Rock group Bon Jovi’s “Living in Sin” hit the Billboard Top 10 in December 1989 and catapulted the issue of cohabitation to the forefront of the American moral debate. Lyrics such as “I say we’re living on love; they say we’re living in sin” split the nation over the ethics of the edgy living arrangement.
The term cohabitation refers to a romantically involved couple who share a residence without being married.
The practice of cohabitation, more commonly referred to as “living in sin” or “shacking up” by past generations, has gained alarming acceptance and prevalence in American society since the 1980s.
But increased moral acceptance does not mean practical success. Cohabitation brings with it a slew of personal and relational problems and should be quickly discarded as a possible living arrangement for the serious couple.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1.6 million American heterosexual couples cohabited in 1980. By 2000, the number spiked to about 4.9 million – a 206 percent increase in just 20 years. And the numbers continue to spiral upward.
The cohabitation debate hit campus last spring when Image magazine ran a feature on cohabiting college couples, entitled “The New American Gothic.” The feature profiled two cohabiting couples at TCU and listed a number of reasons why more college couples have decided to move in together.
But the phenomenon of college cohabitation is not isolated to TCU. According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study published in 1995, thousands of college-aged students across the nation have decided to give the living arrangement a try.
Some couples move in together for economic reasons. Some simply want to test their compatibility.
It does, after all, seem to be a logical living arrangement for the serious couple – a stepping stone between dating and marriage.
But beware. What seems the perfect alternative for those not quite ready to tie the knot has its ominous pitfalls.
Scores of sociological studies show that cohabitation is highly correlated with lowered commitment levels and an impaired sense of personal well-being.
Cohabitation, by definition, is a much looser bond than marriage. Consequently, partners often do not feel obligated to share the same emotional and intimate commitment that they would in marriage.
Unfortunately, the trends toward lowered commitment levels do not fix themselves once a cohabiting couple walks down the aisle.
A 2004 University of Denver study surveyed 306 couples who either had or had not cohabited before marriage. Researchers found that the couples who had cohabited experienced significantly lower levels of partner interaction, confidence for the future of the relationship, and overall relational quality.
According to the study, cohabitation is not practice for a sound marriage. Rather, it’s a setup for later relational failure.
The downfalls of cohabitation do not stop at the relational level. A University of Wisconsin-Madison study conducted at the University of Denver found that long-term cohabitants experienced depression 50 percent more frequently than their married counterparts. Furthermore, cohabitants reported lower levels of personal satisfaction and self-esteem than did married individuals.
Now, I wouldn’t expect the average college student to peruse the pages of the latest Journal of Marriage and Family to educate themselves on the effects of cohabitation, but those couples considering cohabitation should seriously be aware of the obstacles they may face .
You wouldn’t take a prescription without considering its potentially life-altering side effects. Likewise, you shouldn’t cohabit without knowing its possible, or should I say probable, pitfalls.
I will neither say that students who are currently cohabiting are “living on love” nor “living in sin.”
But to those couples who are considering moving in together, my message is simple: Caveat emptor!
-Matt Messel is a sophomore sociology major from Omaha, Neb. His column appears every Thursday.