Articles for Dating Couples

Everything listed under: cohabitation

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    Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?

    Sara and Ethan* started dating in 2012. One year later, Ethan told Sara he wanted to try and figure out what he wanted to do with his life and was seriously considering an out-of-town move. 

    “I was attending a community college at the time, but knew I needed to transfer to a four-year school,” says Sara. “I felt like our relationship was strong, but trying to keep things going from a distance didn’t seem like a good idea. Since UTC was close to where Ethan would be, I decided to move as well.”

    Money was tight for Ethan and Sara. Living together made sense to them financially, but Sara was concerned about what her family and others would think.

    Ethan and Sara are among the more than 70 percent of couples who choose to live together before tying the knot. 

    Cohabitation has greatly increased in large measure because, while people are delaying marriage to even greater ages, they are not delaying sex, living together or childbearing,” say researchers Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades. “In fact, Dr. Wendy Manning noted in her 2018 address to the Population Association of America that almost all of the increase in non-marital births in the U.S. since 1980 has taken place in the context of cohabiting unions.”

    Stanley and Rhoades note that increasing cohabitation rates, as well as serial cohabitation, might be of no special consequence except for the many births that now occur in those unions. Some of these couples have a long-term commitment similar to marriage, but on average, cohabiting parents are much more likely than married parents to break up, increasing the odds of family instability for children. 

    Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics report found that cohabiting men and women tend to be poorer and less-educated than married ones, which creates a greater disadvantage for children. For instance:

    • 47.9% of cohabiting women had household incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, compared to 25.6 percent of married women.

    • 36.1 percent of cohabiting men had incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line compared to 21.2 percent of married men.

    • 25.2 percent of cohabiting women had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line, compared to 48.1 percent of married women.

    • 32.4 percent of cohabiting men had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line, compared to 52.4 percent of married men.

    • 25.3% of cohabiting women had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43% of married women.

    • 16.2% of cohabiting men had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36.5% of married men.

    Large majorities of married, non-married and cohabiting couples believe that having and raising children without being married is fine and that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce.

    “This notion has had wide acceptance since at the mid-1990s, when three-fifths of high school students believed that, ‘It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along,’” Stanley and Rhoades say. 

    Based on their ongoing research on cohabitation however, Stanley and Rhoades have strong evidence that some patterns of living together before marriage are associated with increased risks for less successful marriages, that experiences and choices impact future outcomes, and that cohabitation is definitely linked to relationship risks.

    “What this means is that people who are already at greater risk for worse outcomes in relationships because of things like family background, disadvantage or individual vulnerabilities are also more likely to do any of the following: cohabit and not marry, cohabit before having clear, mutual plans to marry, or cohabit with a number of different partners over time,” Stanley and Rhoades assert. 

    There is significant research showing that people learn from experiences and that experiences change people’s beliefs, so it’s no surprise that the experiences of living together change people's beliefs about marriage. Consequently, Stanley and Rhoades believe that the increase in cohabitation, serial cohabitation and premarital cohabitation has led to consistent downward trends in the belief that marriage is special.

    Another concern is that cohabitation makes it harder to break up.

    “Because of the inertia of living together, some people get stuck longer than they otherwise would have in relationships they might have left or left sooner,” Stanley and Rhoades say. “We believe some people marry someone they would otherwise have left because cohabitation made it too hard to move on. While the increased risk can be modest, the prediction is consistently supported through numerous studies showing that those who cohabit before deciding to marry report lower than average marital quality and are more likely to divorce. This is compounded by the fact that most couples slide into cohabiting rather than make a clear decision about what it means and what their futures may hold.”

    Finally, since more children are being born to unmarried parents in relatively unstable relationships, studies indicate that only 1 out of 3 children born to cohabiting parents will remain in a stable family through age 12 compared to nearly 3 out of 4 children born to married parents. This means that many who cohabit are entering future relationships with the challenge of children as part of the package.

    Our society finds itself in a complicated reality where a very large portion of the population is choosing to live together before marriage. There’s a lot for all of us to consider when the research shows that emotional, financial, educational and social stability of cohabiting impacts current and future relationships, along with the communities in which we live.

