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Cohabiting, compared to Marriage
by Gloria Liven

Public opinion on cohabitation has changed drastically. At one time it was seen as immoral to cohabit, and even illegal. But today people are less judge mental and cohabitation today is a personal choice; and a popular one at that, with more than half of marriages being preceded with cohabitation.

Research has shown there is a significant difference in couples that live together without being married (cohabit) compared with couples that are married. Many of the benefits of marriage don't occur for cohabiting couples.

How many cohabiters break up? About 40% end the relationship within five years, and 55% end up getting married. Of the cohabiters that do marry, their chance of divorce is between 40-85%.
"The divorce rates of women who cohabit are nearly 80% higher than those who don't," says a study by researchers from Yale. Interestingly, premarital sex doesn't increase a couple's chance of divorce, but cohabitation does.

Researchers have tried to come up with reasons why this might be so; Both cohabiting and married couples live together, so what is the difference? It may all be in our heads; Being married symbolizes commitment and dedication to the other person, whereas cohabiting doesn't. Cohabiters may also have different mind sets, being more afraid of commitment or less dedicated to the relationship.


Some say that there are two types of cohabiters; Those that are engaged and living together for a brief amount of time before their marriage, and those that live together without definite plans of marriage.
"Then there are what I call the uncommitted cohabiters, who have no plans to marry and who look, on almost every outcome we can measure, worse," says Waite.


When people are living together casually, neither one has made a commitment exclusively to the other. What a marriage does is pledge to each other-- in front of your friends, family, and the world-- that you are dedicating yourself exclusively to the other person.


Cohabiting makes it easier for couples to live together but stay apart in many aspects; cohabiting couples often keep their finances and future planning separate, and see themselves as separate people. "Cohabiters value independence more than non cohabiters," says Jeffry Larson, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy Brigham Young University.
So if the relationship hits a bad patch, it's easier to leave than to weather it out or try to fix it.

The divorce rate for couples who cohabit before marriage is higher. Why? Some may think it's because they marry for the wrong reason-- because they've been living together, so they figure they might as well get married.

Or, couples that feel cohabitation is a good step may feel less strongly about marriage in general, and once married, are less likely to be committed, making it easier to divorce.

Yet another thought is that those who are using it as a "trial marriage" aren't ready for the commitment of marriage, and have the attitude that if things go badly, they can leave. That attitude carries on into the actual marriage.

But breakups of cohabiters aren't necessarily easier than getting an actual divorce. Both people can be emotionally stressed by it, and fights occur over who gets what.

Cohabiting couples have sex as often as married ones, but they report lower levels of sexual satisfaction. It's thought that the security and commitment that marriage symbolizes allows couples to feel more connected and thus have better sex.

So whether you cohabit or marry and how that affects your relationship may be purely psychological. Deciding to dedicate yourself to a marriage ceremony and marriage may change the way you mentally view your relationship and make you more dedicated to preserving the relationship.

One difference is cohabiters that only cohabit with their future spouse; In this case, the divorce rates are much lower than for couples that have cohabited with more than one person.

"Women planning to live with their prospective marital partners can take comfort from the finding that if they have premarital sex and cohabit only with their future husband, it should have no effect on their future chance of divorce," says Jay Teachman, sociologist, at Western Washington University, who conducted a study on women who have premarital sex or cohabit before marriage.

This may be because those who cohabit only with their future spouse are much more dedicated to the relationship than those who have cohabited with many other people. Those that cohabit exclusively with one partner may be more committed to their future marriage.

"Marriage gives people a goal-- a sense of purpose in life that's larger than they are" - Linda Waite, professor of sociology, University of Chicago

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