Tag Archives: Living together

Shacking Up Does Not Lead to a Stronger Marriage

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.

No Commitment When Shacking Up

I can’t believe The New York Times, with its hugely liberal perspective, actually published an article on the downside of shack-ups.  I was stunned.  The article, titled “The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage,” gives some stats that are simply mind-boggling:

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more likely to divorce – than couples who do not.

The issue lies in the shack-up itself.  When people decide to get engaged, there’s a lot of thought involved.  They realize, “Oh my gosh, I’m making a commitment.”  They talk about babies and families, and where they’re going to live.  None of that occurs when people shack up.  There’s no decision-making, only sliding.  Shack-up couples slide from dating, to having sex, to sleeping over, to bringing their things over, to being there most of the time, to shacking up.  There are no concrete decisions with rings and ceremonies and families involved.  The two people have not and do not talk about what they want, need, and expect from each other.

The article also discusses how cohabitors often have different, unspoken – even unconscious – agendas:

Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage.  One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

You can see right there that shack-ups are just convenient and comfortable.  There is no desire for a connection on a deeper level.  A lot of people think, “Well, living together reduces costs.   It’s easy, and there’s no real risk.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll just break up.”   EXCEPT, they’ve already bought furniture and pets together.  A couple that thinks, “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t,” is not as dedicated as a one that says, “We do, we’ll commit, we’ll make it happen.”

It’s important to discuss everybody’s motivation: “I’m shacking up with you because…” or “My expectation is…”  As I’ve always told people on the show, you cannot have any expectations when you shack up.  It’s not a commitment.  Either one of you can do whatever you want at any given time, so expectations of marital behavior are silly, foolish, and self-destructive.  This is why there’s more mental illness, violence, and breaking up when people shack up.  Women especially start having more anxiety and depression.  They also experience more battering because their partners take their frustration and annoyance out on them.

Shacking up is not an intentional step — it’s just convenient.  There’s absolutely nothing of depth that people can count on.