The following interview was first published in December 2012 at my old website. It remains relevant and worth adding to this page so I offer it again.
Cohabitation has become as common as marriage itself. Its popularity is based on a number of well-intentioned myths about gender, marriage, relationships, and love. Glenn T. Stanton, director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa, has uncovered the many myths of cohabitation as evidenced in both science and Scripture in his book The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage (Moody, 2011).
Stanton was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his book in general and cohabitation in particular.
1. What made you want to write this book? What do you hope to accomplish through it? How has the response been since its publication?
My job at Focus on the Family is to study family formation trends and in that work, we find that cohabitation is the fastest growing family formation trend, not only in the US, but in the world. It’s growth is dramatic and more so in the last ten years, followed by unmarried child-bearing. Given this fact, it is important for people, young adults especially, to grasp how medical, psychological and social sciences have been finding consistently for that last three decades how harmful cohabiting actually is to personal well-being, relational strength and health as well as the substantial harm it brings to marriage, once a person does marry. There is really no upside to cohabitation in terms of improving any important part of a someone’s life. I wrote the book to help individuals, pastors, counselors and parents understand how and why all of this is true. People need to know it.
2. In your book, you present unquestionable scientific evidence of the many dangers of cohabitation. Could you present some of that evidence here for those who have not read your book?
First, there is an absolute wealth of scientific data here and it doesn’t come from Christian or even conservative researchers. It comes from mainstream and leading academics. But the findings: first, as I just said, examining all the published academic literature on the effects of cohabitation, there is not one significant measure which cohabiting increases compared to marriage. Marriage dramatically improves all important measures of human well-being. Cohabitation harms them. Here are some of the most important. Compared with married couples and parents, cohabitors are significantly more likely to:
- Be unfaithful to one another
- Use illegal substances as well as alcohol.
- Be unhappy in their relationship, especially women.
- Require the women to work outside the home
- Have the women carry a greater share of the household chores
- Suffer from physical and mental illness
- Experience more jealousy in the relationship
- Have less fulfilling sexual relationships
3. You dedicate an entire chapter to the dangerous theory that cohabitation is a wise way to “try out” marriage. Why doesn’t this method work?
Perhaps the greatest myth that people hold today – especially young people – is that cohabiting before marriage is a smart way to test out a relationship to see if a potential partner is right for you. But there are few beliefs so widely today that have so little scientific support behind. In fact, it has no support whatsoever. Ever since scholars have been studying cohabitation they have consistently found that cohabitors have less healthy relationships in every measure and when or if they do marry, they are have less healthy marriages, they have poorer relational problem solving skills and face a dramatically higher likelihood of divorce, the very thing they were seeking to prevent by cohabiting. Cohabitation increases one’s likelihood of divorce from 50 to 80 percent. The general likelihood is around sixty-five percent. This is such a truism of the research that they have developed a term for it: “the cohabitation effect.” It is the consistent finding that cohabitation strongly tends to harm relational health and longevity. So young people and their parents need to know that cohabitation delivers the exact opposite consequence that they believe it will. Nothing smart about that.
4. You argue that feminism has played right into the hands of men. How so? And what damage has feminism done to the family, to women, and to marriage?
Radical feminism put forth three beliefs relative to sexuality, marriage and family that have actually ended up harming women in significant ways.
First was the pill and abortion. Both put control over pregnancy in the hands of the woman, making her a stronger player in the game of sex. But both of these let the man off the hook for his expectation of supporting the woman and her child. It was now the woman’s responsibility to prevent the pregnancy. The man was no longer expected to do “right by the woman” because she was the one in control of her fertility, or so it seemed. This brought on the social phenomenon that sociologist called “the feminization of poverty.”
Second was sexual aggressiveness on the part of women. It is culturally universal that women are less sexually aggressive and experimental than men. But the feminist said that women had just as much right to be as sexually wild as the men. In fact, that they should mimic the men in order to show they are equal. This required women to deny and act contrary to their feminine nature. And while the sexual revolution hurt both men and women in profound ways, it hurt women more deeply. It did anything but empower women. It objectified them, playing into the male sexual opportunists hands.
The third was cohabitation. It was supposed to empower the woman, making the relationship more equitable. Marriage was supposed to have been the man’s ability to control the woman, whereas cohabitation was to put the woman on equal standing with the man. Like the others, it didn’t really work out that way. Through decades of experience, we have found that marriage is actually the relationship on the woman’s terms while cohabitation is the relationship on the man’s terms.
Cohabitation hurts women in more ways than it hurts men and deeply so. Women are more likely to believe their cohabiting relationship will lead to marriage. Men are not. This means that cohabiting women are living on false hope. That is not empowerment. The experience of cohabiting tends to reduce a man’s commitment to the woman and their relationship, both before and after marriage. This was not found among women. So, for women who want a guy who is less committed to her and the relationship, cohabitation is exactly what she is looking for.
The feminists have not played a smart game in regards to improving the lives of women sexually and relationally.
5. What advice would you give pastors who are shepherding members of their church who are living together?
Now this question gets at the bigger reason I wrote this book. The best thing pastors can do is help their young people know God’s word on this topic (Genesis 2:24, Matt 19:5-6) as well as the richness and diversity of social science that supports God’s word here. Young people need to know and understand how unwise it is to live together outside marriage. This can help young people know it is more than the “old folks” just thinking cohabitation is morally wrong. It is humanly wrong. There is no upside to it. And The Ring Makes All the Difference explains all this is a very easy-to-read, very applicable and concise presentation of the leading and more reputable research.