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To Cohabit or Not to Cohabit
Why is it such a common belief that co-habiting is just as good as marriage? Well the
truth is that it’s NOT and can cause a lifetime of damage to your relationship. The phenomenon
of couples living together before marriage is a new concept that our society has undertaken.
Since the 1960’s couples have decided to join living spaces instead of “jumping the broom.” But
what are the dangers in living together? Why get married, if it is just the difference of having a
piece of paper (marriage certificate)?
It is interesting that it was once illegal to cohabit in the United States until 1970. Why is
it so common now-a-days then? Many couples think that cohabiting is the step before marriage.
Some may think that it is almost like a trial period to see how things work before marriage. In
reality, living together increases the odds of divorce by 50%! (McManus 69). Also, a study has
shown that 50% of these relationships end before even reaching the altar. ( McManus 9).
Emotionally speaking, when a relationship breaks up between partners living together, the toll is
just as bad as that of a divorce.
In Living Together: Myths, Risk & Answers, McManus states, “Love in a marriage is an
investment. In cohabitation it’s a gamble. Cohabitation is conditional. Marriage is based on
permanence.” This is an important ideal to live by. Many feel that living together is a
commitment in itself. But there is no deeper and committed relationship other than marriage.
Men often want to live together for financial reasons and sex. Women on the other women think
its one step closer to a proposal.
Married individuals are less likely to report depression, anxiety, and stress. Many
married couples state that they are happier being married than they would be single or co-
habiting. A research had shown that marital breakups can bring on sickness and ailments even
as bad as cancer. Murder, suicide rates, and even psychiatric illness are much higher for a
single man than it is for a married man. Co-habiting women are three times as likely to suffer
from depression while on the other hand, married individuals are more likely to have overall
good or excellent health.
Not being married actually shortens an individual’s life span. By being married,
individuals are motivated to not participate in harmful practices or behaviors. On the other
hand, co-habiting couples do not feel the need to cease these activities and as a result, affect
their chances of living a longer life.
Married couples are also wealthier than single or co-habiting couples. When a couple is
married, they mostly decide to invest in a house and long term items that have a chance of
maturing and adding to their wealth. Married individuals are more motivated to spend on an
item that may benefit their spouse which can in turn, add to their wealth level. On the other
hand, co-habitors feel it not as important to invest in important purchases with each other since
their finances are held separately to avoid legal battle. Co-habiting partners may feel that they
can save money by living with their partner but the truth is individuals can save just as much
money by finding a same-sex roommate to share a place with. Married couples also
accumulate and save more money than dating couples.
Despite prior believed notions, married couples actually have a better sexual life than
those co-habiting or single. Especially due to television sitcoms and movies, it is commonly
believed that singles who are not monogamous or co-habiting have an ongoing sexual life. In
actuality, married couples have more and better sex than a single person. Married individuals
enjoy sex more since it is more emotional and is shared with someone they are both committed
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to and loyal to. Co-habitors have as much sexual intercourse as a married couple does, but is
not as satisfied due to the lack in total commitment and increase in fear of pregnancy. Overall,
married couples are happier, live longer lives, are wealthier and have better sex than those co-
There are many risks involved in co-habiting. Living together could be a stressful period
in an individual’s relationship. It can become somewhat of a competence test, to see if the other
is good enough to be married. The performance that is shown through this time must reach the
standard of the partner in order to make it to the next step. This conditional love can lead to
anxiety in the relationship because although one needs to know their partner before they are
married, no one is perfect and cannot meet up to perfect expectations.
Sex is also usually demanded by the male co-habitor. “Forty percent of cohabiting
women were forced into sex.” (McManus 39) This could lead to an abusive relationship or
marriage in the long-run. Studies have shown that abusive relationships are much more
common in co-habiting relationships than any other type of relationship. Aggression and
violence are more common in relationships of co-habitors. The murder rate is also significantly
higher between couples in a co-habiting relationship.
Co-habiting is also usually more convenient for one person than the other. Although it
may be decided that expenses will be split down the middle, one always ends up taking on more
financial responsibility. Also, women usually end up with the domestic responsibilities which
often unlevel the playing field.
Illegitimate children are common in co-habiting situations. These births are at an all-time
high. These children hold risks by being in this situation. Some of these children are likely to
have problems or cause problems in society. Also, since co-habiting couples are not as wealthy
as married couples, children are also less wealthy. Studies have shown that children, who have
come from a co-habiting situation, are found to be less educated. Since many co-habiting
couples split, many of these children have to deal with the stresses of living with one parent
Co-habiting couples face high risks of infidelity and divorce. Many individuals since they
are test trying the relationship, they are still single and still able to have relationships with others
outside of the relationship. They are more likely to “keep their options open” which brings strife
and lack of trust into the relationship. If a co-habiting couple does get married, this lack of trust
crosses offer to the marriage. The tendency of infidelity also can carry over into marriage which
can ultimately lead to divorce.
There is also many legal disputes involved in these relationships. If a co-habiting couple
splits, it is difficult to split cost when there is no legal tie to each other. One partner may not
have ownership rights or rights to property. Many who believe they are in common-law
marriage are often times not; the mere fact is that common-law marriage is only creditable in
very few states and must fall under some requirements. Also, many co-habiting couples, after
splitting, may have to deal with child custody and/or child support issues.
All these risks and negative aspects can be avoided. Marriage can provide security,
assurance, commitment, and much more. The ingredient to a successful marriage is avoiding a
co-habitation situation; and if one is in a co-habitation situation, move away and get to know the
other partner without living together. Happy marriages make for a well functioning society.
If you would like more insight into cohabitation, Living Together: Myths, Risks, &
Answers by Mike &Harriet McManus is an awesome starting point. Marriage Resource Centers
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such as The Marriage Resource Center of Wayne County also provides classes and workshops
that build communication and relationship skills. Classes are available for singles, dating,
engaged, and married couples. For more information on classes, contact The Marriage
Resource Center at 313- 278-4400.
McManus, Mike and Harriet. Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. Howard Books: New
*All facts and statistics are taken from Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers.