Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cohabitation Nation

Over one year ago my boyfriend asked me to move in with him. Most women would have been filling their cars with all of their belongings and speedily heading down the road toward cohabitation, the first hurdle on their way to wedded bliss. Was I ready to give up my sweet smelling, magnificently decorated, cozy home for raised toilet seats, beer cans and boxer shorts scattered across the bedroom floor?

I didn’t turn down my boyfriends offer immediately. Technically, I agreed to move in and then found myself reluctant to actually make the move, essentially I was stalling. What I realized during this period (and after hours of research to help justify my nerves) is that many couples are jumping into cohabitation faster than generations past. Today cohabitation is the “norm”. Couples are much more eager to test drive their relationship before stepping into marriage. Many relationship coaches agree that living together before marriage is beneficial and a great way to see if you are compatible on a daily basis.

However, I said no. Why did I reject “playing house” with the love of my life? And why are more women reverting to the “old fashioned” belief of keeping the mystery alive.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 5 million unmarried couples live together. There has been a 72% increase in cohabitation over the past decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than half of women in the United States have lived with a significant other by the age of 30. Convenience, saving money, and to test the waters for marriage are key factors in a couples’ decision to shack up. But is this really the smartest route to happily ever after?

The American Sociological Review found an 85% failure rate among those who live together before marriage. Recent studies from both the US and Europe show that couples who live together before marriage divorce at higher rates than couples who wait until they say their vows. The risk of divorce after living together is 80% higher than the risk of divorce after not living together. (American Sociological Review)

Are couples who live together before marriage doomed? What is the role of cohabitation in the declining rates of marriage?

Linda Marshall, a Cincinnati-based relationship coach, says that, while more couples’ are cohabitating, that trend isn't necessarily proving to be beneficial. Most cohabitating couples are not living together after four years. "The marriage rate is declining," she says, "but more people are cohabitating, and the failure rate for cohabitation is higher than marriage."

A recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that couples who get engaged before living together are happier before and after marriage than couples who cohabitate before setting a date. However, according to the 1997 Durex Global Sex Survey, people who live together but aren't married report the greatest frequency of sex. (I have a feeling this would be the one statistic to stand out in the minds of most readers.)

So maybe I should wait until I'm married?

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