Below is the summary of an interview with Glenn Stanton by FamilyLife’s hosts Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine about the negative effects of moving in together before marriage that are even proven by secular sociologists. Cohabitation has developed from a hostile approach to marriage into a trial of marriage. You can find all the references and the complete transcripts from the links provided at the end of this posting.
Living together before marriage just isn’t a good idea, especially if you’re a woman. According to Glenn Stanton, marriage is the relationship on the woman’s terms. A wife is a more powerful player in the relationship than a live-in girlfriend is. In cohabitation, the guy is the one that has most of the relational influence and power. In marriage, it’s the woman. Young ladies need to understand that. There is something about marriage that empowers the women.
Glenn wrote the book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, because cohabitation, while is not a new phenomenon, it’s a growing phenomenon. In 1960, a little over 400,000 people were cohabiting in America. As of 2012, it’s grown 17 times to over 7.5 million.
The projection line from the ’60s, two family-formation trends that are really spiking is cohabitation and out-of-wedlock child-bearing. It’s not marriage; divorce is leveling off. Just recently, out-of-wedlock child-bearing—more children are born into cohabiting situations than to truly single moms. So, in terms of just the absolute, off-the-chart growth trends, it’s those two things; and they’re really related.
Cohabitation has become the new norm and viewed as the new path to marriage. It’s almost the default. The majority of marriages happening today (over 60%), are preceded by some form of cohabitation.
Here’s what the majority say, “Before you get married, you have a test drive.”
There are two shifting trends here: First of all, cohabitation in the ’60s and ’70s came out of a negative attitude toward marriage. “Oh, it’s just a piece of paper. We don’t need some judge to qualify our love. Our love will speak for itself.”
But now, cohabitation is motivated by a high view of marriage, curiously. It is, “We care for marriage. Our parents divorced at unprecedented rates. We do not want to mess up marriage like our parents did. We want to get it right; so rather than jump in and mess it up, we’re going to kind of wade into it.” Cohabiting is the way that they wade into it.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, cohabitation came out of a negative attitude toward marriage, but now, cohabitation is motivated by a high view of marriage. “We want to get it right, so we’re going to wade into it.”
The great majority of young people today think that cohabitation is the smart way to wade into marriage, but the research tells a very different story. In fact, it doesn’t guarantee a divorce, but it increases the rate of divorce.
Researchers will tell you that if divorce is your interest, you could not do worse than to cohabit together. Cohabiting, it doesn’t guarantee—and cohabitation is not the only thing that drives divorce—but nothing will, in a curious way, guarantee divorce like cohabitation does.
Researchers will tell you that if divorce is your interest, you could not do worse than to cohabit together. Cohabitation, while it doesn’t guarantee a divorce, it increases the rate of divorce.
Theoretical question: “Why is it that if my girlfriend and I get together and live together for a couple of years, before we decide to go ahead and get married, why would that create any issue for our marriage? I mean, it would seem like we kind of eased into it—we had a test period. We decided, “Yes. We really do love each other and want to be together. Why is it a destructive force?”
Answer: There’s a term developed by secular sociologists called the cohabitation effect. It’s a term that they have developed to describe the fact that cohabiters, across the board, tend to have weaker, less healthy, more brittle relationships. Those relationships go on to tend to be associated with greater divorce within marriage. That fact is not contested among sociologists. It’s just a fact. They have a phrase for it, the cohabitation effect. The question is the question that you’re asking, “Why?” Why is that relationship there?” It’s interesting that that’s where the real debate comes up. Some sociologists say that cohabitation shows greater negative effect because it selects into itself people who, by themselves, don’t have as healthy a relationship.
They’re trying out marriage because they’re scared; they’re insecure. They didn’t see it modeled well. So, you’re starting with a sample group that’s already predisposed in a wrong direction. And because these are people who are kind of a little more adventurous, if you will, sexually and relationally—they don’t tend to adhere to, kind of, traditional views. There’s a bit of that. The researchers are coming up with that there’s something about the cohabiting relationship itself. You ask the question, “What is it about—if me and my girlfriend get together and live together—what difference does that make?”
Here’s the big thing—two things:
Lack of commitment. Clearly, cohabitation is a holding back. It’s, “I’m not going to give completely everything to you.” The sociologists are finding when you hold something back in a relationship, it makes a difference!
The other is what they call (it’s kind of a fancy word) the relational ambiguity. That is, researchers, when they look at men and women cohabiting, men will tend to have an expectation of what the relationship is and women will tend to have an expectation of what the relationship is. Curiously, one of those partners is more likely to say, “We’re just hanging out, and having fun, and seeing what happens.” There’s another partner who says, “You know what? We’re in love, and we’re kind of moving our way to marriage.”
Now, ask the question, “Who do you think the guy is? Who do you think the gal is?” You don’t have to be so gender stereotypical to realize girls more likely think about love; they think about marriage. The guys are more likely to just be hanging out and having fun. That means that the relationship itself is on different settings with each of those different people. That is a serious, if you will, “flat tire” to the relationship that keeps the relationship from moving in a healthy way.
Well, one of the big, new, hit shows of this season is a show called Whitney. The whole premise—I watched the first episode of Whitney—it was all about, “Should I marry him, or shouldn’t I marry him?” The two of them were living together; they’ve been living together for a long time. He gets hurt and has to go to the hospital. She’s worried and she thinks, “I should marry him.” She couldn’t get in to see him because they weren’t married. So she goes, “I’ll marry you.” He goes, “No. You’re not ready to marry me. I’ll wait as long as you want to wait.” It was supposed to be this warm romantic, “Isn’t that sweet? He’s going to wait as long as she wants to wait!”
