The Advantages of Living Together Without Marriage
Despite mainstream society as well as religion and law regarding marriage as the normative institution for heterosexual couples, the practice of living together is increasing among couples. this growing trend is based on some sound practicalities that cohabitation offers to the extent that living together is fast becoming an alternative to marriage rather than a mere trial run. In order to better understand the preferences of couples for cohabitation here is a bit more about the advantages that living together presents over marriage.
Keeps the relationship fresh
One of the biggest reasons why married couples drift apart is because they begin to take each other for granted. Marriage brings about a sense of other person belonging to you so that you no longer feel the need to work for the relationship that you had been doing when you were dating the same person. Living together on the other hand, prevents partners from completely taking each other for granted. Each is aware that if this does not work, the other person is free to leave. This realization may make both partners more conscious of nurturing their relationship and striving to make a success of it.
It is safer
When dating, people naturally put their best foot forward but sharing a life with the same person can turn out to be a different ballgame altogether. Thus Living together provides a way of getting to know aspects of your partner which might disappoint or you later. If you discover that the person you are living with is extremely irresponsible with money or that he/she has a tendency to get physically violent when upset, it is easier to exit the relationship while still cohabiting. However if this knowledge comes after already being married, there will be legal issues to sort out and in the worst case scenario, kids from the marriage to take care of, in case your partner is emotionally or physically abusive.
The conventional wisdom is that in societies where divorces rates are rising all the time, it makes sense to test compatibility by living together before getting legally married. Instead of tying the knot and then finding out that two people are not meant to be with each other, it would be much easier to share a life first and then decide if they are actually suited for a more committed relationship. However several sociological surveys conducted in recent times suggest that this is not the most important or at least the only reason why couples decide to move in with each other. The results of a 2004 study published in Journal of Marriage and Family found that while couples may consider marriage or think about it, the major reasons of cohabitation are finance, convenience or housing needs. The study, authored by Sharon Sassler, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, included 25 residents of New York City, aged between 25 and 33 who had been living with boyfriend or girlfriend for the past three months at least. As Professor Sassler’s research and many other studies suggest, couple primarily move in with each other while still unmarried for economic convenience. Sharing a house as well as domestic expenses turns out to be cheaper for either partner as compared to maintaining two difference apartments and incurring two sets of living expenses. For instance if both partners are attending the same college, they may find it cheaper to share housing and transport. Moreover when both partners pool in their resources not only can they save on the cost of running a household, they can in fact afford a much better standard of living. Even the chores like paying bills, buying groceries, cooking and cleaning can be shared so that it may be easier to maintain a full-fledged household.
Together but not tied
Living together may mean that partners are available physically, sexually and emotionally for each other without the necessity of getting legally married. It seems an ideal arrangement for people who do not want to be alone and yet want to avoid the responsibilities of marriage.
Better option for minority groups
Couples who cannot get legally married or may have to go through difficult procedures to get legal recognition of their marriage may opt to live together. Such couples may belong to different races, religions, different sexual orientation or may be philosophically opposed to the institution of marriage. Gays and lesbians for instance are still not legally allowed to marry their partners in many parts of the world instead they may be allowed to co-habit by law after entering a civil partnership. Again some non-religious people choose to cohabitate because they do not regard the religious or legal ceremony of marriage to be of over-riding importance. For these people, a union between two people is not stronger simply because a priest or state officiant formally acknowledges the union. If a couple regards marriage as a mere formality, then cohabitating can be a more desirable option.
More legal safeguards than before
One of the major drawbacks of cohabitation over marriage was the legal uncertainty over the status and responsibility of any kid born from the relationship. Now however laws in many emancipated societies are making it easier for co-habiting couples to have and raise children without getting formally married – thus removing the last important objection to living together. Scandinavian countries were among the first to grant co-habiting couples with children many of the same rights and responsibilities as those who were married. Over the years, many other liberal countries have followed suit and while co-habiting couples still do not enjoy all the rights and privileges of married couples – that would amount to erasing any difference between the two relationships - the numbers of the former are steadily rising. One important reason has been that civil reforms have now made it possible to grant the children of unwed couples legal recognition instead of growing up without a father’s name. Also in emancipated societies, if a cohabiting couple separate and there are children involved, then both cohabiting partners may have rights and responsibilities – even if only one of them is their biological parent. With the law giving them important legal safeguards, couples in a live-in relationship can now get many of the same rights and responsibilities as if they were married.
Good for self-esteem
Finally cohabitation may better for a partner’s self-esteem and personal growth as compared to marriage. The expectations and potentially unwanted obligations that come with marriage may be stifling for partners; for instance working women in many parts of the world are expected to let their careers take a backseat to family responsibilities as soon as they get married whereas such expectations would not imposed on women living together with their male partner. Again in cohabitation, some couples feel more at ease with a relationship where the woman is making more money whereas in marriage, there may be more social pressure on the husband to out-earn his spouse. In all these ways couples living together may enjoy higher self-esteem, more personal space and professional satisfaction as compared to married partners who may feel hedged in and bowed down by compromises.
- Sassler, S. (2004), The Process of Entering into Cohabiting Unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66: 491–505