Saturday, December 12, 2009


One of the major issues of our modern age, especially for those of us who were born in the 70's and 80's is cohabitation. Cohabitation is when a couple lives together outside of marriage. Everybody's doin' it, as the kids say and it is a disastrous and rarely pondered choice to make. I hope that readers of this post will see it not as a condemnation or a judgement from me personally about them personally, but as a honest look at the facts which point to the conclusion that cohabitation is bad for individuals, for couples, bad for children, and bad for our society.

Let me go ahead and make the best arguments for the pro-habitation side, they amount to this: "Well, me and my girlfriend have been dating for a while now, like two years, and we're ready and mature enough in our relationship to make the move in together. Plus, we're just starting out and we could really stand to save 600 dollars a month we pay for another place when she is probably just over here all the time anyway. Plus, we love each other, right, and this will be like a training for marriage, you know to make sure we're ready for it." 1. save money, 2. it will help marriage 3. it's convenient 4. it's a result of the commitments we've made.

Point 2: Helping the Eventual Marriage. The easiest error to address is that cohabitation is good for marriage. The divorce rate for couples who cohabitated and eventually get married is DOUBLE that of couples who marry and do not cohabitate before marriage. Double. And no one likes divorce. At best, a person may say divorce is a necessary evil in the most extreme case. While the Catholic church contends that it is not possible for man to tear apart what the Lord has joined together (as Jesus Himself proclaimed). But certainly no one would assert with sincerity that divorce is pleasant, beneficial for society or a good. For with the country's divorce rate near half, everyone reading will either know someone who has been divorced or are themselves a product of a divorced household. Cohabitation has increased 11 fold since the 50's and divorce has more than doubled in that time, going from less than 1/4 marriages to 1/2. This relationship is not necessarily causal, but the relationship is hard to deny. Today, men who are cohabitating are four times as likely to be unfaithful than married men. And, as for the stability of cohabitating relationships, only one in ten last beyond five years. So, whether the cohabitating intend to be married or not, their relationships are far more unstable and short lived than the married couple.

Point 3. Convenience. It may true on a very small scale that it would be more convenient for you to live together. It would save you a ton of 10 minute car drives and having to leave later in the evening when it's cold outside. Really though, these minor inconveniences would be better for the individual in the long run. They may not be easier, but they would be better far and away. It comes down to a sacrifice you make for the health of the person you love. Your life is slightly more difficult and more is demanded of you, but if you offer these difficulties up for the other, your love of them will grow and flourish. Because, as I can attest to from my very limited time married; sacrifice is central to marriage - essential. This is a time to say, I love you and I will do these things because I love you. This will also make you a better person and more suited for marriage. You will have to sacrifice for your wife or husband, so engagement is the perfect training period for this. This leads us into point 4 - a reflection of commitment. Today, unfortunately, living together has become a public indicator that a couple is 'serious' or committed to each other. In reality though, engagement serves this end. Engagement is the time of serious commitment, when a couple goes beyond dating into a more formal period when they decide if they are truly made for each other in marriage. So while it may be a reasonable thought that cohabitation would one day help the married couple for the completely ignorant, the evidence is stacked to the contrary. What's more, for a world where cohabitation is the norm, living apart while engaged and seriously committed would be not only be more of a trial in terms of practicality and a lesson in sacrifice, but also a public display of commitment and love.

In terms of point 1. saving money, statistics are staggering as well. Those who cohabitate and do not marry have 78% less wealth than those who marry and stay married. That's refutation enough I believe.

Children also suffer when parents cohabitate. According to Patrick Schneider II, "Cohabitation breeds abuse, violence, and murder: Abuse of children: Rates of serious abuse are lowest in intact families; six times higher in step­families; 14 times higher in always-single-mother families; 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families; and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the biological father (Crouse, op. cit.)." Children who are the product of cohabitating families are also wildly more likely to commit crimes and spend time in jail as well. Three quarters children who engage in criminal activity are products of homes where the parents cohabitated. And 70 percent of prison residents are from fatherless homes. That is profound.

