Home > family dynamics, marriage, psychology > Premarital Cohabitation’s Influence Upon Stability and Satisfaction in Subsequent Marriages (Part 2)

Premarital Cohabitation’s Influence Upon Stability and Satisfaction in Subsequent Marriages (Part 2)

June 15th, 2010


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” in a search to differentiate their premarital from their martial relationship.

Although accounting for similarities of adjustment experienced during the initial sharing of households among both groups, an inference has been made that very different principles bind cohesiveness in cohabitating versus married couples. This governing assumption predicts that couples who reside together prior to marriage will engage in a less traditional marriage dynamic following legal union in keeping with previous masculine and feminine roles established during premarital cohabitation. According to Brines and Joyner (1999), the greater the financial “equal-power” ratio experienced between partners during premarital cohabitation, the lower the likelihood of dissolution in this informal institution of union due to a separation of economic resources. Cohabitors who engage in a traditional division of labor are 2. 75 times more likely to end their relationship in dissolution than those who engage in more equal labor practices. However, once a marriage has been entered into, a pooling of resources is most often expected, and thus discrepancies may occur in wage earning. The less traditional roles adopted by those in a premarital cohabitation as demonstrated by the above data may offer an explanation of instability and lower satisfaction once married.

Selectivity as a Factor of Instability

Contrasting theories pertaining to individual processes occurring during cohabitation offer an explanation of lower stability and satisfaction once a transition from cohabitation to marriage has been initiated. A main focal point on the first theory emphasizes the proposal that men and women in weak marriage-market bargaining positions are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage, producing a selective factor towards a lower quality and consequentially less stable outcome. Numerous studies provide evidence that selectivity either through direct measurement of differences on important characteristics, including age and religion, or “the use of statistical procedure that adjust for unmeasured heterogeneity” (Teachman, 2003, p. 5) distinguish outcomes between cohabitors and noncohabitors. Brines and Joyner (1999, p. 335) suggest that when couples choose cohabitation prior to marriage, “the choice signals uncertainty and a short-term time horizon, prescribing a cautious approach to the relationship that might produce patterns of sharp bargaining between partners. ” These conditions of uncertainty allow cohabitating couples a certain degree of freedom to experiment with organization forms that are “less responsive to external norms or contractual obligations and more responsive to the needs of each partner” (Brines & Joyner, 1999, p. 5), however, at the expense of incentives to jointly invest in the relationship. As Nicole and Baldwin (1995) state, cohabitation allows for a relatively safe period during which a couple can investigate deeper levels of compatibility, disclose needs, feelings, and vulnerabilities without pressure for a life-long commitment. Conversely, when a couple with individualistic tendencies concentrated on the maintenance of equality enters into marriage, frequent monitoring of each partner’s holdings may create constant friction between husband and wife. Additionally, as a result of an egalitarian and unconventional viewpoint, cohabitants are more individualistic in partner selection and thus less concerned with age and religious homogamy (Hall, 1996), key components explained as crucial by Hall and Zhao (1995). Finally, those who are prone to relationship dissatisfaction in accordance with data provided by Woods and Emery (2002) are more likely to select partners who are vulnerable to divorce as well.

Moreover, evidence supports the notion that cohabitors and married persons differ substantially in terms of what they seek from the relationship, even those who cohabitate with eventual intentions to marry. As discussed previously, cohabitors are more likely to embrace individualism and seek personal autonomy and equity in terms of household contributions between partners. Once a definite marriage commitment has been established, fear is often generated that individual enterprises may be eliminated based on the evidence that marriage may reduce activities related to an individual’s career, friendships, hobbies or family of origin that defined a certain degree of importance in the individual’s life (Hall, 1996). A drop-off of these activities following the transition from cohabitation into marriage may further perpetuate a sense of martial dissatisfaction.

Finally, personality problems as well as behavioral and social adjustment problems, difficulty expressing emotions, alcohol and drug abuse, financial irresponsibility, legal problems, and unstable employment history are common characteristics of those who seek to cohabitate premaritally as they view themselves to be poor marriage material. Additionally, Woods and Emery (2002) determine that cohabitors tend to resemble high self-monitors, and thus alter their behavior depending on the situation and person with who they are interacting within any given instance. These tendencies lead to the report of lower trust levels, less faithfulness and loyalty, and an overall decrease in commitment for any individual relationship, which can subsequently lead to martial conflict and undermine martial stability.

Experience as a Factor of Instability

An alternative to the theory of selectivity is the asscertation that the actual experience of cohabitation influences martial outcome and overall levels of satisfaction within the relationship. In this theory, it is argued that a causal effect is exhibited as a result of having lived with a romantic partner prior to marriage. According to Wu (1999, p. 2), “because most cohabiting relationships are short-lived, the ephemeral nature of cohabitation as observed in everyday life may undermine the notion that intimate relationships are lasting and permanent. ” Additionally the experience of cohabitation may foster less conventional attitudes regarding marriage, perhaps resulting in a subsequent increase in approval of divorce. Data by Hall (1996) provides evidence of a small but significant effect on the frequency of divorce when considering cohabitation in the absence of personal characteristics in finding that eighteen percent of those who had cohabitated prior to marriage ended their relationship in divorce in comparison to the eleven percent of noncohabitors that endured the same outcome.

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