In 2009, I bought a Volkswagen Jetta diesel through a Craigslist ad. The flight out to Kansas City was pleasant and so were the sellers of the car who picked me up at the airport. We drove to a bank parking lot, where I paid them the agreed-on purchase price and I then hit the road for Ohio. For the first time in my life, I had bought a car without test driving it first! Though I don’t normally recommend that, I’ll explain why later. The biblical institute of marriage is under attack on several fronts today. One of these attacks is what Grandpa and Grandma called “shacking up” and it is affecting almost every family in one way or another.
This may surprise you, but prior to 1970, it was illegal for a man & woman to live together if they were not married. Several decades have passed since then, and let's look at what the facts reveal about cohabiting outside of marriage.
In 1970 there were 523,000 people “living together” (or cohabiting) outside of marriage. That is 11 percent.
- 1980 1,589,000
- 1990 2,856,000
- 2000 5,500,000 (50 percentage)
Today, the number of couples who cohabit prior to, or instead of marriage is 60 percent! This is a serious trend that is altering society in several ways, and the worst of it has to do with children. That number is growing too. In 1980, cohabiting couples with children were 27 percent. Today, that number has risen to over 40.1 percent.
Between 1990 and 2007, the number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88% (2). In 2010 alone, the number of new couples living together rose a record-breaking 13 percent in one year (3). But the real question remains. Is cohabitating a good idea, or not? As a counselor, I have spoken to many young people over the years, and this is what I have learned about cohabitating.
There are five reasons that people commonly give for cohabiting:
- “We want to find out if we are compatible with each other” (human wisdom).
- “We do it because it makes good sense financially.”
- “We don’t like to live alone (companionship).”
- “Everyone else is doing it (rationalization).”
- “We’re going to get married eventually. We’re in love.”
Welcome to the real world 1. Far greater chance for divorce. About two-thirds of couples cohabiting said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce. Forty percent of all couples that marry end up getting divorced. Over 75 percent of couples that shackup prior to marriage end up getting divorced (Alan Booth and David Johnson, Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success, pp.261-270).
2. Greater odds for conflict. Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of emotional and physical abuse (Pennsylvania State University study). According to the U.S. Justice Department, women are nine times more likely to be assaulted if living with a man unmarried than if they were married. The Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire found the overall rate for “severe” violence is nearly six times as high for cohabitating couples then it is for married couples (Journal of Family violence vol. 41). The National Crime Victimization Survey revealed that between 1979 and 1987, 65 percent of violent crimes against women were committed by boyfriends (or ex-husbands), while only 9 percent were committed by a husband (April 4, 2003). This is astounding.
3. Less chance for happiness. It is hard for a person to be happy if his or her relationship is built on the need to prove himself or herself. In a shack-up arrangement, commitment is day-to-day and month-to-month--“If you make me happy... If we are sexually compatible.” People who marry “til death do us part” have quite a different level of commitment, and therefore quite a different level of security, thus quite a different level of freedom, and as a result a quite different level of happiness. A recent study of 6,023 couples reported significantly higher levels of happiness in married partners than did cohabitating partners (4). The married couples report less depression, less anxiety, and lower levels of psychological distress and, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, women who cohabit with men have rates of depression three times higher than married women (a similar study in the U.K. revealed depression rates of 330% higher).
4. Greater risk of adultery. Sexual faithfulness is one of the many areas that are negatively impacted for couples who cohabit. This pattern continues into their marriage if they wed. A Michigan study shows that couples who waited to cohabit until after they were married (the correct way) were much more likely to rate those relationships stronger than those who lived together before marriage. If a woman lives with a man prior to marriage she is more likely to cheat on him once they are married. Three-point-three times more likely. Contrary to popular belief, the best sex is experienced by married people (The National Sex Survey of 3,500 people, and then 1,000 people).
5. Less likelihood of saying “I do.” A common reason couples give for cohabiting up is that they are going to get married anyway. According to Brown & Booth, only about 40% of couples who cohabit eventually marry. Other studies have shown similar or worse findings. Living together before marriage actually decreases the chances that a couple will marry. The odds are greater that they will not. Cohabiting up is a high-risk--low reward option.
Summary If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend “cohabit,” your chances for long term marital success drops to 21.2 percent. Aggression (domestic violence) is 50 percent greater, and 60 percent greater if you don't marry at all. Your chance of experiencing depression is three times greater than couples who marry.
Would you parachute out of an airplane if you knew that four of every five parachutes would fail? Probably not. Adding these unnecessary failure rates would probably make the bravest of us say, “No thanks.” The wise choice is to marry first and then live together.
Here is a testimony hot off the griddle:
I am in a cohabitation relationship going on a year now and I love the person dearly but living together is just not enough for me anymore. I want marriage, but in a way, I think that he is just comfortable the way things are now and I feel as if he could make me wait forever. I will never do this again should my boyfriend and I break up. I just feel like I am doing all that a wife does and more and I don't get anything out of it. The stats scare me considering that we are currently engaged and I am just frightened. I don't even want to marry him now. I just want to move out and start over…" (spoken with tears).
So today, when young people offer the objection, “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it would you??!!” I can honestly say “Yes, I have.” And that gives me an opportunity to tell them about God’s will for marriage, about the biblical instruction regarding it. There are four things that amaze me:
- I am amazed how God can change a life.
- I am amazed how sin binds and destroys a person.
- I am amazed how repentance and cleansing frees a person.
- I am amazed how accurate the Bible is to provide answers for the things that we struggle with.
Go and do as He commands (Hebrews 5:9).
_____ 1. Nearly 40% of unmarried American households include children. - U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.” 2. U.S. Census Bureau. “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007.” 3. Cohabitation Numbers Jump 13%, Linked to Job Losses, By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY 1/27/2011 4. Steven L. Nock, “A Comparison of Marriages and Cohabitating Relationships.” 1995