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Cohabitation: Good or Bad?

Cohabitation has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. In the 60’s and 70’s very few couples lived together before marriage. Today, research indicates that more than 60 percent of couples cohabit before marrying in spite of numerous studies from institutions across the country that found that couples who cohabit prior to marriage are at significantly increased risk for divorce.

A piece appearing in the New York Times in April 2012 discussed the downside of cohabitation, stating that couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called “the cohabitation effect.”

A previous article published in the March 2012 Christian Science Monitor touted new research that was part of a Centers for Disease Control survey of 22,000 men and women on marriage and divorce and what makes a good marriage that suggested times have changed from the days when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later. Lead author of the study, Casey Copen, said that cohabitation is not playing as big a role in predicting divorce as it used to.

So does cohabitation harm your chances of getting married? Does it increase the risk of divorce?

“I would tell people to hit the pause button before they run out and encourage friends to start shacking up,” says Glenn Stanton, author of The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage. “There is a wealth of data that suggests that the significant negative impact of cohabiting has not disappeared into the ozone.”

Stanton points out that the study referenced in the Christian Science Monitor was not a study on cohabitation, but an examination of first marriages in the United States.

“This is only one study in a long, impressive and robust body of research showing that cohabitation is generally shown to be associated with greater divorce risk in marriage,” Stanton says. “In fact, the study actually acknowledges that it has been well-documented that women and men who cohabit with their future spouse are more likely to divorce compared with the non-cohabiting marrieds.”

Stanton cites one study that found the negative impact on cohabitation upon both marital quality and marital longevity did not wane as cohabitation has become more socially acceptable.

Like many other things that have become more socially acceptable through the years, this begs the question – does the fact that cohabitation has become more socially acceptable mean it is a good thing for people to do prior to marriage?

Smoking cigarettes was not only socially acceptable; it was the cool thing to do for years. Then research revealed that smoking, even second hand smoke causes lung cancer. While not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer, the risk was great enough to make people think twice.

If a lifelong, healthy marriage is your goal, there is enough evidence to support that living together before marriage may put your relationship at risk.

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