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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.”  

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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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.

Chattanooga Times Free Press originally published this article on May 6, 2012.

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