Cohabitation: The Trial Marriage

September 16, 2009 | NeW Staff

I remember when I was in kindergarten and the big tease was “Johnny and Annie sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage!” That is how I always thought it went, love, marriage, baby carriage. Easy as pie. As a college student preparing for the real world,  I realize that there are some new steps in the process. Now, the song could be sung , “hookup, move in together, maybe get married when we are 30, baby.” Cohabitation, or the Trial Marriage, is causing the disintegration of not only courtship and dating, but also marriage, and ultimately the family.  

Michael Gerson wrote a great column, The Relationship Wasteland, that discusses the effects of “spring break sexual liberationism” on men and women in their twenties. The breakdown of the traditional courtship, engagement, and marriage has opened up a window of sexual freedom,
“In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.”
What is wrong with traditional marriage that requires an easy, low-commitment version? If that is the reason for cohabitation, why complicate the situation with children? It seems selfish and unfair to engage in something that requires long term commitment, pro-creation, in a situation where long term commitment is not a guarantee, cohabitation.  Gerson recognizes that, while possible, “saving ourselves for marriage” is difficult in our current culture, but young adults should recognize the strain that cohabitation puts on marriage, especially if children result from the “test drive.” 
“Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared to about one-third of children born to married parents.”

With the statistics that are published everywhere about the effects of divorce on children, why as a society are be turning the other cheek on this destructive trend? 

Lastly, Gerson looks to Brad Wilcox, professor at The University of Virginia,  concerning cohabitation’s influence on views of the opposite sex,

” … having a series of low-commitment relationships does not bode well for later marital commitment. Some of this expresses pre-existing traits — people who already have a “nontraditional” view of commitment are less likely to be committed in marriage. But there is also evidence, according to Wilcox, that multiple failed relationships can “poison one’s view of the opposite sex.” Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce. In contrast, cohabitation among people who are engaged seems to have no adverse effect on eventual marriage.”

It sounds to me like there are very few redeeming qualities of the cohabitation movement. This leads me to question, why would we want to train for divorce? Why would we want to bring children into a home that is unstable and designed for failure? And, why would be want to engage in something that causes us to have a poisoned view of the opposite sex?

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