What’s interesting is it used to be the grandmothers and the preachers who were railing against cohabitation—but now, the social scientists. If you gathered a bunch of social scientists together and had them watch that show, they would say, “You know what? They’re establishing their relationship on very unhealthy terms of cohabitation and the lack of clarity in the relationship itself.”
Cohabitation is the relationship on the guy’s terms. Marriage is the relationship on the woman’s terms. A wife is a more powerful player in the relationship than a live-in girlfriend is. In cohabitation, the guy is the one that has most of the relational influence and power. In marriage, it’s the woman. Young ladies need to understand that. There is something about marriage that empowers the women.
So, any young woman who is thinking to herself, “But if I don’t move in—he wants me to. He asked me to.” He hasn’t indicated any kind of commitment and he said, “What do you think about us living together?” “If I say, ‘No,’ to that, he’s on to the next girl; and I’m alone, starting over again. I don’t want to start over again.”
The irony of that is—back in the day, we would say, “You know what? If he’s not ready, he’s not the guy.” It’s interesting that the research is showing us—at the University of Denver, these scholars have found out—that for couples who move in together, there is a negative impact on the guy. The guy intends to be engrossed and be less committed to the current relationship. When they do marry, he is a less-committed husband.
What they found out was that there was no negative effect like that on the woman. She just comes into the relationship with a high-level of commitment. It’s like, “Ladies, if you want the commitment level of your guy to decrease in the current relationship and in the future marriage relationship, then cohabitation is exactly what you’re looking for.”
Again, this is secular research that is finding this out. Cohabitation does not put our boyfriends on the track to domesticity in marriage. It’s not moving them in the marital direction. It’s actually keeping them—cementing them—more in the boyfriend direction. Girls need to understand it’s not taking your guy in the direction that you want him to go.
Dr. George Gilder and the book that he wrote, Men and Marriage, (originally titled Sexual Suicide), one of the things that he wrote about, as a Harvard sociologist, was how women are giving up their sexual power and their power as women by moving in with guys and not holding out the gift of giving herself to him until the guy makes a commitment and moves into a committed marriage relationship.
Ironically, marriage is a feminist institution, in the best sense of the word. It is the relationship that empowers the woman.
He was really the guy who put out the idea that, ironically, marriage is a feminist institution, in the best sense of the word. It is the relationship that empowers the woman. I would encourage anybody who is interested in understanding what marriage is about to read that book by George Gilder, Men and Marriage. It’s a powerful, classic book.
What is taking place with our young ladies for this wholesale sell-out is the misconception that the only choices they have are either get involved sexually, and move in and do what the culture is saying to do or join a nunnery. Either participate or get off the playing field and out of the picture.”
The interesting part of the millennial generation is that this is probably the most pro-marriage group alive today because of what they were denied. They saw most of their parents’ marriages fall apart; none of them are going, “You know what? I’m going to give that same gift to my kids.” They want marriage to work. The women want to marry. I think too many of them see these kind-of-delayed adolescent guys—the gamer guys, with their hats turned around backwards—and like, “Okay, how am I going to get my guy to the marriage stage? If I move in with him—” They tend to think of cohabitation as the on-ramp to marriage. As if the woman can domesticate the guy by living together.
It’s the escalator to marriage. Once you get on it, it’s just inevitable. But, again, what the research is showing is a cohabiting woman has less influence upon where the relationship goes than a woman who is not cohabiting. Women who move in with a guy have a harder time moving that relationship towards marriage because, again, the relationship is on the guy’s terms. He’s got what he wants! He’s got access to regular sex. He’s got somebody to care for him—to cook for him and to clean for him. That’s another thing! In cohabiting relationships, guys—it is shown—help out with the housework less often. A husband—a man with a ring on his finger—helps out with housework eight hours more per week than a live-in boyfriend does, and he complains less about it. In a way, marriage is the institution—this is Gilder’s point—marriage domesticates men. Cohabitation does not domesticate men. Gilder’s point was cohabitation allows a man to be a barbarian.
Gilder’s point: Marriage domesticates men. Cohabitation does not domesticate men, it allows a man to be a barbarian.
The next question is what’s a father and mother can do to prepare their daughter for this culture, and the messaging of this culture, and the men that they’re going to rub shoulders with in this culture?
The most common problem in actuality is a “daddy issue.”
Why are these girls moving in with guys? I was talking to one of your folks here [FamiyLife]. She was telling me about a lot of people in her extended family—beautiful young girls—who are moving in with guys. I asked her, “Tell me their daddy stories.” She said, “You know what? For a number of them, their daddies were just not on the scene.”
Your daughters should be getting the message that, “Okay. It’s going to be a pretty special guy who deserves my affection.” Girls who cohabit and girls who are willing to make the compromise are girls who haven’t had the kind of good, father-love to say, “I’ve got a man in my life who cares for me, who would die for me, who would take a bullet for me—no question. I am not going to settle for the first kind of suave guy who comes along.”
So the bottom line for daddies, first of all, to be there.
Secondly, to be connected. Heart-to-heart, tethered into his daughter’s life.
Knowing what’s going on, helping her navigate difficult issues and all the traps of the culture. The real challenge for dads is to not unplug and to not be afraid because this little girl he used to hold in his lap now grows up and becomes a beautiful woman. The key thing is to be intentional to prepare their daughters for this culture.
Glenn’s book does a great job in showing that even when cohabitation is the new norm, it is a bad choice for a long lasting marriage whether you look at it from sociologically or spiritually.
Glenn Stanton, The Ring Makes All the Difference Series, audio broadcast, 19-21 March 2012.
Glenn Stanton, The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage (Chicago: Moody, 2011).
George Gilder, Men and Marriage (Gretna: Pelican, 2001).