[From Noel] In our last post we talked about the increasing trend of couples living together as practice or preparation for marriage. Most people today believe that cohabitation is the best available way of confirming whether or not it would be a good idea to get married. By living together you can confirm if you and your potential spouse are going to make a good match. The problem is that it doesn’t work.
Sociological researchers have found that in the past 30 years couples who live together prior to marriage are 50% more likely to separate. (Taken from Axinn, William G. and Arland Thorton, “The Relationship between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?” Demography 29 (1992): 357-74)
The question is why? If this additional information doesn’t help couples make good decisions, what is messing this up? Glenn Stanton wrote a book that collects research from over a hundred different secular studies of relationships and in summary he noticed four things in the current research:
1. Men who cohabitate tend to be less committed to their relationships, even after they are married.
Your Grandma used to say something about free milk and a cow but Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Howard Markman say, “Men who cohabit with their future wives are, on average, a good deal less dedicated to them even once they are married! It is quite notable that this difference was not observed at all in females.” (taken from Scott M. Stanley, Sarah W. Witton and Howard J. Markman, “Maybe I Do: Interpersonal Commitment and Premarital or Nonmarital Cohabitation,” Journal of Family Issues 25 (2004): 512.)
Men approach the transition from live-in relationship to marriage very differently than women, and it can be seen in the research. Cohabiting men are less interested in marriage and if they do marry, they become different kinds of husbands. Dr. Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research says,
Men may perceive or experience cohabitation as more advantageous than marriage. Given that cohabitation is typically more gender egalitarian in terms of labour force involvement than marriage, the arrangement relieves men of primary breadwinning responsibilities, while still providing them with domestic support. Studies show that even in cohabiting unions, women perform the majority of domestic work.
In the Biblical model of marriage a wife helps a husband become a better man (Eph 5:22-28). Otherwise, research suggests that the relationship disadvantages the women every time.
2. Cohabitation tends to train a consumer mindset in both men and women.
When you buy a car, or an outfit, or any consumer product you test it for quality of fit. Without saying it out loud you are operating under this mentality: I am testing this jacket for its quality and suitability and how well it fits. If it conforms to my expectations I will complete the transaction. If not, I won’t! Nobody picks an outfit and then conforms to their purchase. The object must fit or it must go. Without meaning to, the same relational metrics are at work when you try out a potential spouse. No one would say this but the unconscious idea is that you are checking for a good fit and if it doesn`t work they must change or go. The problem is that your future spouse is not a consumer product. You don`t buy a husband or a wife! But by trying them out you are training your heart unconsciously to see them and evaluate them in a way you otherwise wouldn`t choose to.
3. Couples who cohabitate have less real wealth than those who marry.
One of the most common considerations for living together is a financial one. Couples move in together to save on rent but surprisingly, studies show that in the long run people who live together before marriage have less savings, less earning potential, and more debt. A study from Purdue University finds that statistically, cohabiting couples more closely resemble singles than married couples (taken from Janet Wilmoth and Gregor Koso, “Does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and Wealth Outcomes Among Preretirement Adults,” Journal of Marriage and Family 64 (2002): 2524-68). Stanton writes that, “while there might be the possibility of two earners in a cohabiting relationship, these informal partners experience less sharing and pooling of resources than married couples. This can reduce the very real, ‘two can live as cheaply as one,’ factor when the two are living more as a set of distinct ones.” (p. 49) After less than a year of saving on rent, most cohabiting couples increase their individual spending so that there is little short term financial benefit at all.
4. Married couples who lived together first tend to have poorer conflict resolution strategies.
Stanton writes that, “the process of cohabiting itself can influence couples to learn to communicate, negotiate, and settle differences in ways that are less healthy and less honest than those of couples who didn’t cohabit before marriage” (p. 61). In solving problems cohabiting couples tend to trust the foundation of the relationship less and depend on their ability to manipulate circumstances in the relationship more. That is not to say that couples who don’t live together first never try to manipulate each other (far from it). Rather, the research says that cohabiting couples tend to use manipulation more and tend to find it a difficult habit to break later, when they are married.
A 2010 meta-analysis of 26 different peer reviewed published studies concludes its report with these words:
The major practical implication of this review is that psychologists can now inform the public, that despite popular belief, cohabitation is generally associated with negative outcomes both in terms of marital quality and marital stability …
(taken from Anita Jose, K. Daniel O`Leary and Anne Moyer, “Does Premarital Cohabitation Predict Subsequent Marital Stability and Marital Quality: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (2010):105-16)
When considering a future spouse, living together reduces the likelihood of long-term success and trains habits that you will have to unlearn to be successful once you are married. I am not saying that living together makes future marriage impossible or hopeless; we are not under God’s wrath but under his grace. What I am saying is that you will have to work harder, and suffer more for your mistakes than you need to. God is not out to destroy your fun but is rather compelling you to a future of greater joy. God can be trusted with your most intimate relationships.