Cohabitation: A Preparation for Divorce

Cohabitation: A Preparation for Divorce April 17, 2012

One sweet neighbor of ours “C” is a never-married single mom, 29 years old, raising four-year-old and seven-year-old boys. She has a boyfriend, a never-married single dad of one daughter. We have noticed that her boyfriend is over more and more. “C” and I have a nice friendship. I recently asked her about getting married and reminded her that they could even be reconciled and married in the Church since they have no prior marriages (both are cradle Catholics). She blushed and said she’d say yes, if he would ask.

“C” told me soon after that they had just talked about marriage and maybe having a child together after they get married. She seemed happy and even a little giddy. Then, just yesterday, she told me that his real estate income is way down, so he cancelled his apartment lease and has moved in with her, to save some money, since he often was staying there anyway. I wasn’t sure what to say, or what even what she expected me to say. All I could think about is, practically-speaking, it’s much less likely that he’ll propose now. He gets free “love” from her, as well as now room and board and childcare, with no strings attached. They have just slid into cohabitation, as is commonplace according to this article, and the prospects for a happy marriage have become even more grim…

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

Read the full text here.

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