To Live Together … Or Not

At the time of this writing, March, 2016, more than half of all married couples are choosing to live together before marrying. Early in the 20th Century the number was virtually zero.

It kind of makes sense, this decision to move in together; it’s similar to a test drive; see if you like it, find out how it feels … that sort of thing. Find out if you can stand each other, really. Hey, most people end up divorced, anyway, so what’s the big whoop about marriage? It’s just a piece of paper. And people who really love each other don’t need a piece of paper to prove it. In fact some people say that living together without being forced to live together by a legal document is proof they really do love each other. They don’t need society to force them to stay together. They’re doing it all on their own. So it’s more real.

Oh, brother.

“In the 1970s, cohabitation and divorce both increased rapidly, leading some to conclude that cohabitation was linked to the rise in divorce, even though the rise in divorce began much earlier,” report Casper and Bianchi in CONTINUITY AND CHANGE IN THE AMERICAN FAMILY, 2002.” — In 2012 about two-thirds of people who married in that year, lived together for at least two years before they wedded.

Could there be a connection between the skyrocketing divorce rates and the rise in cohabitation? There has been much speculation about such a connection, and a lot of reasons and explanations have been put forth; too much to address in a short article. Suffice it to say that there’s ample evidence that living together is not only a hard way to conduct a long term relationship — whether it’s more or less likely to lead to divorce — it’s even worse for the kids.

First, fully three quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up before the children reach age sixteen; about a third of children born to married parents face a similar fate. Second, children in unmarried households are more likely to be abused than kids in intact families, especially if mom is living with a man who is not the children’s father. Third, unmarried couples tend to have lower incomes and fewer of them inherit wealth than do married couples, according to The National Marriage Project Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

If you’re on the road to a lifelong relationship, you can look at this information and the supporting evidence, if you wish, and come to your own conclusions. You can look at it from a purely practical position, a numbers game: does cohabiting actually put you at greater risk for splitting up? You might also take a moral view of it: is it right or wrong to live together first? You may think that you and your sweetheart are not the kind of people who fall into ‘that’ category: the losers. You’re not stupid, you’re educated, you know what’s up. And you could be right.

In my practice working with people who are thinking about living together, I strongly advise them, if they’re not absolutely sure about this important issue: don’t do it. It’s not like test-driving a car; it’s a losing proposition. And what’s possibly worse, if they do choose to cohabit first, the disappointment of a failed relationship can sting for a long time, nearly as badly as an actual divorce. And if children are involved, it can get very ugly.

I enjoy providing counsel to all kinds of couples, and take special delight working with people who are planning to marry. Having presented workshops in communication and conflict resolution since 2004, I have tools and knowledge to share that are sure to help you get started on the right foot. If you’d like a brief no-cost consult, please don’t hesitate to call: 219 309 3928.