    *Names have been changed.

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    "I Do" is Complicated

    What can you learn from a focus group of millennial women who live with their boyfriends? You can really find out about their relationships, their thoughts about marriage and how they think cohabitation differs from marriage.

    Only one of the six women had ever married. Some had children with their current boyfriend. Others brought children into the relationship. They discussed the following questions, and more.

    Do you believe living together and marriage are pretty much the same thing?

    Most of the women agreed that living together and marriage were practically the same thing. They said it really boiled down to commitment to the relationship. And, they wondered why someone needs a piece of paper to prove their commitment to each other.

    They also wondered if they could make a marriage work. For instance, only one of the women came from an intact family. She said everyone in her family had been successful at marriage so far except her.

    Are there any ways that marriage is different from living together?

    Regarding the differences in cohabitation and marriage, they discussed missing benefits because they weren't legally married, even though they thought of themselves as married. They also said people treated them differently when they discovered they were unmarried.

    The National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicates that 41 percent of cohabitors express pessimism about marriage. More than half (64 percent) of Gen-Xers and millennials agree that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce. 

    Interestingly, only about 35 percent of individuals who married first believe that cohabitation may help prevent breakups.

    If your boyfriend asked you to marry him, would you?

    Surprisingly, all but one woman enthusiastically said yes, despite saying they believed there was really no difference in cohabitation and marriage.

    While these women and many like them believe living together and marriage are basically the same, consider these statistics:

    • The overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples. Plus, the overall rate for "severe" violence is nearly five times as high, according to the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the nation's leading institution studying domestic violence.

    • Studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had depression rates nearly five times higher than married women. Those rates were second only to women who were twice-divorced.

    • Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    Most of the women in the focus group said they want to avoid the pain of divorce. Unfortunately, many people don't understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases that risk.

    If you're in a serious relationship and wonder if you should take your relationship to the next level, think carefully. Instead of moving in together, consider taking a class that will help you know if you have learned all of the different skills that can help your relationship last a lifetime.

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    Cohabitation and Relationships

    Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. Kuperberg believes her study shows that couples who cohabit before marrying are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

    Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent global increase in cohabitation. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake. However, there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation helps to create family stability.

    It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research.

    The University of Denver's Dr. Scott Stanley, and others, have conducted research on this issue for years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley breaks down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

    “At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce,” Stanley writes in a recent post. “She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn’t moving in together at a young age also be a problem?”

    Great question.

    Kuperberg’s study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

    Stanley's blog describes some of the issues with premarital cohabitation. These matters can cause difficulty forming lasting love in marriage. If you're considering living together, you just might want to think about them:

    • Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just your future spouse is linked to poorer marital outcomes.

    • Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage correlates to lower marital satisfaction and higher divorce risk. Couples who currently live together and have clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.

    • Cohabiting without a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. Unmarried, cohabiting women have greater rates of unplanned pregnancies than married women.

    • Living together often creates constraints that make it harder to break up. Yet, the kind of dedication most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

    You can read Stanley's entire blog post here.

    If this topic is relevant to you, don't buy Kuperberg’s research hook, line and sinker. Learn more about all the research related to cohabitation. Then, consider how it might impact your life and the ones you love.

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    3 Myths About Waiting to Marry

    Not too long ago people tended to marry in their early 20s, but now the average marrying age is 29 for males and 27 for females. Why are people waiting so long to marry? And is it helping or hurting their chances of success in marriage?

    “It is interesting because today’s young singles (emerging adults) want to have a great marriage yet they keep putting it off,” says Dr. John Van Epp, author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk (or Jerkette). “This is occurring across almost all subcultures, races and the socio-economic spectrum in both the U.S. and most European countries.” 

    For instance, researcher Katherine Edin found that marriage was a dream for most people living in poverty, a luxury they hoped to indulge in someday when the time was right, but generally not something they saw happening in the near or even the foreseeable future.

