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Premarital Cohabitation’s Influence Upon Stability and Satisfaction in Subsequent Marriages (Part 4)

June 15th, 2010

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This discovery contradictions a common sense expectation that would determine a higher degree of both communication and dyadic adjustment due to a screening of potential partners that occurs during cohabitation as well as an assumption that adjustment problems common in the first year of marriage for noncohabitors have been previously resolved during premarital cohabitation. Discrepancies from the predicted and actual outcomes in terms of martial satisfaction and communication may in part be due to the fact that once partners marry, often a spouse will expect more out of the marriage and seek a more traditional dynamic than before, thus leading to conflict. Finally, because selectivity predicts that cohabitors view divorce as more favorable than those who marry at the outset, Brown and Booth (1996, p. 671) find it plausible that “they would be less willing to accept a unit decline in relationship quality than married persons, implying a greater willingness to reject the status quo. ” In other words, those who have cohabitated prior to marriage may utilize a different scale to determine happiness within a relationship than those who did not premaritally cohabitate, and consequentially report essentially equal levels of happiness but view these levels with contrasting minimal expectations. Despite these explanations, there is strong evidence of a correlation between premarital cohabitation and lower levels of martial satisfaction as a whole.

Limitations

Constraints on previously conducted research hinder a greater understanding of martial outcome as predicted by premarital cohabitation based on methods of research, a lack of diversity in sample sizes, and perceived biases by researchers on the constructs of relationships maintained during analysis. The interpretation of cohabitation as a form of trial marriage in addition to the superficial living arrangements which mock that of married couples has produced a tendency for researches to interpret couple behaviors within the constructs of marriage instead of independently as a distinct institution. Criteria for the selection of research participants may exclude relationship factors, specifically as noted by Brines and Joyner (1999) where only legal marriages and cohabitating arrangements that survived at least one year were included in results. Additionally, individuals in their mid-thirties to late forties were excluded from much of the research and thus, because long-term cohabitation tends to delay age of marriage, the use of younger cohort samples may have produced an “upward bias in the positive effect of marital cohabitation on the risk of divorce,” (Brines & Joyner, 1999, p. 342). Also most of the data I was able to find provided no information pertaining to the development of relationship skills within cohabitation and marriage, and in the work of Teachman (2003), no evaluation of the premarital relationship histories of husbands in the analysis of effects of premarital relations on marital stability were included. Lastly, most data that I came across was confined to correlational studies on college student relationships or was based on large scale national surveys that limited the availability of attitudinal, behavioral, and basic sociodemographic variables.

Conclusion

Although a strong argument has been presented that cohabitation acts as a selective agent for people more willing to break social norms and less committed to marriage, it can be inferred that during the subsequent decades of the twenty-first century due to a rapid increase of premarital cohabitation, this institution will become less selective of people possessing specific characteristics related to martial stability. However, problems created during cohabitation pertaining to communication and division of finances and labor may continue to extend into marriage, creating an instability and dissatisfaction despite a hypothesized virtual elimination of selective agents. Overall, an emphasis on non-traditional experiences within the confines of premarital cohabitation, concrete differences in relationship dynamics that arise from marriage following cohabitation, and therefore a less predictable transition into marriage continue to shape successive satisfaction and stability.

References

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Brown, S. & Booth, A. (1996). Cohabitation versus marriage: a comparison of relationship

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