"I Do" is Complicated

"I Do" is Complicated

"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.