“Casual recreational sex is hardly a feast – not even a hearty sandwich. It is a diet of fast food served in plastic containers. Life’s feast is available only to those who are willing and able to engage life on a deeply personal level, giving all, holding back nothing.”
– Journalist George Leonard
So what is cohabiting? Cohabiting is simply defined as two people of the opposite sex living together in the same home/apartment with long-term or permanent intentions. It is also called “shacking up” or living together or moving in with one another. Throughout this article, I will refer to non-married people as “partners”. Keep in mind these are people of the opposite sex, not a same-sex couple (that is a topic for another post!).
Why do I bring it up? I am writing on cohabitation because I have seen too many people choose this route and it is rarely discussed. Gone are the years when living together was considered wrong. It is now a commonplace in today’s western culture. Up to 40% of college age people have at one time cohabited 1. Cohabiting does have its happy endings but there are very few of them.
University of Michigan sociologist Pamela Smock states:
“Only about one-sixth of live-ins last at least three years, and only one-tenth endure five years or more. Marriages preceded by living together have 50% higher disruption rates than marriages without premarital cohabitation.” 2
In other words, many people choose to live together but statistically, it’s not the right choice.
Most of the time, one or both of the partners end up getting either financially or emotionally ruined and in the long run, it would have been better for them if they would have chosen something else besides moving in together. I will discuss alternatives to cohabitation towards the end of this article. What is my stance on the subject? If you haven’t already guessed, it is one very few people have. I am against it.
Cohabiters tend to live together for various reasons. The original intent might be a good one. They may need to rely on one another for financial reasons, they want to see if they can “test the waters” before marriage, they want to prove to the world that they are independent or they just feel that they “need somebody”. All these reasons are natural and there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. However, cohabiting is the wrong solution. During a cohabiting situation, the partners usually end up sexually intimate. This also brings in the moral question: is it wrong to have sex outside of marriage? See my post “Why Sex Outside Marriage is Wrong” for more.
Roland Johnson, a university sociologist, describes four categories of Cohabiters. The large majority of cohabitating relationships he finds are among college age individuals. Johnson’s cohabiting groups are: Linus Blanket, Emancipation, Convenience and Testing Relationships. The following is a brief description of each:
This type of cohabiting relationship is founded on the overwhelming need to be involved with somebody. The desire to be loved is so vast and strong that many will “settle for” whoever is out there rather than choose someone they are compatible with. The person seeking a Linus blanket relationship can be either male or female, but more often it is the female. This person needs to feel the security of being loved and cared for and will accept almost anyone. When there is conflict, they often give in rather than stand up. This turns into compromise which later evolves into control by the other partner. This can lead to emotional and even physical abuse. There is a great fear of the relationship ending. They might feel trapped or as if they are running a vicious cycle. In cohabiting, the end comes when one walks out. The remaining person feels lost, abused, and used. They are often left in an extreme state of rejection, depression, and loss of self-esteem.
2. Emancipation Relationship
This type of cohabiting relationship occurs when the person wants to prove to their peers or parents that they are free to make their own choices and are not bound by limitations. The emancipation relationship is not one which encourages the couple to work through communication skills or conflict resolution. It is not a relationship that encourages the development toward marriage. It is usually just a protest to the world that says, “I can!” The “relationship” between the cohabiters is however not the reason for living together. There is no foundation for the partners to stand on. It is a weak excuse to cohabitate and more often than not, the two cohabiters break up not too long into the “relationship”.
This type of cohabiting relationship is convenient, it is said, for economic reasons. The intent is to split expenses 50/50 (just like roommates). It’s cheaper for two to live together and contribute right? However, economical advantages shouldn’t solely determine whether something is morally right or wrong. Since the majority of cohabitating relationships are short lived, and economics is obviously not an overwhelming hindrance then why allow it to become a controlling factor from the start? Since sexual intimacy often happens between two cohabiters, the moral questions should instead be, “What is my sexuality worth?” and “Will I save myself for my (hopefully) lifelong spouse?”
However, studies have found that in a convenience relationship, the woman ends up supporting the man. They contribute to more than 70% of the income. The burden placed on the woman’s expenses thus nullifies the reason for a convenience. Because cohabiting relationships are usually college aged people, the woman ends up working more to pick up the slack. This consequently affects her studies by having to pay less attention to school. Some men really do give our whole gender a bad name, don’t they? The same could be said about women but that’s for another story!
