Times are definitely changing. And with this, we see the changing nature of societal norms and a shift in family and relational values. Back in the day, societal norms called for a man and woman to be married first, before living together or even rearing children. However, modernity has altered such norms, bringing in its wake, new and alternative ways to family life as we know it. In the past decade, co-habitation has become increasingly more prominent and acceptable within the family set-up. Today, we see more than ever before, more couples choosing to live together before marriage, which begs the question, does premarital cohabitation actually lead to happily ever after”. In answering this question, let’s first of all look at why people choose to live together outside the confines of marriage.
Why do people cohabitate?
For one, many people argue that it makes financial and economic sense to do so. This is because cohabitation helps couples to lower living costs and reduce overall expenditure, by limiting mortgage, utility and other household spending to one house instead of two. Premarital cohabitation is frequently viewed as an economically viable option that helps couples save money. Some countries, particularly in the west, even encourage co-habitation by giving cohabitating couples tax-breaks and allowing them to borrow from the bank at lower interest rates, than non-cohabitating couples
Second, from a relational standpoint, people argue that living together before marriage actually helps you to “test the waters” so to speak, so as to determine compatibility levels, and to see if the relationship will stand the test of time or shall I rather say, the test of “each ones uniquely annoying habits”. People who support co-habitation believe that it is a necessary precursor for marriage. They argue that people who venture into holy matrimony after premarital cohabitation are more likely to have an enduring marriage.
Why cohabitation is not always the best option.
On the flip side, some arguments actually discourage premarital co-habitation and argue that it does more harm than good. In studying the effects of premarital co-habitation, psychologists have found that couples who live together before marriage are actually more prone to divorce than those who do not cohabitate. This is because cohabitation is linked to a phenomenon known as “drifting” or “sliding”, in which people who live together prior to marriage often feel that the next step in the relationship is marriage. This is often decided without much cognitive reasoning or careful thought about marriage in itself. Many couples who cohabitate are less likely to meet other partners that they may be more compatible with, which may result in them “settling” for each other. As a result of this, many couples who cohabitate are more likely to enter into potentially unhealthy or unfulfilling marriages; where communication skills and mutual affection may be lacking, thus increasing the likelihood of divorce.
Another problem associated with premarital cohabitation is a concept known as “sunk cost. This phenomenon makes it harder for couples that cohabitate to walk away from unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships, due to invested time, money, energy and/or shared mutual friendships. In such situations, people (even in physically abusive relationships) will stay in the relationship, which may even end up in marriage, all in an attempt to minimise tangible and/or intangible relational losses.
Premarital cohabitation tends to reduce the quality of a relationship, (even after marriage). Often, couples who cohabitate before marriage tend to experience reduced passion and declined sexual activity in marriage, than their non-cohabitating counterparts. This is because the sexual “peak” of cohabitating couples is often reached during their years of living together prior to marriage, and may not be regained in marriage.
In addition, couples that cohabitate prior to marriage may view divorce or the dissolution of a marriage with less seriousness than their non-cohabitating counterparts. This is because couples who engage in premarital cohabitation do not see marriage much differently from cohabitation, and as such the dissolution of a marriage is much similar to the end of a cohabitating lifestyle.
Premarital cohabitation also introduces a gender-based problem, which tends to affect women more so than men. This gender dynamic makes women more likely to view cohabitation as a precursor to marriage, while their male partners may not necessarily view it in the same light. This is what urges women to “force” their “emotionally less-dedicated” partners to commit, and down the path to a rocky marriage.
The good book even offers some words of wisdom on the matter. Although the bible does not make explicit reference to cohabitation per se, (probably because during biblical times, such an arrangement between a man and a woman was so rare it did not even exist), it does make reference to the importance of protecting your emotions, which are bound to get hurt if you cohabitate with a significant other outside the confines of marriage—“keep watch over your heart; that’s where life starts” Proverbs 4:23. Furthermore, the bible also makes reference to the importance of sexual purity; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7, which encourages you to honour your body as well as guard your heart.
A few last words.
With the rising rates of divorce, it is clear that premarital cohabitation may not be as practical as initially thought. Research has shown that commonsense can be wrong and even counterintuitive. Premarital cohabitation actually does more harm than good. This is because it places undue physical, social, emotional and mental pressures on couples who live together before marriage. This is not to say that people who cohabitate will not end up married (if marriage is their long-term goal), but to say that it reduces the likelihood of happily ever after.