Working with Cohabitation in Relationship Education and Therapy
I focus on family structure defined by the biological relationship of adults to children .. By definition, adolescents in stepparent (cohabiting and married) families. with the biggest difference between married and cohabiting biological parents. In about half of cohabiting relationships ending in marriage and the other half. English Wikipedia has an article on: An emotional and physical intimate relationship which includes a common living place and which exists without legal or religious (biology) The act of two species living together in the same habitat.
Third, good estimates of the strength of the association between premarital cohabitation and divorce are not available.Live in Relationship Law in India Hindi - By Ishan
For example, studies have shown that those who cohabited premaritally experienced a divorce rate that was somewhere between 1.
However, these estimates are based on couples who married as early as the s and none of these studies included participants who married later than the s. Updated samples will be necessary before steadfast conclusions can be drawn about the degree of risk for divorce. Aside from these specific criticisms of the available data, there are several advances that would help researchers and clinicians better understand the cohabitation effect and better direct us toward effective interventions.
As noted already, little research has incorporated existing theory about couples and relationship processes into research on cohabitation. Broadening this field to incorporate more literature on topics such as commitment, feminist theory, attachment theory, and power in relationships would likely aid our understanding of this dynamic new stage in American romantic relationships.
International research comparing the meaning and institutionalization of cohabitation in different countries and cultures could also illuminate the circumstances under which cohabitation is most associated with risk see Kiernan, Practice Implications It is clear from our review of its limitations that the literature does not contain all the answers regarding the association between premarital cohabitation and marital risk.
As the field moves forward, research will further elucidate the circumstances under which cohabitation is a risk factor for distress and divorce and more precisely characterize the mechanisms that explain the cohabitation effect.
In the meantime, we believe that enough knowledge exists to begin incorporating research on cohabitation and the cohabitation effect into both couple therapy and relationship education efforts. Essentially, we believe that it matters whether one slides into cohabitation without much deliberation or decides to cohabit, based on deliberation and mutual understanding.
Two factors are essential in considering these implications. Second, deciding is a process fundamental to making a commitment, since commitment can be viewed as making a choice to give up other choices Stanley, Hence, couples who slide into cohabitation may not only be risking the increase of constraints prior to the full development of dedication, they may be building a relationship on a shakier foundation to begin with merely by the absence of a clear, focused commitment at a critical phase of relationship development.
A stronger commitment, based on dedication, may more fully support motivation to follow-through during the inevitable tougher times that many, if not most, relationships will experience Stanley et al. This line of reasoning is fundamental to a number of the most important recommendations we make about practice.
Before addressing specific ideas for relationship education and couple therapy, we would like to address an important question that is often raised: Does the research on the cohabitation effect mean that practitioners delivering relationship education programs should dissuade individuals from cohabiting?
This question is difficult to answer in any definitive sense because people differ in how they would answer, both based on scientific grounds and because of differences in values.
We recognize that questions about the advisability of cohabitation are fundamentally linked to other beliefs and practices, especially those that are religious. Therefore, some might say that the question about dissuading couples is really more about religion than practice based on social science.
Others would say that, even when it comes to social science, blanket proscriptive advice is not indicated or, at best, is premature. Not even the three authors of this paper completely agree on what would be the best practice under differing circumstances. These considerations lead us to believe that whether or not practitioners choose to dissuade most couples from cohabiting depends, pragmatically, on the nature of the setting, the provider, and the recipient.
As cohabiting prior to marriage has become normative Smock,one of the strongest predictors of which couples will not live together prior to marriage is religious faith e. In settings with a focus on traditional religious beliefs and values, practitioners may feel strongly about giving messages that include theological and moral teaching about why cohabiting is viewed as unwise.
If that is the path taken, we suspect that it will also be good practice for religious leaders to include social science facts in what they teach; this is because many of the people they work with will hear such information in various channels of media. Contextualizing research findings with the theological teachings of a faith may provide the strongest basis for helping religious individuals to make decisions about their relationships.
That is not to suggest that religious leaders should or would adopt social science as their standard of truth, merely that they could anticipate what messages people will receive in addition to the teachings of the faith system.
What Is Cohabitation? - Statistics & Effects
When working in secular settings or with people without strong religious beliefs about cohabitation, we do not expect that most practitioners will find it desirable to simply discourage cohabitation. Rather, we believe that practitioners will be most effective with an approach that is informative but not proscriptive. That will take the form of helping individuals consider their own expectations about cohabitation, their partners' expectations about the relationship, their beliefs and values, their own circumstances, and the available research evidence so they can make good decisions for themselves.
