Friday, November 7, 2014

The Logic and Lessons of Cohabitation

Cohabitation – sometimes termed “trial marriage” - is the new and undisputed norm. NPR writes:

  • Today, more than 65 percent of first marriages start out that way. Fifty years ago, it was closer to 10 percent.
  • Cohabitation before marriage, once frowned upon, is now almost a rite of passage, especially for the millennial generation. Young adults born after 1980 are more likely to cohabit than any previous generation was at the same stage of life, according to the Pew Research Center. With more than 8 million couples currently cohabiting, it is obviously a living arrangement with appeal — but it is also one with unique challenges.
The logic for cohabitation goes like this:

  • Marriage is difficult. Most end in divorce. It therefore makes sense to first live together to test for compatibility.
On the surface, this makes sense, but the findings indicate otherwise:

  • The research on whether cohabitation increases the risk of divorce is still being debated, but Rhoades and her colleagues have found that couples who move in together before getting engaged or committed to marry are a little more likely to have lower-quality marriages. 
In fact, the stats are frankly forbidding:

  • [Trial marriage] provides some but not all of the same emotional benefits of marriage, yet only for a short time and at a high price. Breaking up with a live-in lover carries many of the same emotional costs as divorce but happens far more frequently. People who are cohabitating are less happy generally than the married and are less satisfied with their sex lives. In America, long-term cohabiting relationships are far rarer than successful marriages. (The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher, 74)
  • One in ten survives five or more years…The divorce rate among those who cohabit prior to marriage is nearly double (39% vs. 21%) that of couples who marry without prior co-habitation.
  • “Men in cohabiting relationships are four times more likely to be unfaithful…Depression is three times more likely…The poverty rate among children of cohabiting couples is five-fold greater…and 90% more likely to have a low GPA…Abuse of children is 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families; and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.”
  • Cohabitation is bad for men, worse for women, and horrible for children. It is a deadly toxin to marriage, family, and culture.” 
  • Spanish statistics, which have been highlighted in recent years by Europe’s Family Policy Institute (FPI), and recently reported by the Spanish Newspaper ABC, indicate that while only 11% of Spanish couples cohabit without marriage, such unions account for 58% of the most violent crimes between couples. For every one protection order issued for a married couple, ten are issued for cohabiting couples. (
How do we explain this? Why are “untried” marriages more successful than trial marriages? Perhaps it has to do with the way we regard marriage. Do we regard it pragmatically (whether or not it works for me) or principally (my commitment to my family is more important than pragmatic considerations). The pragmatic approach is me-centered, while the principled approach is other-centered.

Perhaps we need to understand that our lives are about more than ourselves and our pleasures. Perhaps instead, life paradoxically works better when we are other-centered, even God centered, and when we are not primarily focused on what I can get out of it.

This is the logic of Jesus:

  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
It seems to be superior to the “logic” of cohabitation.

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