Is living together before marriage a good idea?

  • Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2012 2:31 p.m.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” – Bible

“The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one, and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation.” – Meg Jay

Karen and Ken are considering marriage. But they are not sure they are right for each other. Many of their friends are living together but not married. They are wondering if this would be a good idea for them – just to check out this idea of marriage before they make that commitment, and to see if they are “compatible.”

Cohabitation rates have increased enormously over the past several decades. The following information is taken from a New York Times article published April 14, 2012: “Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million.

“The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.”

A search of the literature provides a great deal of information about cohabitation, both the pros and cons. Researchers, as sincere as they may be, are challenged to carry out their efforts in a manner that prevents skewing of the results to support a particular viewpoint.

The article in the Times is entitled “The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage.” I would like to suggest another title: i.e. “The Downside of Cohabiting Before Commitment.”

I approach this subject believing that God has a design for our lives, and not just individually, but collectively. In other words, there are certain “expectations” God has placed on our behavior as human beings. One of those expectations is that a man and a woman are to commit to one another for life in an institution we call marriage.

There will be consequences if we fail to meet God’s expectations, not as punishment but as a result of our choice. Our pains when we stumble and fall are not punishment; they are simply the consequences of disobeying the law of gravity.

Setting aside God’s expectations for the moment, however, let’s look at the consequences of cohabitation from a human perspective.

As implied above, research can easily be slanted to suit the desires of the researcher. Here is an interesting observation, however. There is much data to support the downside of cohabitation before commitment, and there is also a lot of research that attempts to support the idea that cohabitation isn’t detrimental to the relationship.

On the other hand, it is very hard to find research that points to the downside of marriage. Evidently most research supports the idea that commitment, whether or not you call it marriage, is good for the relationship of a man and a woman.

So how do men and women view commitment in a cohabiting environment? Consider this quote from the aforementioned Times article.

“Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage.”

One of the primary problems with cohabitation is that it downplays the importance of commitment. Here are a few other findings from the existing research:

• Cohabitation increases the divorce rate for those who eventually marry to about 65 percent.

• Cohabiting women have rates of depression three times higher than married women.

• Cohabitation is associated with lower levels of relationship satisfaction.

• A woman who lives with a man is three times more likely to be physically abused than a married woman.

• Children are 50 times more likely to be abused when they are not living with two biological or adoptive parents.

The designer manual for commitment, human relationships and marriage works best – always has, always will.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.

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