In other words, the current research evidence provides many insights for how individuals and couples can be more careful and thoughtful in their relationship behavior in ways that are protective of themselves and their future aspirations.
We believe that the existing set of findings strongly suggests that people should be more aware of what they are doing and why, and of the implications of various behaviors for their chances of achieving their own goals. To those matters we now turn. We first discuss implications of research on cohabitation for relationship education, then discuss implications of this research for couple therapy. These questions could be used as part of discussions the practitioner has directly with clients as in therapy or could be used as part of an exercise as in relationship education to help partners consider and discuss views of commitment, the ways decisions have been made in the relationship, and the future of the relationship.
Practitioners may also find measures of commitment e. How did the two of you begin living together? Was it planned, talked about, or something that just sort of happened? Where do you see this relationship going in the future? What sort of timeline do you expect? How do you each show you are committed to the other? Do you believe that one of you is more committed than the other? What indicates to you that there is a difference?
How will this affect how your future together plays out? How have the two of you made important decisions together in the past? Open in a separate window Relationship Education with Individuals Relationship education is typically aimed at couples who are already in fairly committed, viable relationships, but new curricula have recently been developed that target individuals who may or may not be in relationships, and if in relationships, may or may not have high levels of commitment e.
The cohabitation literature demonstrates that early relationship development, and the steps that come before marriage, influence a marriage outcomes and suggest a need for early, individual-oriented relationship education. For example, relationship education with individuals could discuss research on cohabitation and the cohabitation effect, which may be particularly important to do because the research findings can seem counter-intuitive. The majority of young adults believes cohabiting will improve one's chances in marriage e.
At the very least, providing basic information in relationship education programs on what is known about cohabitation from research may help some individuals approach relationship transitions such as cohabitation more thoughtfully.
Individual-oriented relationship education programs could review research on cohabitation and encourage individuals to think critically about it. Specifically, relationship education could help individuals carefully consider their own views and values about cohabitation, their reasons for wanting to live together e. Based on our interpretations of the existing literature, we believe that one of the things most lacking in many people's consideration of cohabitation is an understanding of the ways in which living together could make it harder to break up Stanley et al.
That may be no particular risk for partners who are clear about their future together, but it is an important, potential risk for those who have not clarified their commitment intentions, marital and otherwise. The simple message would be that if one feels the need to cohabit to test the relationship, he or she may already be picking up ways in which the relationship is a poor fit.
Helping individuals fully utilize information they already possess could be a very effective intervention. Although the empirical evidence shows cohabitation prior to marital commitment to be associated with risk, it is possible that some people learn information about a partner from cohabiting that they would not learn otherwise.
That is, cohabiting could lead some people to break up instead of marrying someone with whom they would later be unhappy. Most studies have not been designed to address this issue. At the very least, individuals can learn in relationship education that no research, to date, shows that cohabiting prior to marriage improves the odds for the average couple.
Taking the relationship more slowly and finding other ways to test it out, such as through couple relationship education, may be wiser than moving in together. Information about gender and cohabitation may also be important in relationship education with individuals. More research on this topic is needed, but there is some evidence that men, but not women, who cohabit before engagement tend to have lower, average levels of commitment than those who do not cohabit beforehand Rhoades et al.
There have also been some reported gender differences in reasons for cohabitation Rhoades et al. Given that women tend to be more committed in pre-engagement cohabitations, and may have the most to lose financially or because of an unplanned pregnancy, relationship education about these possible differences between men and women in the meaning of cohabitation may be especially valuable to women. More generally, individuals in relationship education would likely benefit from learning basic communication skills, along with messages about the value of using these skills to clarify expectations and commitment levels.
These skills will facilitate clear conversations with their partners about their relationships. More specific ideas for how to ask partners about the future, commitment levels, and the meaning of cohabitation could also be discussed in relationship education with individuals see Table 1 for possible questions to address. Historically, reaching individuals before they are committed to marriage has not been a focus of the relationship education field.
Couple-oriented relationship education, especially premarital education, is now integrated into larger systems in the United States e. To reach individuals earlier and before they slide into cohabitation, relationship educators will need to pursue new avenues for delivering relationship education such as high schools and colleges, other existing services and systems that are available to at-risk populations e.