The partners’ beginning intentions might be noble. They probably plan for an impartial type housekeeping where both of them will do equal work and contribute evenly. Instead it moves into a traditional role where the male prevails and the female submits. Of course, this is ideal for the man. The woman finds herself doing general housework like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and running errands. The male might mean well at first, but usually he reverts back to the stereotypical model portrayed by too many men in today’s culture. He goes out with his buddies, plays with his toys and does things apart from making sure his home is in order. Remember, this is an unmarried couple. If the two were married, things would probably be much different. There would be a motivation to make things work.
In the beginning, the female might view this type of cohabiting relationship as a first step towards marriage. However, the man might see it much differently. He might view it as more of a “sexual” opportunity rather than a long-term commitment. Plain and simple, this relationship is convenient. It ends up being very convenient for the man, but not so for the woman.
Kevin Leman in Smart Kids, Stupid Choices says,
“It’s kind of like giving someone a million dollars and later finding out you gave it to the wrong person, but now he/she’s gone and so is your money. Gone for good. You don’t have it anymore. And the person who should have had it will now never get it.”
4. Testing Relationship
This type of cohabiting relationship “tests the waters” before jumping in. You “test drive a car” before you buy it, so why not do the same with your lifelong relationships? You try on a pair of shoes to see if they fit before you buy them, so why not do the same before you marry your spouse? When you test drive a car you don’t pack your personal luggage in the trunk or when you try on a pair of new shoes you don’t want everyone else’s foot odor and fungus already in them. You can throw away shoes without hurting anyone, but you can’t throw away a person without hurting them and possibly others.
A couple who wants to test their relationship before marriage by cohabiting is “committed” – or they think they are committed – to marrying. They want to first see if they are compatible with each other by practicing marriage. They plan to move in together, get married someday, are “so in love” and “so happy”. The testing relationship is, however, one of the worst excuses for partners to move in together. The meaning of testing is to discover the relationship’s weak points or points of breaking. Because the couple is testing for defects and un-successfulness, this puts an extra strain on the relationship. Partners who use testing as an excuse to move in together are doomed for failure because the entire reason behind their cohabitation is to seek out the negative. Usually when they are looking for something negative, they will find it.
It is also true that the longer the partners cohabitate, the more tolerant they are of divorce. They become used to living in a low-commitment relationship, and it is hard to shift from that mental pattern. Because of this low-committed relationship, the couple doesn’t work through problems because there is an easy way out. They aren’t legally bound to remain together. All one has to do is simple pack up and leave. There are no attorneys (usually) and there are no divorce papers. If one of the partners eventually marries someone else, they become more open to divorce because of their skewed view on a relationship without commitment. This type of cohabiting has fewer problems than the other three,but studies show that testing relationship couples are still no better off in the long run for having successful marriages. The relationship usually dissolves after four years.
“The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.”
– C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Letters”
So now that I’ve over-viewed four types of cohabiting relationships, I’ll give four solutions or alternatives for each:
1. Linus Blanket Relationship
This relationship is based on a need for closeness with another human. Maybe the person seeking this type of relationship has had a lack of security, love or care from a parent. Because of that, they seek that need out in the wrong person (just anyone who shows them attention). This leaves them worse off in the end from where they started. And it will take them even longer to reach a state where they can trust again.
I’m not a psychologist or a shrink but I believe this person can still find true love and acceptance from another human without living with them or having an intimate relationship together. They can date. They can pursue closeness with someone of the opposite gender in a healthy way in which they can still have some control over the situation and their own decisions. Whenever they feel the power is in the hands of the other person who they might not fully trust, that’s where fear sets in. Of course they can’t live their life constantly thinking that someone is going to betray them but they have to gain some control over their situation so they can eventually fully trust someone else and reach that level where they are truly confident.
Personal confidence is the ultimate goal here, not intimacy, a one night stand or living with someone who they (at first) feel attached to. Closeness with another human can be fulfilled not only in the physical/sexual realm but also in a deep conversation, a physical activity like sports, hiking or biking, or simply snuggling up on the couch to a good movie. This can also be shared not only with a person of the opposite sex but also with someone of the same sex (except for the snuggling part!). It would be much healthier to live with someone of the same gender.
2. Emancipation Relationship
I think this is the most immature excuse for two people to cohabitate. It seems almost childish for someone to overlook cohabitating with someone just for the excuse that says, “I can do it!” or “I don’t need to be ruled by my parents anymore,” Because those are used for excuses, this relationship will dissolve very soon. A relationship should be built on security, common interests, experience, time, patience and communication. What do I suggest for someone in this situation? They can prove their emancipation in other ways that won’t end up hurting them in the long run. Buy a car, go to college, get a good job, or move in with someone of the same gender.
