We nurture our MARRIAGE. We are not COHABITATING. If you think that this does not matter or that I am just saying this because I believe cohabitation is a sin, you should consider this: studies show that children do best in families where there are two biological parents who are married to each other. Children do better in two parent (married) step families than they do in cohabitating families or single parent families. There is not much discernable difference in the results when there is only a single parent and when there are two cohabitating partners. Married couples surveyed have a higher average rate of happiness in their relationships than cohabitating couples.
I understand that sometimes divorce is unavoidable. I also understand that unforeseen situations such as the death of a spouse can unexpectedly leave you single when you had not planned on it. In these situations, being a single parent or re-marrying cannot be helped. If this is the case, then the parent or parents who are in this situation must work even harder to achieve happiness in their family relationships. Why make things worse than they have to be by bringing in a cohabitating partner? In the study Family Structure and Child Well-being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation finds that even “children living in two-biological-parent cohabiting families experience worse outcomes, on average, than those residing with two biological married parents,” referring to both financial well being and emotional well being. In other words, children living with cohabitating couples are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems and to live in poverty.
I have had the opportunity to observe both married and cohabitating couples (who hasn’t now days? You know who is married and who isn’t in your social circle. Take some time to really observe their relationships and the outcomes of those relationships for yourself. And please, be totally honest with yourself about those observations. It’s your kids we’re talking about here and the happiness of your family, so for heaven’s sake, PLEASE, be honest about it!) The results of my observations are this: (I know that these are basically oversimplified, but as an observer I can only report what I see. I obviously don’t know everything about what goes on or went on in these relationships, but in many of these cases I have had long conversations with one or both partners in the relationship. I have to go off of my observations and what I was told by both parties involved which was sometimes conflicting.) Of the people I know who are in my social circle who married with no fooling around beforehand, only two of those relationships have broken up. One is on shaky grounds, due to admitted extramarital activities by both partners (by this I mean any sexual behavior outside of the marriage such as indulging in pornography and/or infidelity)
The people I know who were married and divorced without any fooling around beforehand are divorced because (in my opinion) they did not choose carefully enough and married people who they discovered later to be abusive and/or had sexual problems such as an unnatural attraction to children. (How is anyone supposed to know beforehand that their would-be partner would have such problems? They aren’t going to tell you. This just means you have to be extra careful in choosing a partner nowadays. See my guide to choosing a spouse.) Of one of these couples, one partner came from a home where there was alcoholism, abuse, infidelity, and divorce. There are two marriage relationships that ended due to infidelity and/or one partner in the relationship had deep seated emotional issues that could not be overcome in the relationship, likely due to childhood abuse and low self esteem. Both of these relationships had premarital fooling around and limited cohabitation before marriage and in both of these relationships, regular church attendance was not part of the routine for one or both partners. Three marriages where there was fooling around beforehand survived and are doing well, but these couples had a harder time getting to a point of stability than the people I know who abstained from sexual relationships before marriage. All of these couples are regular attendees at church services.
Of the cohabitating or just fooling around couples I know who did not marry, all are now broken up and either single, dating, or in new cohabiting relationships. None of these are regular churchgoers, or at least were not while they were cohabitating. Of the people I know who cohabitated and then married, one long term cohabitating relationship only lasted a week after the marriage ceremony with a huge fight on the honeymoon night in which the marriage certificate was actually destroyed. Another lasted a few months before they broke up. They also were not regular churchgoers. Two sisters I know who cohabitated with partners for a period of 10 years or longer confided that they were never really happy in their relationships and one woman even suffered long term abuse from an alcoholic partner. Both of these women are now regular church attendees and have broken off their cohabitating relationships. They are happier now, but most of their children are now either cohabitating, are single parents, are currently divorcing, or are already in a second cohabitating relationship.
Three women and one man admitted that breaking up from the cohabitating relationship was just as traumatic if not more so than a divorce that they went through. The cohabitating couples I know had instances of infidelity, drug use, and alcoholism in their relationships. Their children have had more emotional and economic problems in their own relationships than married people that I know who came from stable married parents. Children know more than you think. Children can sense the added security when they know that you are fully committed to each other, and it enhances there feelings of security and emotional well being. If you are cohabitating, stop now, and FULLY COMMIT to the relationship and GET MARRIED! If you don’t think you need to, then maybe you aren’t really all that serious about having a truly happy family life. This has little to do with my religious beliefs, and has much more to do with my observations of healthy, happy, stable relationships, and what is being put into them.
Another thing to think about: studies consistently suggest that cohabitation is associated with an increased likelihood of divorce. For example, Paul Amato, confirming earlier indications, (Larry L. Bumpass, James A. Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, “The Role of Cohabitation in Declining Rates of Marriage,” University of Wisconsin, Center for Demography and Ecology National Survey of Families and Households Working Paper No. 5, 1989, pp. 913–927.) reported that couples who had lived together before marriage were 59 percent more likely to divorce than those who did not. (Paul R. Amato, “Explaining the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 3 (August 1996), pp. 628–640.) This means if you are cohabitating, and you decide to commit and get married, you are going to have to work harder to make it work.
