A Foundational Difference Between Cohabitation and Marriage

By Obed Bazikian, Intern
In a Catholic News Agency article, Benjamin Mann reports on a critique of a study showing the positive effects of cohabitation over marriage. The article references a book by Dr. Scott Yenor of Boise State University, where he discusses a study by Dr. Kelly Musick and Professor Larry Bumpass on cohabitation. Dr. Musick of Cornell Universityconcluded that “marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being, and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits.” Musick goes on to say, “While married couples experience health gains, cohabitating couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth.”
Arguments of cohabitation and the institution of marriage are ideologically separate at its foundation. Proponents of cohabitation, as Yenor and Mann point out, claim individual happiness as the end goal, with little or no regard for the happiness between the couple. The language Musick uses such as “unwanted obligations,” “autonomy,” and “personal growth” suggests nothing of health of the relationship, but only individual fulfillment and happiness. I would suggest that there is more to a relationship than seeking individual, or selfish, happiness. There is other research that claims couples in an intact marriage have more fulfillment than cohabiters.  In the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s 162 Reasons to Marry, Reason 8 shows that three studies concluded that “[m]arried couples enjoy more relationship quality and happiness than cohabiters.”  It is indeed possible for one to claim individual happiness in a cohabiting relationship, without the commitment of marriage. However, relationships outside of the marriage commitment bring with them the possibility of abandonment—and this is not a foundation for relational fulfillment.  It is only within the marriage covenant that there is security, thus producing the quality of relationship and trust couples truly seek.


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