Ethics & Religion
April 26, 2017
Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part II
(second of a two-part series)
By Mike McManus
Cohabiting couples believe they are testing their relationships. As one
alleged expert put it, "The less propitious cohabiting unions would be
terminated and the more positive would be strengthened by the experience
of cohabitation, the quality of marriages would be enhanced and the
likelihood of divorce reduced."
However a growing number of studies suggest the opposite. "Couples who
cohabit before marriage are between 50% and 100% more likely to
experience marital dissolution that those who do not," asserts a report
by John Hill and Sharon Evans.
Actually, the odds for cohabiting couples are much worse.
In a study of 35,000 couples who took the PREPARE-ENRICH premarital
inventory, 48% of cohabiting couples had conflicted relationships likely
to break up before or after the wedding - ten times the 5% of conflicted
relationships among those who were engaged, but living apart.
According to another study by the University of Wisconsin, of 100
couples who are cohabiting only 15 will still be together after 10
years. Marriage is one shoe you cannot try on before you wear it.
There are many rationalizations that cohabiting couples believe. One is,
"We are going to get married anyway." Actually, 40% of cohabiting
couples break up before the wedding. And those who do marry are 50% -
80% more likely to divorce than those who never cohabited.
In fact, one study concluded, "The facts show that if a couple wants to
increase their likelihood of a divorce to near certainty, there is
nothing better than they could do to guarantee that outcome than
voluntarily live together before getting married."
Cohabiting couples, compared to married peers, are 2 to 5 times more
likely to suffer physical violence and emotional abuse, and experience 2
to 8 times more sexual infidelity.
Yet even older Americans are opting to live with their partners rather
than marry. Nearly a quarter of cohabiters are over age 50, an increase
of 75% since 2007. Baby Boomers have a higher divorce rate resulting in
more unmarried people in that age group than previously. So-called "grey
divorce," or splits among adults 50 and older has doubled since the
1990s. About half of couples over 50 who are living together are
divorced and 27% have never married.
College education doesn't help cohabiting mothers - half of whom will
break up before their child turns 12, compared to less than one-fifth of
mothers who were married when the child was born, according to a report
by W. Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose.
There is a prevailing view that the story is different in Europe. Some
studies assert that cohabitation and marriage are "functional
equivalents in Scandinavia and France." However, Wilcox and DeRose
examined data from 16 countries across Europe and concluded, "We find
that children born to cohabiting couples are about 90% more likely to
see their parents break up by the time they turn 12, compared to
children born to married parents."
Therefore, my question is why aren't churches insisting that cohabiting
couples move apart before they marry? Three-fifths of those who marry in
American churches are living together. Why are pastors and priests
closing their eyes to the sin of cohabitation - when its results are so
My church is one of the few which insist that cohabiting couples move
apart for some months before a wedding. And they must even pledge to
remain chaste until the wedding. Result: out of two dozen couples a year
who marry annually at my church - over two decades only one or two
couples have divorced.
I asked Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld, who has overseen this ministry for 24
years at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, VA, why so many
churches close their eyes to cohabiting couples. He replied, "They are
going with the flow of the culture. The churches are gelatinous instead
of muscle and bone about Biblical standards.
"They function in some ways as a chaplain to the culture, instead of
acknowledging that the Gospel cuts across every human institution and
culture and judges it. Our job is to be messengers, watchmen and
stewards - not adulterators who are willfully blind. They make an idol
of `being nice.'
"We are called to love people and comfort them and challenge them."
I urge American churches to look at congregations like The Falls Church
Anglican, and set a similarly high standard for couples they prepare for
Couples cannot practice permanence.
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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