New Book Points Out Pitfalls of Cohabitation

Study Shows ‘The Ring Makes All The Difference’

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 17, 2012 ( In many countries, cohabitation before marriage is the norm rather than the exception. This tendency is, nevertheless, something that increases the risk of martial failure, a recently published book warns.

In «The Ring Makes All The Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage,» (Moody Publishers) Glenn T. Stanton gathers together the results of a large amount of research on cohabitation and marriage. Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at the organization Focus on the Family.

In the United States more than 60% of marriages are preceded by some form of cohabitation, according to data cited by Stanton. This practice is even more marked in second marriages.

Cohabitation is more common among those without a college degree, and among those who are less religious. Parental divorce, the lack of a father or high levels of conflict between parents are all factors that lead to an increased incidence of cohabitation.

In considering what motivates young people to cohabit Stanton explained that, while the 1960s sexual revolution led some to consider marriage as an unnecessary formality that true love did not need, in more recent times couples have shunned marriage due to a fear of failing to live up to its ideals.

Many of marriageable age today lived through their parent’s divorce and experienced it as a painful moment. Research does show a strong desire to marry among young people who choose cohabitation and they think that living together before marriage is a good way to avoid a future divorce.


Young people considering whether cohabitation will prepare them for marriage do not have to wait for answers from their personal experience, Stanton pointed out. There is already a wealth of research available on the subject.

Even if couples consider themselves practically married while they cohabit they still know that they are freer to end the relationship compared to those who are married. Without what Stanton termed «the glue of marriage» couples are more reluctant to invest time and resources into making the relationship flourish.

Marriage gives a couple a strong reason to make a personal commitment and investment to the union between the two. It also integrates the couple into their respective networks of family and friends in a much more solid and lasting way.

Studies have shown that cohabitating couples are more prone to excessive use of drugs and alcohol and that there are more fights or violence. One study found that the overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples and when it comes to severe violence it is five times greater.

Another drawback to cohabitation is the lack of fidelity. Most couples, says Stanton, expect sexual faithfulness, whether or not they are married. Many studies, however, have found that cohabitors have much higher levels of sexual infidelity than married couples.

«It seems that if you want to give someone the experience of sexual opportunism with other partners, cohabitation is what you are looking for,» Stanton commented.

While research has consistently shown that marriage is a wealth-building institution cohabitation is quite different. It is not just the uniting of incomes and resources that creates financial benefits, but the permanence and stability of marriage, according to Stanton.

Commitment vs. togetherness

Research has shown that wealth accumulation in cohabiting couples is closer to that of singles, rather than reaching the level of married couples. Cohabitors are more like roommates than a team, Stanton commented.

The level of commitment even affects such mundane matters as helping out with the household chores. One study revealed that a married man will spend up to eight more hours a week doing domestic work compared with those who cohabit.

Simply speaking, marriage provides an essential commitment that cohabitation does not and cannot provide, Stanton stated. That is why researchers consider cohabitation to being closer to singleness than to marriage. While cohabitation is an ambiguous statement about a couple, marriage, by contrast, is a strong statement about the status of the two people, not only to themselves, but also to the wider community.

This lack of commitment carries over even when a couple that has cohabitated eventually marries. Far from being a help in seeing if a couple is suitable for marriage, cohabitation prior to marriage increases by 50% to 80% the likelihood of an eventual divorce.

Stanton pointed out that sociologists have given a name to this phenomena, «the cohabitation effect.»

Without a clearly defined relationship a cohabiting couple can more easily fall into the habit of being more controlling and manipulative with each other. This leads to resentment and mistrust and carries over into married life.

Trying out the product before you buy, as if a future spouse is like some consumer item, is not the right way to go about ensuring a healthy marriage, Stanton urged. A message that needs to be much more widely spread in society today.

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