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Over the last two decades there has been a steady increase in the number of couples choosing to move in together before marriage, and many of them expect to make a commitment to each other. The catch is that a large number of them decide not to marry. The nagging question becomes, does marriage really make a difference in relationship quality over time? 

The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of cohabiting adults ages 25 to 34 increased from 12 percent a decade ago to 15 percent in 2018. Among 25- to 34- year-olds, living together has become commonplace. Among currently-married adults, a whopping 67 percent say they have lived with either their current partner or someone else before they tied the knot. In 1978, however, marriage was more common, with 59 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds married compared to only 30 percent today. 

With the dramatic increase in couples who live together, one might believe that cohabitation is becoming more like marriage (or at least a step toward it). If you think that, you aren’t alone. 

Plenty of researchers across the globe have surmised that over time, cohabitation would become more like marriage. Interestingly though, the latest research indicates that might not be the case.

Researchers from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University analyzed the results of a December 2018 YouGov “iFidelity Survey” of 2000 American adults. The data continues to confirm key differences in marriage and cohabiting relationships. They even found categorical differences between marriage and cohabitation on three relationship factors in particular.

First, married men and women are more likely than couples who live together to report satisfaction with their relationship.

After controlling for education, relationship duration and age, married women (54 percent) and married men (49 percent) were more likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship compared to cohabiting adults.

Second, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship commitment. 

Forty-six percent of married men and women were in the top relationship commitment group. Whereas just over 30 percent of cohabiting partners were in the top group. This finding is consistent with other research that links cohabiting relationships with lower commitment levels.

Third, married adults proved more likely to report higher levels of relationship stability than those who live together.

When asked how likely respondents thought their relationship would continue, 54 percent of married adults were in the top perceived relationship stability group. That is compared to only 28 percent of cohabiting adults. 

Married relationships are much less likely to break up than cohabiting ones. Even in places like Europe where cohabitation has long been an accepted practice, studies consistently show that married couples experience more stability than couples who live together.

Marriage has many other benefits for men, women and children in addition to commitment, satisfaction and stability. There’s plenty of research to prove it. Adults may be looking for financial benefits, better physical and emotional health, longevity or a more satisfying sex life. The evidence shows that marriage offers some things that cohabitation does not. 

Most people are looking for a committed, highly-satisfying and stable relationship. But the research strongly indicates that cohabitation is likely not the best route. Before you decide to move in together, do your homework. Decide if that road will take you where you want to go.  

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 24, 2019.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

Dads don’t matter. Seriously, dads don’t make a difference – unless it matters that children are physically and emotionally healthy and achieve educational success. If those things matter for your children, then fathers DO make a difference.

Dr. Alma Golden, pediatrician and former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family, has a lot to say about marriage and children.

“As Baby Boomers we were told these things:

  • Marriage is old-fashioned and confining;
  • Open relationships are healthier and more conducive to personal development;
  • Fathers are nice but not necessary;
  • It is better to live with a divorced mother than two unhappy parents;
  • The kids will be OK, they are flexible; and
  • Financial disparities are the reason for the differences in health and educational achievement.

“What we believed changed our world and started driving personal decisions. People started getting married later. Women are having fewer children and having them later. Single mothers are giving birth to more children. Fewer children are living with their married biological parents,” says Golden.

So how do these changes affect children?

A study of 294,000 families released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control indicates family structure makes a huge difference for children. 

The CDC study indicates that when children grow up with their two married biological parents, they have a lower rate of delayed medical care. They’re also less likely to have ADHD regardless of income, education, poverty status, place of residence or region.

Additionally, an earlier study found that in sixth through 12th graders, the strongest predictor of getting a diploma and going to college is having a father who attends PTA meetings.

“When dads show a clear commitment to their children, encouraging them in their educational endeavors, children do better,” Golden says. “The research also indicated that a married daddy at home doubles the chances that a child learns self-management.

“Conversely, non-nuclear families seem to struggle with a lot of issues. For example, cohabiting fathers have less than half the income of married fathers. They tend to bring less commitment to the family as a general rule. The implications for the children are they have fewer resources available to them. Additionally, seven in 10 children of cohabiting couples will experience parental separation.”

Findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force in 2003 showed that:

  • Married men and women are physically and emotionally healthier. They are less likely to participate in risky behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Married men and women live longer. 
  • People behave differently when they are married. They live healthier lifestyles and monitor each other’s health. And, the increased social support also increases the family’s chances of success.

“If we look back at the baby boomer list, what we now know is that marriage is actually beneficial for men, women and children,” Golden says. “Cohabitation is often of low-trust, stressful and more prone to violence and dissolution. Fathers are a necessity. Good enough marriages produce better outcomes than divorce. The kids are NOT flexible and may not be OK and family structure and stability are more important predictors of outcomes than finances.”

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Sara and Ethan* started dating in 2012. One year later, Ethan told Sara he wanted to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He 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 marriage.

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 number of couples who live together before marriage, 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. This increases the odds of family instability for children.

Additionally, a CDC National Center for Health Statistics report found that cohabiting couples tend to be poorer and less-educated than married couples. This 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. That’s compared to 25.6 percent of wives.
  • 36.1 percent of cohabiting men had incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 21.2 percent of husbands.
  • 25.2 percent of cohabiting women had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 48.1 percent of wives.
  • 32.4 percent of cohabiting men had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 52.4 percent of husbands.
  • 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 a marital commitment is fine. They believe 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 couples who live together can change their 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, numerous studies consistently show that those who live together before marriage 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. That’s 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 is in a complicated reality. A large portion of the population is choosing to live together before marriage.

There’s a lot for all of us to consider. Research shows that emotional, financial, educational and social stability of cohabiting impacts current and future relationships, along with the communities in which we live.

*Not real names.

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“I do” feels 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 second only to women who 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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Weddings are time consuming, expensive, and stressful.

We totally get it. There’s hardly any time to breathe, let alone enjoy this season with your soon-to-be spouse! But that’s why we created Preparing for Marriage Online. This online class will guide you both through the answers to these questions and MORE! And the best part is, you can watch each video in the comfort of your own home and on your OWN TIME – and right now, it’s all for FREE!

During this class, you’ll cover topics like…

  • Clear & effective communication skills,
  • How to handle the in-laws,
  • Conflict management,
  • The importance of dating your spouse,
  • Planning, budgeting, and finances,
  • What to expect your first year,
  • And more!

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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Not too long ago people tended to marry in their early 20s. 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. It’s 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.”

Myth #1: Marry later results in marrying better.

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.

Myth #2: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The second myth about waiting to marry 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.”

Myth #3: Marriage takes more than it gives.

The third myth, according to Van Epp, 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 about waiting to marry?  

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.”  

In an article published by the Brookings Institute, Richard Reeves wrote about the fact that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton became a father on Christmas Eve 2015.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? Cam is single. He and his girlfriend, along with many others, didn’t see the importance of tying the knot before having a child.

Before you stop reading in disgust and think this is just old-fashioned rhetoric, please take a deep breath and try to read all the way to the end.

There is no question marriage is on the decline. Some believe it really doesn’t matter anymore. However, some compelling findings indicate it might matter more than you think – especially when it comes to a child’s well-being.

Wendy Manning, director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University, says family instability is the consistent and negative implication for child health in both cohabiting and married-parent families.

Moreover, a study on child well-being and family structure by the Centers for Disease Control in 2010 shows that children growing up in homes with their two married parents did better in every category.

Children ages 12-17 living with cohabiting parents instead of married parents are:

  • Six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems;

  • 122 percent more likely to be expelled from school; and

  • 90 percent more likely to have a lower GPA.

Additional studies indicate that children born to cohabiting couples are much more likely to see their parents break up. In fact, two-thirds will split up before their child is 12, most splitting up before their child is five. Compare that to only one-quarter of married parents who split up. Cohabiting relationships seem to be more fragile than married relationships.

Economic indicators show that 21 percent of children with cohabiting parents live below the poverty line. Only one in 10 children with married parents lives in poverty.

