Remember this little ditty?: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” Nowadays, this rarely happens. For a lot of adults it’s, “First comes love (maybe), then comes ‘shacking up,’ then comes a heartbreaking split involving children.”
Many shack-up couples claim, “We’re living together to improve our chances of having a great marriage.” I recently even had a young woman on my program whose own father told her to do just that. I couldn’t believe it. As research shows, shacking up actually has the OPPOSITE effect. I have been saying this for 30 plus years.
For the small percentage of cohabitants who actually go on to marry, the majority of them end up getting divorced, or they experience spousal abuse and infidelity. The simple fact is that shacking up does not lead to stronger marriages. I love it when someone writes to me saying, “Well, I shacked up and my partner and I are still together.” So what? That doesn’t mean shacking up is good. There are people out there who smoke like crazy and don’t get lung cancer. Does that mean we should tell people to smoke because some people have dodged a bullet?
Of course, if two people want to shack up it’s their own personal choice, but they should know it leads to reverberations – even when there aren’t kids involved. For example, how is your extended family supposed to accept someone as “family” when you’re not even willing to make them family? People become family through birth, adoption or marriage. If you’re not willing to make somebody family by making a commitment to them, then you can’t get angry when the rest of your family says, “Leave him/her home, they’re not family,” or, “Of course we don’t want them in the family photograph, they’re not family.” Furthermore, don’t be surprised when other family members with kids don’t want to hang out with you because they don’t want their kids to think your behavior is OK.
There’s enough research to show that cohabiting dissolves families, impacts children, and increases instances of sexual abuse, drug abuse, crime, illiteracy, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In addition, studies reveal that only 45 percent of couples who live together go on to marry, and of those who do marry, there is a 45 percent higher risk for divorce than people who have never shacked up. Only 15 out of every 100 shack-ups will result in a “long-term successful marriage”.
When cohabitants do marry, they tend to be less committed to the long-term future of the relationship, and they are less reluctant to terminate it. Cohabitation is, in part, an acceptance of leaving. One study found that the more months young people are exposed to cohabitation, the less enthusiastic they become about marriage and having kids.
Most importantly of all, since shack-ups have such a high dropout rate, there’s a better chance that kids will end up devastated. All too often, kids are made or hauled in to a shack-up situation. Moreover, kids who come from divorced parents frequently go on to shack up themselves. It’s a ripple effect.
Kids who live in homes with parents shacking up are more likely to:
- Become involved in unmarried sex because their lives are very sexualized outside of any context of marriage and family.
- Experience sexual abuse in the home.
- Have emotional and social difficulties due to problems with forming permanent emotional attachments. When they reach adulthood, they struggle to find happiness and productive marriages.
- Experience poverty, poor achievement in school, and a litany of other problems.
So, what should you do if you have already gotten yourself involved in a shack-up situation?
- Stop! If your relationship matters to you, then you and your partner need to cease shacking up. The longer people shack up, the less likely they are to move on to a long-term successful marriage.
- Seek premarital counseling. This is really important in establishing the communication and relationship skills needed for a successful marriage. If you have already been shacking up, then developing these skills is even more crucial because you’re used to living with insecurity.
- Protect your kids. If you’ve put your kids in a shack-up situation, understand that this is not in their best interest. Stop being selfish, weak, scared, or any combination thereof.
If you know someone who is revving to shack up or is currently shacking up:
- Talk to them. Bring the facts to their attention. Although facts seem to bother some people’s emotions, make them aware anyway.
- Celebrate marriage. If you are happily married, share your experiences with other people – especially young people. They need to know that happy marriages exist.