The dangers of cohabitation

By  Nicole Lau, Youth Speak News
  • August 25, 2008

I have friends who often tell me I’m silly for believing that you can love someone and have a successful life-long relationship without first having lived together.

Yet I could never accept that view, seeing as a) I don’t feel silly, b) statistics back me up, c) love is about lasting commitment and authentic self-gift, and d) cohabitation has a harmful effect upon any children involved.

I won’t spend time on A, but here’s my take on B and C. According to a report in USA Today, cohabiting couples have twice the break-up rate of married couples. Studies also say that only 50 to 60 per cent of cohabiters marry their live-in partner and 76 per cent of common-law couples report planning to marry their partner but only about half of them do. Statistics Canada calls this the “cohabitation effect.”

The facts indicate that cohabitation has a destabilizing effect on marriage and family. One of the top 10 reasons why men said they are reluctant to marry is that they can simply live with a woman and enjoy the same benefits. Twenty-one per cent of cohabitating couples simply remain cohabitating, even after five to seven years. The commonly accepted notion that cohabitation leads to marriage seems less convincing in light of such findings.

As for D, the federal government’s analysis is that cohabitation leads to poorer economic situations than in marriage. Sociological studies done in the late ’90s showed that  the share of households unable to meet their basic expenses ranged from 30 per cent to 36 per cent for cohabiting and single parents, to about 15 per cent for married couples. Often this is due to the fact that married couples have a stronger support system from their families and a stronger sense of duty from both parties involved to commit wholeheartedly to the good of the family unit.

Lastly, let us question the reasons for cohabitation. Most people today find it sensible to live together first — a “let’s give the car a test drive before we buy it” sort of mentality. It seems we are indeed terrified of risk.

For this I turn to G.K. Chesterton, who said: “When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy tale.”

Chesterton writes that the real romance of the world is in being in it. Being born into it, being able to discover everything of it. Let’s admit that we have uncertainties and risks in life rather than trying to minimize these through unstable and unsuccessful shortcuts such as cohabitation. We can spend some time celebrating the romance and the surprises of a relationship based on mutual respect and sacrificial love. Finding ourselves in the difficult, growing in the challenge, it’s all part of the package. Life is as we live it.

Life is a long, lovely, comforting and afflicted fairy tale. And what fairy tale isn’t riddled with challenges and risks for its heroes and heroines? It’s what makes the magic, well, magic.

(Lau, 20, graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in history.)

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