Cohabitation appears to be a clear marker for increased risk for marital distress and divorce and some cohabiting couples may need specific help in relationship education. At the same time, their lower average levels of religiousness mean that cohabiting couples likely have less access to relationship education than other couples because relationship education is most often delivered through religious organizations see Stanley, Amato et al.
Thus, better access to basic relationship education, especially programs with a focus on communication skills training and commitment, would be beneficial. Those who advertise their relationship education programs could direct some of their messages specifically to couples who are living together but not yet married.
Targeted recruiting seems to us to be more effective than more general efforts.
Communication skills training is typically included in premarital training programs and could be particularly beneficial for those who are cohabiting. More specifically, the commitment differences between men and women based on cohabitation history e. Programs could encourage and provide guidelines for conversations between partners about their perspectives on the future of their relationships and what their expectations are regarding marriage.
Specific educational material regarding what commitment means and how it is beneficial in long-term relationships may also be useful. We should recognize that commitment may be a particularly difficult topic for some couples, not only because partners may disagree about where the relationship is headed, but also because commitment issues are often tied to core beliefs and attitudes about attachment.
Thus, talking about commitment likely requires not only basic communication skills e. In many cases, the children are not the biological children of both partners, but rather children by previous partners.
Especially in the context of unmarried relationships, having children by previous partners can cause feelings of jealousy and distrust if parents continue to have parenting relationships with their previous partners see Hill, ; Monte, Relationship education curricula could target such issues directly and help couples discuss their expectations about contact with previous partners. More generally, having children either together or by previous partners also means that cohabiting partners must parent together.
Cohabitation and Child Wellbeing
Parenting and co-parenting skills should therefore be incorporated into relationship education materials for cohabiting couples. Finally, from a prevention standpoint, cohabiting couples who have not clarified questions about their own future together and who have not yet had a child together, could be helped to see how unadvisable it may be to become pregnant when there is a lack of clarity about their own future together—and about their commitment to being parents together.
Our discussion thus far of relationship education for couples raises two other important questions about working with cohabitation in education or enrichment settings. First, is information from the cohabitation literature relevant to relationship education or marriage enrichment programs delivered to married couples?
As we discuss below in section on therapy with married couples, married couples who cohabited premaritally may be more prone to problems with commitment than those who didn't cohabit premaritally. Thus, education about the importance of commitment in marriage may be particularly important to those who lived together before marriage.
Further, as information about the link between premarital cohabitation and divorce becomes more prevalent in popular media, it may become important for marriage educators to include information about it for married couples so that they can understand why the link exists and whether it might apply to them.
Essentially, marriage educators could help married couples avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lastly, Stanley et al. For example, marriage enrichment or education could help couples consider their expectations and plans for having children using this general idea that it is better to make decisions together, rather than sliding through them.
Details on how to make decisions together might be especially important for those who lived together. The second question is whether cohabiting and married couples should attend relationship education together.
More and more, practitioners are facing the question of whether to makes the most sense to offer the same programs to cohabiting and married couples or to offer separate, more individualized programs.
It has been our experience that those attending relationship education don't mind and often don't even notice if some couples are married and some are cohabiting. However, the existing literature suggests that there may often be core commitment issues affecting cohabiting couples that do not affect married couples who either did not cohabit or cohabited only after engagement Rhoades et al.
On a more basic level, if both cohabiting and married couples are attending the same program, practitioners should use their own judgment in considering what terminology to use e. It may be worth having brief, individual meetings with cohabiting couples before the program begins to provide an overview of the program and the typical audience, and to discuss whether it is the best fit for their relationship at that time.
Cohabitation and Child Wellbeing
Many traditional relationship education programs are based strongly on the notion that the relationship has a future and if a cohabiting couple is strongly questioning the future of their relationship, individual-oriented programs might be a better fit. Cohabitation is an ambiguous relationship status in the United States today, with some living together as an alternative to marriage and some living together more as roommates, making it difficult to make assumptions about what types of services will be appropriate for different couples.
- Common-law marriage
Practitioners will best serve both cohabiting and married couples if they carefully consider the content of their programs, the assumptions about commitment that may be inherent in their services, and the needs and desires of specific couples and individuals.
Couple Therapy with Cohabiting Couples Therapeutic interventions could also benefit from greater consideration of cohabitation dynamics and patterns. Couple therapists are likely seeing more and more cohabiting couples in their practices. Cohabiting couples are different from married couples in a number of ways and the most significant difference may be in terms of the salience of commitment issues.