3. Convenience Relationship
This relationship is probably one of the most common reasons for cohabitation. It just seems logical that if two people can’t make ends meet while living alone that they should move in together. However, as previously stated, this ends up being convenient for the male and not for the female.
Men need motivation. We need to feel like our hard work is recognized and appreciated. We are content with living without decorations and glamour. We are okay with working at the same job for years. We are task oriented. We don’t like change. It has been said that men are like waffles. We compartmentalize things into categories and logically go from one area to the next in a specific order.
Women, however, are very different. They are constantly looking for ways to make things better. They want to improve or upgrade. They are emotionally oriented. Women are like spaghetti. They have a maze of ideas, problems and solutions. They can never deal with only one thing at a time. They are constantly multitasking in different directions. While this may seem unorganized to a man, the woman has it all together in her mind and they’re usually successful that way. That is why (usually) a woman needs a man and visa versa.
What I’m saying is that if a convenient cohabiting relationship were instead a married relationship, the couple would have a goal to work things out, not just live together as roommates. They would work through their differences and communicate because they want to remain married. However, a cohabiting couple isn’t legal bound. The only thing that keeps a convenience cohabiting couple together is the fact that if they lived apart, they couldn’t make it. There might be an emotional connection between them but it is nothing like if they were married.
As with the other two solutions, I suggest that if someone has trouble getting by while living on their own, they can move in with someone of the same sex. They could even move back in with their parent(s). That would be the last option but it might be a temporary fix just until that person is able to get back on their feet. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it sure does run our lives sometimes doesn’t it?
4. Testing Relationship
This type of cohabitation is most likely the biggest reason a guy and a gal move in together. Because of today’s statistics (45-50% of first marriages ending in divorce), they would rather see if they’re compatible with one another first before signing the dotted line, marrying and possibly becoming among one of those statistics. That’s the whole reason for them to enter into this cohabitation: to see if they can fail (that’s what divorce is, isn’t it? A failed marriage.). It is a very dysfunctional way of looking at marriage.
Marriage is all about faith, right? The man hopes his woman can respect him, adore him, compliment him, praise him, emotionally support him, birth his children and keep his house. The woman has faith that her man will love her, lavish her with adoration, treat her like his queen, pursue her, be honest to her, assure her and provide for her. Faith can turn into trust if the two stick together.
However, if the first big decision between the couple is to cohabitate in order to “test” to see if they could make it by “practicing” before marriage, that’s not faith. It’s not trust. It’s a big set-up for failure. Instead, as I have said before, the first time a couple should live together should be when they’re married. Marriage should be a journey of leaned mistakes. Of working through the new things, not trying them out to see if they will be unsuccessful. This is also true with pre-marital sex, but that is another topic for another article.
So am I saying that partners are doomed for failure no matter what their reason for cohabitation is? No. There are a few couples out there who have made it. However, cohabitation usually has an unhappy ending.
My ex-wife and I didn’t live together before we married and our divorce had nothing to do with our premarital living arrangements. I remember experiencing so many new things when we were newly-weds. It was such an exciting feeling to go through doing laundry together for the first time, paying bills, grocery shopping, taking care of each other when one was sick, and all those other new things we went through.
If we had already lived together, none of that would be new. The excitement we would have experienced after marriage would have already passed. It was so much better while we were married. Everything was brand new. It was fresh. It wasn’t an old habit we had constantly done if we had cohabited. I don’t know what it’s like to live with someone of the opposite gender before marriage but I know what I experienced without cohabiting was such a great encounter!
Here are some statistics on cohabiting:
– Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.
– Just over 50% of first cohabiting couples ever get married.
– In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.
– Couples who lived together before marriage tend to divorce early in their marriage. If their marriage last seven years, then their risk for divorce is the same as couples who didn’t cohabit before marriage.
– In France and Germany cohabiting couples have a slightly lower risk of divorce.
– If cohabitation is limited to a person’s future spouse, there is no elevated risk of divorce.
– In the US, cohabiting couples taking pre-marital education courses or counseling are not at a higher risk for divorce.
Links to co-habiting articles:
1. Ingold, C. (Director) (2004, January 1). Cohabitation. Presentation. Lecture conducted from UNCW, Wilmington.
2. Peterson, K. (2000, April 18). Wedded to Relationship but not to Marriage. USA Today.