We refer to Stephanie Coontz’s opinion “The disestablishment of marriage” (24 June 2013). Contrary to her claim that living together before marriage is a “protective factor against divorce”, studies have consistently shown that cohabitation can be linked to poorer communication, lower marital satisfaction, higher levels of domestic violence and a greater risk of divorce.
Although findings vary on how far cohabitation increases a marriage’s chance of failure, the numbers are generally very high. Research has found that marriages preceded by cohabitation face a 65 percent increase in likelihood of divorce. Where only one spouse ever cohabited, the likelihood of divorce is 50 percent higher than marriages preceeded by no cohabitation.
Domestic violence is far more common in cohabiting relationships than marriages. According to a study in the Journal of Family Violence, cohabiters accounted for almost half of all cases of violence, while married couples had the lowest rate of violence at nine percent. Women are often the victims of such violence.
According to Glenn Stanton, a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa, “women are more likely to see their cohabitating relationship as a conveyor belt eventually leading to marriage. Guys are more likely to see their cohabitating relationship as the opportunity to see each other more often, have fun together; make sure he feels taken care of, and gain access to more regular sex.”
Two reasons account for the instability of cohabiting relationships. Firstly, cohabitation tends to involve less commitment, whether to the relationship or one’s partner. Secondly, cohabitation generally exhibits less successful problem-solving skills and partner-support.
Cohabitation is not a training-bed for marriage, nor is it a junior form of marriage. Well-known clinical psychologist, Dr. Bill Maier says that the best way for couples to test compatibility for marriage is not to live together before marriage, but to date for at least one year before engagement and participate in a structured, premarital counselling programme, which includes psychological testing.
Marriage, unlike cohabitation, is definitive and absolute. It is the giving of our all to another human being; stepping up and declaring it to the community around us. It is the commitment to marriage that establishes a lifetime together.
Focus on the Family Singapore