Cohabiting partners may have unidentified or unspoken differences about the meaning of cohabitation and future goals for the relationship. Hence, couple therapists who are used to working with married couples need to realize that cohabiting couples may have special needs with regard to commitment.
Few cohabiting couples who enter a therapy office will have decided what their futures will look like, and assuming as is typical with married clients that a desire for a future has been decided would be inadvisable.
Or, one partner may have decided while the other is ambivalent. In our experience, it is sometimes difficult for a couple to directly acknowledge this core relationship issue; the less dedicated partner may not wish to upset the status quo and the more dedicated partner may wish to retain some level of denial about the reality of the situation.
Of course, the therapy issues will depend on the specific needs of the couple, but therapists seeing cohabiting couples may need to make space for conversations about commitment, differences in partners' commitment levels, and plans for the future of the relationship. Otherwise, therapists may assume too much about commitment when trying to work on other aspects of the relationship. For example, does it make sense to help a couple resolve issues about household chores when there may be a lack of clarity and mutuality in commitment to a shared household in the future?
Couple Therapy with Married Couples A colleague recently asked us whether we would do anything differently in marital therapy based on a couple's premarital cohabitation history. On the surface, it seems as though what we know from research about cohabitation would be irrelevant to couples who are already married.
Yet, couples who cohabited before making a decision to marry may have special needs around commitment dynamics and the ways in which they make decisions in their relationships, as well as higher levels of risk. Those who may have been strongly influenced by constraints in their transition to marriage could encounter problems related to more intrinsic forms of commitment later on in their marriages. Attributions for why one is in a relationship that are based more on inertia e.
Further, given that cohabitations that began before strong, mutually clear commitment to marriage had developed are more prone to asymmetries in marital dedication Rhoades et al.
Given the prevalence of premarital cohabitation, more couples than ever before will enter marital therapy with historical, developmental problems in the level and nature of their commitments. For example, if a particular couple had made most of their major relationship transitions in a manner more consistent with sliding than deciding, they may benefit from therapeutic processes designed to help them more fully, clearly, and mutually declare their commitment to their future together.
Based on this reasoning, we have wondered whether a couple who experienced a significant number of constraints around the transition to marriage might benefit from making a recommitment to their decision to be married. Making a new, mutual commitment, even if it comes late in the relationship, may help a couple follow through on commitment to marriage when times are tough.
Given that cohabitation has become common, it is unwise to assume that couples entering marital therapy do so with comparable pathways in the development of commitment. While this has always been the case, and commitment is generally ignored in marital therapy Stanley et al. Cohabitation has changed the way couples and marriages form. Conclusion This paper has reviewed recent research on cohabitation and specially the premarital cohabitation effect and provides recommendations for using this research in relationship education programs for individuals and couples as well as couple therapy.
The rise in rates of cohabitation has widespread implications for practitioners who work with couples or with individuals about relationship issues. The meaning of marriage has historically been much clearer than the meaning of cohabitation is today. In the United States, cohabitation is an ambiguous relationship stage in many ways.
For some couples cohabitation means a long-term commitment to a future together, for others it may symbolize little more than being roommates. The ambiguity complicates clinical practice because practitioners cannot be sure that even partners share the same sense of what a cohabiting relationship means. As we have tried to show here, the ability of the average individual or couple to understand these complex ambiguities needs to be strengthened so that they can make better, more informed choices in their relationships.
Do attitudes toward divorce affect marital quality? Journal of Family Issues. Brown SL, Booth A. A comparison of relationship quality. Journal of Marriage and Family. Toward filling a gap in the explanation of violence against women. Aggression and Violent Behavior. Cohabiting affords the couple the convenience of more time to weave their routines and interests and assess the relationship.
Another strong incentive for some couples to live together is to save money. When they have already established that they care for one another and want to see where the relationship is going, they see moving in together as a way to save on rent, food, and other living expenses. How Common Is Cohabitation? The number of couples who choose to live together prior to marriage has been steadily increasing.
Inwhen it was officially illegal in the U. Bythat number had increased to 7. Among people who are currently married, approximately two-thirds say they lived together before making a marriage commitment. Potential Downside of Cohabitation Though cohabitation is increasingly popular, not all of the data points to potential benefits. Here are some of the negative effects associated with cohabitation. Some studies show that cohabiting couples are more likely to split than move toward marriage.
The average length of cohabitation for first-time couples is currently 22 months.