Cohabitation before marriage is a rising trend in industrialized societies. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2005 there were 4.85 million cohabiting couples in the United States. This is despite the increasing evidence that living together does not guarantee the success of the relationship in the long run.
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The conventional wisdom is that in societies where divorces rates are rising all the time, it makes sense to test compatibility before being legally married. Instead of getting married and then finding out that two people are meant to be with each other, it would be much easier to share a life first and then decide if they are actually suited for a more committed relationship. However several sociological surveys conducted in recent times suggest that this is not the most important or at least the only reason why couples decide to move in with each other. The results of a 2004 study published in Journal of Marriage and Family found that while couples may consider marriage or think about it, the major reasons of cohabitation are finance, convenience or housing needs. The study, authored by Sharon Sassler, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, included 25 residents of New York City, aged between 25 and 33 who had been living with boyfriend or girlfriend for the past three months at least.
Yet, there are motivating factors for couples to live together before marriage.
As professor Sassler’s research and many other studies suggest, couple primarily move in with each other while still unmarried for economic convenience. Sharing a house as well as domestic expenses turns out to be cheaper for either partner as compared to maintaining two difference apartments and incurring two sets of living expenses. For instance if both partners are attending the same college, they may find it cheaper to share housing and transport. Moreover when both partners pool in their resources not only can they save on the cost of running a household, they can in fact afford a much better standard of living. Even the chores like paying bills, buying groceries, cooking and cleaning can be shared so that it may be easier to maintain a full-fledged household. The downside of such an arrangement is that once it stops being convenient for one of the partners, it is likely to come to an end. For instance if one partner is laid off at work, or is physically indisposed for reasons of ill-health, the other partner may not want to bear the additional burden for a long period of time. In a marriage on the other hand, the shared life is primarily based on commitment and not convenience, so that even when either partner is unable to contribute, financially or practically, for some time to the arrangement, the latter is not in danger of coming apart.
Many couples, who move in together before marriage, do so with the thoughts of conducting a trial run of their relationship. They feel that if they can make a success of their living together, they might be able to consider marriage in future. Sharing a life together will give each other a deeper insight into the habits and personality of the other person which will be invaluable in deciding whether he/she is spouse material. While this sort of trial run may afford greater insight as compared to mere dating, it still does not guarantee success in marriage. In fact a number of studies have revealed that all other factors being the same, chances of a marriage failing are twice as much higher when couples have been cohabiting before as compared to those couples who move in only after . for instance, a study published in Journal of Family Psychology in February 2009 and led by Galena Rhoades of University of Denver revealed that as much as 19 percent of 1000 couples who had lived together before marriage were unhappy in their marital life and had suggested divorce. Compared to this only ten percent of the couples who had never cohabited before marriage had thought of divorcing their partners. Also cohabiting couples are less likely to get married than those who are merely seeing each other, according to another study by Sharon Sassler, professor of sociology at Ohio State University with James McNally of the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan. The results of the study published n 2004 issue of the Social Science Journal revealed that among the cohabiting couples surveyed, only 40 percent got married within four to seven years.
Yet another reason why couples may prefer to cohabit rather than marry is because of the escape clause. It is easier to share a life knowing that if and when things don’t work out, one can always leave perhaps even to try out another relationship. In fact cohabiting couples even claim that it is the possibility of leaving that keeps their relationship “fresh” and motivates them to work at it. A marriage on the other hand is thought to be messier to walk out of. Moreover married couples are more likely to begin to take each other for granted and thus stop nurturing the relationship. However, this kind of hopping from one living arrangement to another among cohabiting couples can hardly allow one to fully experience the joys of a relationship. When a person is conscious that his/her partner may walk out any moment, how secure or faithful can the relationship be. Moreover this fear can also prevent a couple from living honest lives, in other words, from being who they really are. A marriage on the other hand, allows couples the freedom to be their real selves while at the same time enjoining upon them the responsibility of nurturing the relationship.
Fear of loneliness too may drive many people to cohabit with partners. Living together may mean that partners are available physically, sexually and emotionally for each other without the necessity of getting legally married. It seems an ideal arrangement for people who do not want to be alone and yet want to avoid the responsibilities of marriage. However as with any middle path, this arrangement too is situated to get the worse of both ends. For instance you may relish the combination of sexual gratification without emotional responsibility but remember so does your partner.
Couples who cannot get legally married or may have to go through difficult procedures to get legal recognition of their marriage may opt to live together. Such couples may belong to different races, religions, different sexual orientation or may be philosophically opposed to the institution of marriage.
There have been a lot of studies on the pros and cons of living together before marriage but relatively few on why couples decide to do so in the first place. Ultimately both issues are inextricably tied to each other – the advantages of living together lead couples to adopt the practice while the pitfalls of the arrangement reveal that it cannot be a wholly successful alternative to institution of marriage.