[From Noel] If you grew up in church you heard that moving in with your boyfriend / girlfriend; even moving in with your fiancée was probably not something that would be looked kindly upon. In church circles, living together was, ‘living in sin,’ and at best you had awkward holidays with the family to look forward too. At worst you might not be welcome at all! On the blog we have already talked about what the Bible says about sex before marriage but what could possibly be wrong with living together? What is wrong with making sure this serious relationship I am in has what it takes to make a lasting marriage?
It used to be in the 1960s and 70s that people who were living together did so because they had such a low view of marriage they didn’t feel like they needed it. “Why do I need a piece of paper to prove we love each other?” “We’re married in our hearts.” But steadily over the past 40 years things have been changing.
Today, the number of couples living together is skyrocketing but for totally different reasons than a generation before. Today’s 20 and 30 year-olds are the children of the common law relationships of the 70s and 80s. They see marriage and common law relationships differently than their parents. Rather than rejecting marriage as a vain and pointless attempt to legislate a relationship (low view of marriage), they see marriage as the ultimate in relational commitment (high view of marriage). There’s dating (little league), living together (junior varsity) and then there’s marriage (the pros). Living together is seen as due diligence: research for a later, greater stage in the relationship.
For young adults in serious relationships today there are two reasons for living together:
- A Check for Compatibility: Scholars at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan report that more than 75% of first-time cohabitors today are testing for compatibility before marriage. (Taken from Thornton, Arland, William G. Axinn, and Yu Zie. Marriage and Cohabitation, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007. p. 87) The thinking is that if we live together we’ll determine if there is something there. Is the sex good? Do we click? What is assumed but rarely spoken out loud is that, “If something bad comes up I’ll have a soft place to land so I can move on.”
- Convenience: It’s cheaper (save money on rent, less driving around town), easier access to sex. Everything seems easier.
But does it work? Does living together provide an insight into future marital happiness? Do couples who live together stand a better chance of avoiding divorce in the future? Sociologists have been studying cohabitating couples for more than 30 years and today a wealth of information is available for study. Researcher Glen Stanton has published a book that pulls together the findings of over a hundred published studies on marriage, cohabitation and divorce and he says that the evidence is solid and concise: cohabitating couples who decide to marry do not have a greater success rate. In fact, the research suggests the opposite is true.
Sociologists from the Universities of Chicago and Michigan report that people with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50% percent greater likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited. (Taken from Axinn, William G. and Arland Thorton, “The Relationship between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?” Demography 29 (1992): 357-74)
One researcher says,
Contrary to conventional wisdom that living together before marriage will screen out poor matches and therefore improve subsequent marital stability, there is considerable empirical evidence demonstrating that premarital cohabitation is associated with lower marital stability.
(Taken from Zheng Wu, “Premarital Cohabitation and Postmarital Cohabiting Union Formation,” Journal of Family Issues 16 (1995): 212-32)
It’s worth noting here that these guys are not Bible thumping traditionalists (not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 ) These are university researchers who are saying this. The point is that it doesn’t work. Living together doesn’t help ensure marital success. The big question is, “Why?”
In short, living together creates an unspoken consumer mindset where you unconsciously consider your spouse as a consumer product. It becomes a basic instinct that you have to ‘unlearn’ in order to be successful in marriage. In the next part we will look at this question of why in more detail.
If you would like to read more there is an excellent 24 page research paper that is available to the public from Rutgers University written by Dr. David Popenoe and Dr. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. It’s pretty readable and summarizes recent research in this field.