Cohabitation does not replace marriage. Instead, it lays the groundwork for breaking up many marriages. Further, it significantly lacks the benefits of marriage. Despite this, the percentage of women who have ever cohabited has almost doubled over the past 25 years. A number of myths about cohabitation have blinded couples to its harmful realities.
Myth #1: Cohabitation is necessary to “test-drive” a marriage, and will produce stronger marriages by allowing couples to determine whether they are compatible living partners.
Fact: According to the American College of Pediatricians, cohabitation increases the risk of divorce by 50 percent, and is associated with lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence.
Couples sometimes claim that cohabiting allows them to determine whether they can tolerate their partner’s everyday habits such as not doing the dishes or picking up their dirty laundry. But this “test-drive” takes out the commitment necessary for marriage to work; it separates fidelity from love. It may speak more of distrust when trust is the foundation of all successful marriages. If dirty dishes or laundry could break up the relationship, then neither the couple’s love nor trust nor commitment is very deep.
Myth #2: Cohabitation is cost effective because it allows couples to pool their finances.
Fact: Cohabitation is financially risky, and lacks the financial benefits of marriage.
At first glance cohabitation appears financially practical: half the rent, half the utilities, maybe even half the grocery bill. But cohabitation also creates many complicated financial decisions: splitting bills between two partners with different incomes, choosing a name to put on the lease, agreeing who owns the furniture in the case of a split. Cohabitating relationships have the uncertainty of dating joined to the dependence needed for marriage—a hazardous mix.
Furthermore, cohabitation does not provide the same economic benefits found in marriage. According to MARRI research, cohabiters grow their net worth less than all other family structures. On average, cohabiting men have less stable employment histories than single and married men, and cohabiting fathers are less likely to have consistent, full-time work than are married fathers.
Myth #3: Cohabitation is a great way for busy couples to spend more time together.
Fact: The American College of Pediatricians found that cohabitation before marriage is associated with increased negative communication, couples spending less time together, and men spending more time on personal leisure.
Thus when unmarried couples live together they are less likely to go on dates and get to know one another, and more likely to go about their individual activities in each other’s presence. For many this breeds resentment and moves them further away from marriage.
Many couples see the frequency of celebrity divorces and resort to cohabitation to avoid a similar fate. Marriage has been disparaged as complicated and short-lived, while cohabitation has been exalted as simple and easy. The truth is, however, most of these divorced celebrity couples experienced an unstable marriage because they cohabited and had multiple sexual partners prior to that marriage. In contrast to cohabitation, marriage—and reserving sex for marriage—is the best way to secure a loyal, loving, and lasting marriage.