The Myths of Cohabitation
(From Kairos Journal)
Traditional marriage is on the rocks in the West, and not just because of the influence of the homosexual activist community and the introduction of so-called gay marriage. Heterosexuals are also to blame for marriage’s bad press. Since the 1960s and 70s, heterosexual cohabitation outside of marriage has skyrocketed. In fact, the number of American couples cohabiting has risen 1,500 percent in the last fifty years, with more than 7.5 million couples currently living together. Most American adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner to whom they are not married at least once, and most marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.1 When queried about why they live together, many couples exclaim, “Oh, marriage is just a piece of paper.” While Christians know that lifelong, heterosexual marriage is much more than that, the justification for living together is often made on the assumption that cohabitation is more emotionally healthy than marriage.
When one examines the data, however, cohabitation is actually harmful to couples and children. Even secular researchers have concluded that couples who live together before marriage tend to be less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce.2 In her statistical analyses of the rise of cohabitation and its effects, sociologist Patricia Morgan has debunked four popular myths about living together:3
Myth no. 1: Living together sets women free from the shackles of a male-dominated, dependent relationship in marriage.
Fact: Women and their children are at greater risk of being abused in a cohabiting relationship than they are in a marriage.
Myth no. 2: “It’s the quality of the relationship that matters, not the bit of paper.”
Fact: Where people live together without marrying, the quality of the relationship is often significantly worse than it is in marriage.
Myth no. 3: Cohabiting relationships are just as stable as marriage. The “bit of paper” does not mean anything.
Fact: Cohabiting relationships break down more easily than marriages do. Couples who have children without getting married are very unlikely to stay together while their children are growing up.
Myth no. 4: People live together until they have children and then get married.
Fact: Couples who have children and then marry are more likely to divorce than couples who marry first then have children. Cohabiting couples with children are more likely to break up than those without children.4
So, people may offer a variety of reasons for living together, but emotional health and the well-being of children cannot be among the justifications.
Christians should rejoice over God’s good and gracious gift of covenantal marriage. Helping congregations—especially young people preparing for marriage in the future—understand the benefits of monogamous married love and dispelling the myths of cohabitation are great privileges afforded to the faithful shepherd.
|1||Meg Jay, “The Downside of Cohabiting before Marriage,” The New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?_r=2 (accessed April 18, 2012).|
|3||Morgan’s study centers on England and Australia, though it does connect with the literature on the U.S. and continental Europe.|
|4||Adapted from Patricia Morgan, Marriage-Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and Its Consequences (London: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2000).|