Saturday, December 5, 2009

The 5 arguments about cohabitation

1) The Trial Marriage
It's a very popular notion that living together is a good idea. You have a trial marriage and test yourselves and you don't have the hassle of divorce if you find that you are not compatible. This is of course an excuse. People live together before they marry because they want to, not because of some high moral principle. That doesn't negate the logic behind the argument, but is the argument really all that sound? Are you really tested enough when you cohabit? We'll answer that question later.

2) The Statistics
Christians love to cite studies and surveys by many different credible sources that have found a correlation between cohabitation and divorce. They make other claims too, such as couples who cohabit before they marry are not as happy after they marry and their children are less healthy. This may or may not be true. Correlation does not necessarily equate to causation. A more reasonable reply is that people who think you should not cohabit before marriage belong to religious groups who also believe that you should not get divorced. One might logically conclude that these Christians are not actually as happy as they like to claim. But that ignores the studies that show that more of them are happier.

3) The Fairy Tale Argument
This is the worst one. It's the "we have a fairy tale marriage and we cohabited" response. Again correlation does not necessarily mean causation. You may have a fairy tale marriage but cohabitation didn't create it. Had you waited to live together until after the wedding you would still have the fairy tale marriage. You should have stuck with the rebuttal that people who don't cohabit stay married because they think divorce is wrong.

Anyway, whether or not your marriage was a success is immaterial. Marriages that were a continuation from cohabitation fail more often than marriages that did not come out of a cohabitation relationship. Your success does not disprove the statistics. But is there a danger to cohabiting? We'll discuss that in a moment.

4) The Christian Rebuttal
The whole cohabitation argument is a red herring. The fact is you have two groups, one that has Christ at the center and another that doesn't. It should be no surprise that the group that has Christ at the center is more successful... well, unless you aren't Christian. In fact those who think cohabitation is right really have a lot of trouble explaining the statistics. The best they do is bring up the fairy tale argument.

But getting back to the red herring... what matters is that couples that don't belong together don't get married and those that do belong together stay married. The fact remains that people who cohabit are divorcing more often than those who don't cohabit. Even though they have trial marriages... even though more of these relationships break up before they marry, these people are still getting married when they shouldn't. What can account for that? Well, it seems the defining variance is morality and religion. Couples that share a strong moral center are more connected. They are on the same page. Their goals in life are complimentary. They aren't room mates who happen to be in love. They aren't independent. They are interdependent. They aren't two individuals sharing the house and bed. They are one couple sharing a common life. Yes, there are many couples who cohabit who share these same traits but they still lack the moral center. They don't have the strength of a ruleset that is bigger than they are. If they are non-Christian they also probably lack the advantage of a church that will do everything it can to help the couple with any marriage problems. A couple without a strong moral center is definitely more at risk.

Those who are religious tend to remain happily married. Note I said happily married. There is a cause and effect relationship here. The effect is happiness. The cause is the Holy Spirit. Studies have shown that couples who did not live together before they marry are happier.

This isn't the strongest argument though. It religiously biased. But there are other differences between cohabiting couples and non-cohabiting couples.

5) The Secular Logic against Cohabitation
The fact remains that people who cohabit are still more likely to divorce. They choose to cohabit to prove that their marriage will last. But for 70% of them, despite their trial run, their marriage still doesn't last! Well, what happened? What did their cohabitation prove? Nothing. So all we are left with is the fact that they lived together before they were married because they didn't want to wait.

Unlike the non-cohabiting couple, the cohabiting couple believes that they have tested themselves. Have they really though? No. There are tests that a married couple endures that a single couple living together doesn't. Children for example. That's a big one, but of course there are some unmarried couples with children. Generally though the unmarried couple won't endure 18 years of parenting without being married. Maybe one or two. Eventually they will probably marry and have to raise the children through all of the stages of childhood development. This is definitely going to test the marriage. There are other tests too. One of them will lose a job. One of them will lose a parent. One of them will feel the pressure to relocate for their career. There will be very big tests. Of course all marriages are tested. So is there something to protect the non-cohabiting couple? Yes. The shock of commitment.