Coming from a broken family, and knowing first-hand how damaging it can be to the children, my personal feelings about divorce are that it is wrong except under certain extenuating circumstances. For example, if the husband refuses to support the family even though he is capable and able bodied, either by flat out refusal to work or through irresponsible and wasteful spending that he refuses to control. (If the husband is disabled and cannot work, then the roles would obviously be reversed, and the responsible spending applies to either partner.) or if there is a serious pattern of spousal or child abuse, or if one partner refuses to fully commit to the relationship and is unfaithful or unwilling to compromise on important family issues when needed, making choices instead that are damaging to the family.
I think that divorce and re-marriage should be considered only as a last resort, since there is a growing body of evidence suggests that even stepfamilies may not tend to benefit children (Coleman, Ganong, and Fine 2000). According to research, living in a stepfamily is associated with low well-being compared to living with two biological parents, as indicated by a wide range of child outcomes including educational attainment, sociability, initiative, internalizing and externalizing behaviors (e.g. Amato and Keith 1991; Astone and McLanahan 1991; Cherlin and Furstenberg 1994; Coughlin and Vuchinich 1996; Hetherington, Bridges, and Insabella 1998; Pagani et al. 1998; Sandefur, McLanahan, and Wojtkiewicz 1992; Thomson, Hanson, and McLanahan 1994). Research by developmental psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington and colleagues provides some of the strongest evidence to date that children in stepfamilies tend not to fare as well as those in intact two-parent families, and at best, do no better on average than those living with single-divorced mothers (e.g. see Hetherington and Jodl 1994, for a useful review).
I am not saying that once divorced or widowed or otherwise left single, that you should never re-marry. I am simply saying that once you are faced with the situation of being a single parent, you are going to have to work harder, and choose a new partner even more carefully than you would have otherwise. And once remarried, it is going to take even more work to keep your family happy than if you were happily married to the biological parent of your children. Note the phrase happily married — obviously, if you came out of an abusive situation and into a stable marriage, things will get better, but speaking from the experience of living as a child in a step family, especially if you have recently come out of an abusive relationship, you are going to have to work overtime to make things work, if only because you are working through the effects of an abusive relationship.
If you feel that your marriage is on the brink of disaster, and you do not fit into one of the categories I stated above as acceptable grounds for divorce, please reconsider, especially if you have children. If you just feel you have grown apart, that isn’t good enough, and there are things you can do to fix your relationship. You can start with the following suggestions:
Choose to love each other: Love is a verb, not an accidental occurrence
Focus on your partner’s positive traits and not on the negative ones. Remind yourself of these traits by making a list and then thinking about them at least once a day. Add more as you think of them.
Make an effort to make eye contact and appear pleased to see your partner when he/she gets home or comes into the room and be cheerful about it.
Look for something positive to say first, even if it seems trivial. If you consider it long enough, you can find something positive about almost anyone. Refer to your list if you have to.
Make an effort to “be the adult” in the relationship even if it is her/his fault. Stop worrying about being right and just think about being happy. Winning an argument doesn’t bring happiness; just smug satisfaction that is short lived and unsatisfying.
Refuse to take the bait when a verbal attack is launched at you. Make up your mind that you will not fight. Wait until tension is diffused and then bring up topics in a non threatening way. (Did you want to talk about such and such? I got the impression that you were worried about . . .)
Plan and ask your spouse out on a date. Have a “date night,” ideally once a week.
Show affection to each other (within reason) in front of the kids. (If your kids see you argue, let them see you forgive each other as well.)
Be monogamous and leave no room whatsoever for irresponsible sexual behavior of any kind, including voyeurism, masturbation, and/or pornographic material.
Have regular family activities, at least once a week.
Go on family outings as often as is possible.
Allow your partner to make mistakes and forgive each other.
Say you are sorry and make restitution for any wrongdoing.
Don’t throw fits. It’s ok to be angry, but it’s not ok to act out on anger in a negative way.
Show gratitude to each other and nurture positive attitudes
Look for opportunities to serve one another.
Put your family first. Children feel most secure when they see that you have a strong relationship, so in order to put your family first, you need to first and foremost nourish the marriage relationship.
Prioritize and make time what is really important.
Set goals together and act with the end in mind. (read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective Families together)
Study scriptures and pray together daily (Or at the very least on your own). If you think you don’t have time, make the time and then do it. Allow the children to take turns reading and praying as well – it is good for them and helps with academics as well as with self esteem.
For Further Reading:
Overview of Cohabitation Research by David H. Olson and Amy Olson-Sigg
Cohabiting Couples Higher Risk for Divorce by David H. Olson, Ph.D. & Peter J. Larson, Ph.D.
No-fault divorce, cohabitation harmful to families, by Bryan Fischer
Cohabitation: Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free?
Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, And the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution among Women
The Facts behind Cohabitation
Children and the Stability of Cohabiting Couples by Pascale Beaupré and Pierre Turcotte