measures to protect themselves from the cohabitation effect. Communication is vital in any relationship. Therefore it is wise to discuss motivation and commitment beforehand. By doing this, couples can take control of the relationship as opposed to simply reacting to circumstances. Call us at 314-963-4700 or at St. Louis Attorneys for Unmarried Couples.
Source: The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage, The New York Times