Personally I can pass on some wisdom from my limited experience as a fool in these times of ours. Living by oneself can serve many good ends. First, living alone can afford one the chance to learn a great deal about oneself. Not only that one is cranky when one gets up or never takes the time when they're tired to brush their teeth at night, or that they will stretch that underwear into the third day with reckless disregard (information that might be useful when married). But also things about your person, your inner workings (and for the Christian, one's relationship with God; His wishes for you and your dreams in relation to those wishes). In an age of instant information and knowledge on demand, maybe the most important and valuable knowledge might be about oneself. "Know Thyself" the Greeks said - how ironic that it may be the most difficult to do just that in the age with the most information available.

Or, one can live with one's family. This was the very popular and necessary choice in ages past, and had many many benefits. Most college graduates would much rather live in a cardboard box than face the shame and humiliation of the dreaded basement in your parents' house like Greg Brady, complete with the lava lamp and the beads over the door. But, you can notice a lot more when you're all grown up and graduated. You can learn a great deal about your family, your parents and how you might want your marriage and your family to work one day.

One last point - once a couple starts cohabitating, it can be very difficult to stop. You already have all of these things together and its quite likely you've been playing house for a while. You probably even have a dog or at least a cat, as some kind of strange, insufficient way of trying to substitute for children. You've been both working and making decent money so you probably have some nice things plus a lease that is very hard to break so you just keep doing it. Then, your parents and your boyfriend/girlfriend's parents who have been more influenced by more traditional (and sane) generations start asking when you're getting married at the exact same time your friends start getting married. So you figure, sure, why not get married, you get along well enough and you're living together and don't hate each other, how much different could marriage be? Right? You apply the same utilitarian principles that guided you to live together in the first place to marriage. If it works, do it - sounds reasonable. But. But. This is not a good reason to get married. Utilitarianism doesn't work applied to everything. This is what we call sliding into marriage, and I suspect it is the reason so many marriages of those who cohabitate do not work out. You don't think about children or morals or finances, or if you will send the kids to daycare or what happens when your parents get old or when your kids want to see R rated movies. You don't think about these things because in cohabitation you don't have to - it's easy, it's comfortable. So, long story short, cohabitation can keep you in bad situations, or it can cause you to think that moderately functional relationships should result in marriage simply for their functionality. It's not good for you ok, that's all.

Hey look at that, I just put together a solid argument for why you should;'t cohabitate without saying the words contraception or pre-marital sex. Both of which are profoundly detrimental to individual souls and society as a whole - profoundly and tragically detrimental. Both of which also are almost certain results of cohabitation.

For sources and stats provided see Patrick Schneider II, M.D., M.P.H.'s article. He got his MPH from Harvard, if titles impress you...


Anonymous said...

Great insight, and supported by tons of real data, which is always something for the serious minded to consider.

After college graduation, living in the parent's house for a short time is not all that bad really.

Many people have successfully used this time for numerous good end results, not the least of which is financial savings, which helps blow away the argument to live together to save money. If you want to save some real money, mooch off your parents for only a year or two. It will be good for many parents as well who would love to sse their child as a new graduate and converse with them.

John said...

Rock on buddy.

Christopher J said...

From a Natural Law perspective, we were created to dwell in permanent relationships -- not because of some alien regulation imposed on us by God, but because the dignity of the human person is so great that it demands a true gift of self in spousal relationships. And, a true gift is a permanent one.

I read this quote in Father Thomas Dubay's "Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer" last night and was reminded of your discussion about cohabitation, and that you point to the disharmony it creates in human lives -- especially the lives of the cohabitating couple:

"Hans Urs von Balthasar [describes this thusly] 'Truth is symphonic'. An orchestra performing a Mozart masterpiece provides an experience of delightful beauty to the extent that the conductor and each of the musicians is following the original score. If one fo the latter dissents from the mind and text of the maestro because 'I know better and so I will go my own way', he can distort a thing of beauty into chaotic ugliness. What is true of music is also true of morality and theology. Truth is indeed symphonic."