Published October 19, 2011First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes junior in a baby carriage. This familiar ditty describes a sequence of events that is increasingly rare. For many adults today, first comes love, then comes living together, and for the majority, a heartbreaking split that all too often involves children.
Cohabitation – a man and a woman living together outside of marriage – is increasing astronomically in Chattanooga and across the country. Almost one in four (23%) Hamilton County residents has cohabited.
Many people decide to live together before marriage to improve their chances of having a great marriage. Ironically, research shows just it has just the opposite effect. Cohabitation for those who go on to marry increases the chances of divorce, spousal abuse, and infidelity. For many cohabitation simply leads to a painful split. The simple fact is that cohabitation does not create stronger marriages.
Which brings us to the law of unintended consequences: Everything we do causes other things to happen, though that was not our intention. Although cohabitation is a personal choice, its impact extends beyond the two people living together.
All to often, the cohabiting couple brings children into the relationship – either children from earlier relationships or children they have together. Social scientists clearly demonstrate that an unintended consequence of dissolving families, with its impact on children, is a profound negative impact on the whole community with increased sexual abuse, drug use, crime, illiteracy, and out of wedlock pregnancies.
What happens to the adults?
University studies reveal that only 45 percent of couples who live together will eventually marry, and those who do marry have a 45 percent higher risk for divorce than people who have never lived together. Only 15 of every 100 of these couples will end up with a long-term successful marriage.
When cohabitants do marry they tend to be less committed to the long-term future of the relationship and are less reluctant to terminate it. Cohabitation increases the acceptance of divorce. In fact, one study found that the more months young people are exposed to cohabitation, the less enthusiastic they become about marriage and childbearing.
What about the children living in these relationships?
Cohabiting relationships are especially harmful for children. Cohabiting parents break up at higher rates than married parents, and the effects can be devastating and often long lasting.
Children who live in homes with a cohabiting parent are more likely to: become involved in premarital sexual activity, experience sexual abuse in the home, perform poorly in school, have emotional and social difficulties, and have difficulty forming permanent emotional attachments when they reach adulthood, including having happy and productive marriages. Children born to parents who never marry also are more likely to experience poverty, poor achievement in school, and a litany of other problems.
So what to do?
- Speak up if someone you know is considering cohabitation. Be sure they know the facts.
- If you are living with someone now, stop – if your relationship matters to you! Research shows that the longer people live together, the less likely they are to move to a long-term successful marriage.
- Seek quality premarital counseling and preparation. Use the time before marriage to attend marriage preparation activities, workshops, and premarital counseling. Develop the communication and relationship skills needed for a successful marriage. If you have lived with someone in the past, developing these skills is even more crucial.
- Protect your children. If you and your children are in a cohabiting relationship, understand the huge risks the children face and take immediate actions to change your circumstances.
- Celebrate marriage. If you are happily married, share your experience with others. People – especially young people – need to know that happy, long-term marriages exist.
There is great news about marriage. With proper preparation, these young adults can enjoy happy, successful long-term marriages. Research shows that people who marry live longer, enjoy higher incomes, have greater personal satisfaction, enjoy better health, and are generally happier than those who are single or living together.
There was some real wisdom behind that childhood ditty…first comes love, then comes marriage…
For more information, please contact First Things First or check out our calendar of classes and events in Chattanooga.