The Bitter Fruit of Shacking Up
The Bitter Fruit of Shacking Up
Marriage has gone out of style. Many couples these days no longer see the necessity of a formal life-long commitment. Thus it is becoming increasingly common for young adults to move in together, living in many respects as if they were married, but without taking any vows to each other. In the Bible this is called fornication, but in modern Western societies such "judgmental" terminology is scorned. In a period of only about 25 years or so, societal attitudes towards this phenomenon have changed dramatically. When two people live together outside of wedlock, it is no longer considered to be a big deal.
Isn't It Almost Like Marriage?⤒🔗
Is this something that Christians should be concerned about? Perhaps these relationships are just like marriage, so the lack of formal, public commitment is not really that important. Well, as it turns out, the lack of formal commitment makes a huge difference. Even in our own day and age when divorce rates are extremely high, this non-marriage relationship, or "cohabitation," is substantially more likely to be temporary than marriage. Compared to marriage, cohabitation relationships are less stable, less satisfying, and notably inferior environments for children.
While the large-scale cohabitation phenomenon is relatively recent, many aspects of it have been studied by social scientists. The research to date has been summarized by sociologist Patricia Morgan in her book Marriage-Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and its Consequences (London, England: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2000). Like so many recent trends in family life, this common "lifestyle" represents a breakdown of the traditional family, and contributes a lot to modern social problems.
The prevalence of cohabitation soared during the 1980s. The statistics are grim. In Western and Northern European countries, cohabitation "now typically initiates a first union for men and women" (p. 9). Figures from Britain show that in "younger age groups, more women in 'live-in partnerships' are cohabiting than are married, or 55 per cent of those aged 20-24 in 1995 (compared with 11 per cent in 1980). Unmarried men and women (single and divorced) aged 25-34 have the highest rates of cohabitation, of 40 and 34 per cent respectively" (p. 9). Although the precise figures would be somewhat different for Canada and the United States, the phenomenon is also very common in these countries.
There are likely a number of factors that have contributed to the rise of cohabitation. One factor is feminism. In feminist theory, marriage is an institution men use to subjugate women, and should therefore be avoided. "Marriage, as such, particularly limits the self-development and determination of women. And, while marriage dictates feelings, emotions and behaviour, cohabitation is a form of liberation from traditional values and oppressive structures" (p. 3). In most cases, however, young people probably aren't so motivated by ideological concerns. More commonly, having been "liberated" from traditional morality by the sexual revolution, they are simply "geared to having a companion and/or resident sex partner, for the time being, not a spouse" (p. 64).
Won't A Trial Run Help?←⤒🔗
Some proponents of cohabitation have argued that it will lead to better and stronger marriages. A man and woman can live together, get to know each other in intimate ways, and determine if they are compatible enough to make a life-long commitment to each other. Couples that find they are incompatible can simply walk away from their relationship without having made the mistake of getting married. Thus they save themselves from a painful divorce. Those that find they are compatible can get married knowing that they will have a long lasting relationship — or so the theory goes. In fact, however, this is a load of rubbish.
If the theory touted above was true, then marriages preceded by cohabitation would be less likely to break down than marriages that were not preceded by cohabitation. But the reverse is true: marriages preceded by cohabitation are much more likely to break down. Statistics from Canada, for example, show that premarital cohabitants "have over twice the risk of divorce in any year of marriage compared to non-cohabitants. Not only has cohabitation prior to marriage seemed positively associated with the perceived likelihood of dissolution of the current marriage, but the longer the cohabitation before marriage, the greater, it seemed, was the likelihood of divorce" (p. 27). The figures for Britain and Australia confirm the same basic trends. Cohabitation is not a trial run for a successful marriage.
But It's Got to be Safer, Right?←⤒🔗
Well, even though cohabitation does not lead to successful marriages, perhaps it is a more pleasant relationship than marriage. After all, since either partner can move out at any time, the relationship must be a happy one for both partners or else it will instantly dissolve. Again, however, this view is not sustained by the evidence. In the studies that have been done, the conclusion generally reached is that "cohabitants, on average, have poorer quality relationships than their married counterparts" (p. 32). One specific aspect of this is the incidence of domestic violence. Morgan notes that there are "pervasive indications that domestic violence is higher among cohabitants than it is among the married" (p. 33).
This incidence of domestic violence is particularly noteworthy in light of claims made by feminists. "According to influential feminist analysis, wife beating is a reflection of patriarchal norms, which support male dominance in marriage, where 'marriage is the mechanism by which the patriarchy is maintained.' Prominent scholars of family violence have, accordingly, referred to 'the marriage license as a hitting license,' or something that permits or encourages men to abuse their wives. Therefore, with less marriage, and more 'consensual unions' there should be less 'wife-beating'" (p. 35). But, in fact, the opposite is true. Women who are cohabiting with a male partner are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of their partner than married women (p. 35).
Feminist analysis fails again.
What About Health and Happiness?←⤒🔗
Marriage is also better than cohabitation in terms of health and happiness. "Whatever their income or education, married people report greater happiness and less depression than cohabitants ... For the US, annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are among three times what they are among married couples" (p. 39). Generally speaking, married people are healthier and have greater longevity than single and divorced people. In this respect, the effect of cohabitation on a person's life more closely resembles singleness than marriage (pp. 36-38). There are a number of potential reasons for the greater health and happiness of married people, but it goes to show that God's plan for marriage is indisputably superior to the various "lifestyles" commonly advocated today.
Not only are adults better off in marriage than in cohabitation, but children fare better in this situation as well. Basically, by any measurable indication, children raised by a married couple are generally better off than those raised by a cohabiting couple. "US research indicates that children in families with their mother and her cohabiting partner have lower academic performance, lower initiative, and more school problems than children from families with two continuously married parents, after controlling for economic resources, socio-demographic characteristics and parental behaviour" (p. 43). When it comes to children, there's just no question that the traditional family is the very best social arrangement. "Families underpinned by lifelong commitment provide the most stable and enduring environment in which children can grow, emotionally, physically, mentally and intellectually" (p. 70).
In sum, then, the recent rise in cohabitation is another social disaster. God gave us marriage because it is the best intimate relationship for human wellbeing (not to mention other reasons), and so all of the alternatives to it proposed by man fall far short. Alternatives to the traditional family, such as cohabitation, are harmful, not beneficial, for people. Left-wing social activists, such as feminists and homosexualists, have been attacking the traditional family and promoting other forms of human relationship that are inferior to the traditional family. The more successful they are with their agenda, the more harm they will be doing to our society and to the individuals who follow their destructive course. Christians who fight for the traditional family are not only obeying God by promoting His truth, they are also helping their fellow man by warning against harmful human relationships.
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