Statistics also show that as of early 2016, half of all children born to women under 30 were born out of wedlock.

Pew Research and other studies find that the majority of Americans would like to marry someday. So why are so many young people choosing cohabitation over marriage? What explains the increase in women under 30 choosing to have children outside of marriage? Well, it’s complicated.

For starters, many young people don’t want the kind of marriage their parents had, nor are they confident that they can actually do marriage well. Others say there are no marriageable men or women. Still others see no benefit in a “formal” arrangement for themselves and for their children.

There is plenty of research indicating that healthy marriage positively impacts children and society. There is also evidence that, in spite of people growing up in homes where they witnessed unhealthy marriages, experienced divorce and perhaps had other adverse childhood experiences, it’s possible to heal from the past and go on to have healthy relationships and even healthy marriage.

But the research is clear. The social, economic, health and emotional benefits of marriage extend to everyone, but are especially crucial for children.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

No one wants to suffer the heartache of a broken relationship, whether it is a divorce or the dissolution of a cohabiting situation. While living together may have short-term advantages, it comes at a high long-term cost.

MYTH: Living together is an easy way to “try out” the relationship before committing to marriage.

Truth: While the idea of “test driving” a car before you buy it is a good idea, it doesn’t apply to marriage. Couples who live together often have attitudes like: “I can leave any time,” and “My money vs. your money” that married couples don’t typically have. Married couples often have a stronger bond to each other because of their vow of permanence. Married couples also tend to have less volatile relationships.

MYTH: Living together will give us a stronger marriage.

Truth: Although many couples think that moving in together can give them a great head start in their marriage, living together can actually harm your marriage. Couples who live together before they marry have a divorce rate that is 50 percent higher than those who don’t.

MYTH: Sharing finances and expenses will make things easier on our relationship.

Truth: While sharing finances and expenses seems like the easy thing to do in the beginning, problems do arise. Just like any couple, disputes often center around money. Couples who live together have more financial issues to resolve. Conflicts arise over who is responsible for which bill, and the rights that one partner has to tell the other how to spend “their” money.

MYTH: Your sex life goes downhill when you get married.

Truth: The level of sexual satisfaction is higher among married couples than for couples who live together. Couples who live together tend to be less faithful to their partners than married couples.

MYTH: Marriage is just a piece of paper.

Truth: Emotionally, physically and spiritually, marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. It is a commitment. Viewing marriage as only a legal arrangement strips it of its meaning and sets the relationship up for failure. If couples do not view marriage as a loving, committed relationship, divorce is almost inevitable.

MYTH: It’s only temporary.

Truth: Many people enter a cohabiting relationship hoping they will be married soon. However, living together isn’t always a stepping-stone to marriage. Statistics report that 60 percent of couples who live together will not go on to get married either because they break up (39 percent) or just continue to live together (21 percent).

MYTH: Living together is best if children are involved.

Truth: The effects of cohabitation on children is significant. Children in these situations are at risk of emotional and social difficulties, performing poorly in school, having early premarital sex and having difficulty forming permanent emotional attachments in adulthood. If the man in the household is not the biological father, children are at greater risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse.

How to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship

If your goal is to have a stable, healthy and fulfilling relationship, here are some tips.

TIME. This is the only surefire way to find out if a couple is compatible. Time gives you the opportunity to see how your partner handles different situations that life throws at you: the hard stressful times, the joyous and rewarding times, and the humdrum of everyday. If you can survive these life events with someone and still love them then there is an excellent chance your relationship will last.

COMMUNICATION.

Relationships aren’t always wine and roses. Know that your partner will disappoint and frustrate you at times. Knowing how to communicate increases your chances of being able to resolve and even prevent conflict.

CONSIDER MARRIAGE.

What makes marriage unique from simply living together is a “vow of permanence.” Partners publicly promise they will no longer be alone and no matter what happens down the road someone will be there to take care of you and support you.

PREMARITAL EDUCATION.

Couples who attend premarital programs experience a 30 percent increase in marital success over those who do not. They report greater communication, sharpened conflict management skills, a strong dedication to one’s spouse and overall improved relationship quality.

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