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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,022
May 14, 2020
Cohabitation: the Enemy of Marriage
By Mike McManus

This is National Marriage Week. It should be a time for celebration. But fewer and fewer couples are getting married.

And those who marry after living together - as most are doing - are more likely to divorce.

In the year 2000, when America's population was 281 million, there were 2.315,000 marriages. In 2018, there were only 2,132,000 marriages - though America's population had grown to 327 million.

That's nearly a 10% drop in marriages - 183,000 fewer marriages - though the population grew by 46 million. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, marriage in the United States has never been less popular.

Today there are only 6.5 weddings for every 1,000 people, the lowest since we started keeping records after the Civil War. And that is despite the fact that millennials, who are the biggest generation in American history - are in their peak marriage years right now.

What has grown in those years is cohabitation, in which men and women live together without a commitment to marry. In 2016, the number of cohabiting couples reached an astonishing 18 million. That's up 29% since 2007.

One factor that changed things was birth control. Women have been liberated from the risk of pregnancy. "But so too have men been liberated from the need to commit," says Harry Benson, author of a new book published this week: Commit or Quit - The Two Year Rule and Other Rules for Romance.

If a couple begins living together with a commitment to marry, there are no elevated risks of divorce after the marriage.

However, most cohabiting couples have made no commitment to marriage. "The result is unreliable love, and the highest levels of family breakdown in history," writes Harry Benson.

A quarter of young adults are living with a partner. That's the highest percentage since our record-keeping began.

Some 40% of children are born to unmarried parents. In fact, unmarried parents comprise one in five couples - yet account for half of all couples that split up. Their children fare poorly. They "experience enduring deficits of psychosocial wellbeing."

There are two solutions which ought to be considered.

Harry Benson correctly asserts "All of us still want love that lasts. Almost all teenagers tell us that they still aspire to the dream of happily ever after. Marriage remains at the forefront of the dream because it is a promise that signals such clear intent and the beginning of an adventure."

"Yet the stats tell us that more and more fall short of the dream," writes Benson. He is not talking about divorce - which has been falling steadily in recent decades. He's talking about the huge breakup rate of cohabiting couples who do not marry.

Unmarried parents comprise one in five couples yet account for half of all couples who split up.

It is easy to slide into living together. It is the new norm. "The very fact of living together makes it hard to leave," Benson writes. "Breaking up is hard to do. So couples drift on in an uncertain relationship, not really clarifying how committed each partner is."

He acknowledges that moving in early is the new norm. He recommends that after two years, couples will "Commit or Quit."

Benson argues "If you have been together two years, you really ought to have a serious conversation about your future together. The two year rule is my attempt to give couples an exit route from a drifting relationship."

"Commit or Quit" is a wise strategy that could begin to build marriage again in America. I highly recommend his new book: Commit or Quit - The Two Year Rule and other Rules for Romance.

It is the perfect gift for any cohabiting couples you know in this Marriage Week.

As Bradford Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies reminds us, "There was no marked increase in divorce, family instability or single parenthood at the height of the Great Depression." By contrast, the biggest drops in marriage rates in recent years have occurred during economically prosperous years.

John Stonestreet and Shane Morris write, "The institution that remains the single best refuge for marriage is the Church...Among the surest predictors that a couple will get and stay married is how regularly they attend church services. That is why by bringing people to God and bringing people together are so often a package deal."

"Even after the wedding, the Church is still the best place to strengthen marriages - a necessary task, where people think of lifelong marriage as part of the good life," they write.

You can't practice permanence.


Copyright (c) 2020 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.comm. Hit Search for any topic.


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