Why is living together before marriage seen as wrong? Don't most people who live together first have a successful marriage later?



I. GENERAL OVERVIEW (Data from Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, '89, '91, '94)

A. Cohabitation is a major phenomena to be dealt with in marriage preparation.

-- 11% of couples cohabited before marriage in 1965-1974;

-- 44% of couples cohabited before marriage in 1980-1990;

-- over 50% of couples marrying today cohabit before marriage;

-- Two-thirds of people entering second marriages cohabit before marriage.

B. Cohabitation is much more widespread than is indicated by numbers of couples coming for marriage. Cohabitation is alternative to both marriage and being single for many.

-- Of all persons 34 or under in 1991, more than 40% report that they were or had cohabited.

-- 40 to 60% (depending on research source) of those who cohabit do not marry the person with whom they cohabit. Rising age of couples before marriage (25-26) is compensated for by numbers who cohabit before age 25 (up to 69%). The 50% decline in teenage marriages from 1970-1985 is compensated for by the numbers who cohabit before age 20 (up to 23%).

C. The profile of those who cohabit:

-- Persons who did not finish high school and those who did not grow up in intact homes are most likely to cohabit.

-- College students and college-educated persons are less likely to cohabit than those never in college. (College students increased cohabitation in late 1970's but the phenomena was already in place in non-college population.).-- More divorced and separated cohabit than never-married persons.

-- More women cohabit than men; men cohabit with more partners and cohabit longer; women tend to marry earlier as cohabitors.

-- Persons with high religiosity and from families with high religiosity cohabit less than persons with low religiosity.

D. Reasons for increase in cohabitation

-- The phenomena is international

-- Changing values on family have been documented from late 1950's through 1980's. The most basic shift seems to be around the importance of marriage.

-- Also declining confidence in religious institutions and authority has been related to low marriage rates and high rates of cohabitation (Thorton, Axinn, Hill - ³Reciprocal Effects of Religiosity, Cohabitation and Marriage,² American Journal of Sociology, 1992).

-- While marriage is being delayed in society, sexual relationships begin earlier. 82% of dating persons report sexual intercourse with partners. Sharing time, sexual relationships, etc. together make it no big leap to begin living together.

-- Reported reasons for cohabitation are multiple: fear of commitment, desire to avoid divorce, economic security, raising of children, escaping from home, convenience, independence.


A. Only 40% to 60% (depending on research sources) of those who cohabit marry the person with whom they cohabit.

-- A high proportion of couples who cohabit differ significantly with their partner in their intention to marry.

B. The divorce rate of cohabitors who marry is 50% higher than the divorce rate of persons marrying never having cohabited.

--Persons who cohabit before marriage with someone in addition to or other than the person they finally marry have 84% higher rate than those who never cohabit.

-- Those who cohabit longer have higher risk for divorce after marriage than those who cohabit for shorter time.

-- Only second marriage couples divorce rate (regularly 60%) and pregnant teen marriage couples (80%) have higher divorce rate than general cohabiting couples.

C. Cohabitors who choose to marry are likely to be the best risk persons among cohabitors.

D. Reasons for high divorce rate of cohabiting couples appears to be two-fold:

1) The attitudes and expectations they bring to marriage. They appear to be: -- more accepting of divorce and less committed to the institution of marriage to begin with;

-- likely to perceive themselves or the relationships as poorer risks in terms of long-term happiness and commitment

-- less religious, more independent, more liberal in attitude, more sexually experienced, more risk-oriented than couples who do not cohabit.

2) The experiences and patterns set during cohabitation:

-- issues around money, sexuality, children, trust, conflict resolution, physical abuse.


1) A review of national policies on marriage prep for cohabitors over the last ten years was made with help of Dr. James Healy who developed long-term policy for Dioceses of Peoria and Joliet, Illinois.

2) Most policies recommend: a) Dealing directly with issues, b) Using prep as a ³teachable² moment recognizing that couples who present themselves to Church for marriage as:

-- going against the cultural norm of long-term cohabitors and those who see cohabitation as alternative to marriage

-- at risk for the success of their marriages and need special help (without creating ³self-fulfilling prophecies.²

--in sure need of understanding and owning a sacramental covenant approach to marriage, in particular as it is contrasted to cohabitation (permanent, committed relationship, sexual relationship express God's intent, full and proper community expression, children in proper role, etc.)

3) Dioceses with policies requiring separation before marriage and/or marriage preparation (St. Cloud, some Bismark, ND parishes) or limiting options on wedding ceremonies (Houston) were contacted. They reported no decrease in area cohabitation. Their experience was great diversity in pastoral practice from parish-to-parish and a significant increase of couples hiding or denying cohabitation.

The issues for all seemed to be how to create situations in which:

-- Cohabitation issues were not avoided

-- Couples were prepared appropriately to handle risk factors in their upcoming marriages and to experience conversion or evangelizing moment preparing them for sacramental, covenant marriage.

God Bless,

Fr. Ray