    “To understand what is happening with singles we can’t just look at their behavior—we have to ask what they are thinking,” Van Epp says. “There seem to be three prevalent myths that emerging adults buy into when it comes to marriage. First, marrying later results in marrying better. Second, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And finally, marriage takes more than it gives.” 

    In some ways, it is true that marrying later leads to better marriages. In a 2002 study of 10,000 women, marrying after 21 did contribute to improved marital stability; however, there wasn’t much difference between the ages of 21 and 30. On the other hand, premarital sex, premarital cohabitation and unwed childbearing contributed to marital instability. As a result, researchers suggest that marrying after the early 20s may increase the risks because people become set in their ways and are more likely to engage in these higher risk activities.

    The second myth – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—is used to compartmentalize risky activities apart from their effects on a future marriage. 

    “Many singles operate under the premise that sowing their wild oats before they get married will not impact their marriage relationship,” Van Epp shares. “However, this is a myth. Research has provided indisputable evidence that the number of sexual partners women had before they married were directly related to their chances of divorce. A 2003 study found that involvement with just one partner outside of marriage raised the risk of divorce three times higher than those who had only had sex with their husband.”

    For emerging adults, there seems to be a marital horizon, the ideal age at which to marry. Those who have a more distant marital horizon are much more likely to participate in the risky premarital activities identified by research to put them at greater risk for divorce. 

    “Clearly we are seeing that it isn’t just the experience of marriage… it is the mindset of marriage,” Van Epp notes. “For instance, my daughter remembers a friend she had in high school who told her that when she dated she always kept in mind her future husband. Do not be fooled, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.”

    The third myth, according to Van Epp - marriage takes more than it gives - comes from messages that society sends to our young people. Too many well-meaning parents are counseling their kids to slow down, delay settling down, experience and enjoy life, and not to marry until they have to.   

    “The implication for the emerging adult is that when you finally get married it’s as if you stepped into a life sentence of limited options,” Van Epp believes. “The truth is just the opposite: marriage creates a framework that gives you something more than what you can gain and be by yourself.” 

    So how can you keep from falling prey to these three myths?  

    First, educate yourself on these issues so you have accurate information. It’s helpful to know that what you do now programs your future behavior. Keep marriage close on the horizon versus a distant goal. Realize the risks involved with premarital cohabitation and premarital sex. 

    “We have intentionally raised our daughters to think of marriage as a wonderful experience that could be just around the corner after they entered their 20s,” Van Epp says. “Our oldest is getting married soon. Throughout her high school and college years she dated with her future marriage in mind. Many parents are cultivating a narcissistic and compartmentalized view of dating and the 20s. I would encourage an emerging adult to move marriage closer on the horizon, to consciously work at a better attitude toward marriage and to live in a way that would not jeopardize marriage in the future.”  

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    Cohabitation: Good or Bad?

    Cohabitation has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. In the 60s and 70s very few couples lived together before marriage. Today, more than 60 percent of couples cohabit before marrying. Numerous reputable studies, however, find that couples who cohabit prior to marriage significantly increase their risk for divorce.

    In April 2012, a New York Times piece addressed the downside of cohabitation. It said that couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to have less-satisfying marriages — and are more likely to divorce — than couples who live apart before marriage. Researchers call these negative outcomes “the cohabitation effect.”

    Prior to the NYT piece, 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, focusing on marriage and divorce and what makes a good marriage. It suggested that times have changed from when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later. The study’s lead author, Casey Copen, says that cohabitation plays a smaller role in predicting divorce than it used to.

    So does cohabitation harm your chances of marriage? 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. “A wealth of data suggests that the significant negative impact of cohabiting has not disappeared into the ozone.”

    Stanton points out that the Christian Science Monitor did not cite a study on cohabitation. Instead, it cited a study examining 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 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 a particular study about cohabitation’s negative impact on both marital quality and marital longevity. The negative impact did not wane as cohabitation has gained social acceptance.

    But does “social acceptance” mean that living together before marriage is a positive thing?

    For example, smoking cigarettes was not only socially acceptable in the past. In fact, it was the cool thing to do for years. Then research revealed that smoking, and 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, consider the evidence. There is more than enough of it to support that living together before marriage may put your relationship at risk.