The shock of commitment is one more difference between a couple who cohabits before marriage and a couple that does not. It is the strongest argument against cohabiting and I believe it explains the statistics. See, when a couple first moves in together, it's great. It is a bit of a jump, but not nearly the jump that happens for a couple that doesn't cohabit before they marry. When THEY move in together, it's coupled with a brand new life together. It's coupled with commitment. The cohabiting couple is going through the trial run because they don't trust that they will have what it takes to endure the tests in marriage. Sure they have commitment. Perhaps a bit more (at that time) than if they decided not to live together. After all, it's a huge deal to break up after you have been living together so you aren't going to take that step if you aren't somewhat committed already. There is a lot invested so naturally they have more of a commitment than a dating couple who don't live together. But the commitment that goes along with the cohabitation is nothing compared to the commitment of marriage. And even moreso, the feeling of commitment after the marriage is MUCH stronger after a non-cohabiting couple marries.

The cohabiting couple who gets married just continues doing what they did before they got married. The only difference is they are no longer planning a wedding. Now they get to live their lives. But they lack the adventure of living together for the first time. The only thing they might do is purchase a home together as a newly married couple. That might add to the excitement but imagine the excitement if they'd waited to live together.

This sudden change from single to married is exceptionally strong if a couple did not live together before they got married. They are so grateful. Getting to the wedding was a struggle. Sure they loved each other. Sure their relationship improved. But they had to be patient. They had to be strong and withstand temptation and societal pressure. They had to stay determined. They no doubt had cold feet, but they fought their fears and remained vigilant because of their love for one another. All that effort paid off after they married. Now they have achieved something. Marriage is like an award to them. The rings on their fingers symbolize more than love and commitment. They symbolize the time they were together before the wedding. They also symbolize the hard times when they were apart. The rings are a reminder of what it was like before they won the award of marriage. They are a reminder that they really really really want to stay married.

A dating couple that decides to move in together approaches things much more carefully. They gradually approach marriage. The entire process of commitment is a gradual one. They slowly reach the commitment of marriage. So they don't feel the jump when it occurs. The wedding is a mere ceremony to celebrate the commitment they already have. It doesn't give them a commitment. The ceremony itself gives the non-cohabiting couple a bit more commitment. In fact, they really feel it. I believe the cohabiting couple won't feel it as much. It might be there, but it's more subtle because of the jump.

Now they are married and are inevitably tested. If they did not live together first, they feel the extra strong commitment created by the jump from single to married. Their "coupleness" is accentuated. They earned their marriage. But they also know that their marriage needs to be protected. So they are careful. They approach the tests differently than the couple who lived together first. The couple that cohabited is more likely to feel secure. In living with each other they believe that they have proven that they can withstand any test life throws at them. They are more likely to take their commitment for granted, and that puts them at risk. The tests can sneak up on them and rob them of their commitment before they even realize it. The next thing they know they are putting a checkmark in the "irreconcilable differences" box, and they can't explain why. They tested themselves but found out that the testing they endured before marriage was little preparation. In fact the testing before marriage only gave them a false sense of security.

And THAT is the main danger with cohabitation: the false sense of security. You MUST remain vigilant when you are married. Marriage takes work. It's not all pixie dust and granted wishes. You have to endure. You have to be careful and watch out for trouble. If you let your guard down, you will lose it all. Cohabitation sets you up for that. That is why marriages that begin with cohabitation fail more often than marriages that did not begin with cohabitation.

That's not the only danger of cohabitation though. Consider how difficult it is to break up when you are living together. It's incredibly difficult. Breaking up without the added burden of having to find a new place to live is hard enough on its own. But it is easier. I propose to you that some couples who live together would have broken up if they did not live together. They do NOT break up specifically BECAUSE breaking up is so difficult for them. They stay together even though in their hearts they feel that they are not compatible. It's easier to go with the flow and hope that the marriage ceremony is going to change them somehow. Naturally this is not true for all couples who decide to live together before they marry and it's probably not a significant portion of the 70% of cohabiting couples who eventually do divorce. But it is an additional issue that you will more than likely have to deal with if you do decide to live together before you marry.

Remember, most people who live together before they marry DO end up breaking up. Even if they marry, 70% of them will divorce. And considering the fact that we know that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, out of the couples who do not cohabit before they marry, only 30% of them will divorce. Don't believe me? Consider if 200 couples marry. 100 of them lived together before they marry. 100 of them did not. Eventually 100 of those total marriages will end in divorce. We know that 70 of the couples who lived together before they married end up getting divorced. 70 of the 100 couples who divorced cohabited. That leaves room for only 30 non-cohabiting couples to get divorced. So You actually have more than twice the chances of marital success if you decide NOT to live together before you marry!

Something to think about isn't it?