In my examination of premarital living arrangements, I seek to explain cohabitation as a predictive factor for subsequent martial stability and satisfaction based on the analysis of selectivity into such a relationship, the experience of cohabitation itself and the contrasting characteristics of which cohabitating and married couples exhibit in their individual relationships. Evaluating marriage and cohabitation from a utilitarian perspective which focuses on the cohesiveness of each couple as a function of partners’ joint investments in the relationship, I intend on determining whether the principles governing stability and satisfaction contrast by the type of union and thus address the implications of these disparities upon theory through numerous research studies of modern couples.
In the midst of turbulent family patterns that have become progressively normative by twenty-first century standards, several explanations compete to explain why some couples are able to remain together post cohabitation through marriage while others experience marital dissolution. According to Nicole and Baldwin (1995) although the rates for first marriages and remarriages have been declining, the rates of cohabitation and divorce have been steadily climbing, thus providing speculation as to whether each of these relationship steps or statuses influence one another. At the onset of coresidential unions the perspective upon which partners view their cohabitation and the goals established to be achieved from this sharing of households strongly affect the outcome of these relationships. Cohabitation may be envisioned as a trial marriage in a process of a prolonged marriage search to effectively “weed out” incompatible partners, thus, one would predict a regression in later divorce statistics between these groups; however, this is not always the case due to selective or experience factors. In this way, cohabitation may act as an additional step in the transition from singlehood to marriage, offering a “functional developmental tool for those who are uncertain about marriage,” (Nicole & Baldwin, 1995). The following paper reviews assertions as to whether cohabitation represents such a developmental tool for a stronger, more egalitarian union that lessens the likelihood of subsequent divorce.
Rationale for Premarital Cohabitation
Societal movements since the early 1970s have produced modifications in the rates of cohabitation, marriage, and divorce, challenging traditional conceptions of what exactly binds heterosexual couples together in a specific union (Brines & Joyner, 1999). Numerous national surveys predict that the convergence in martial and family forms has occurred as a function of the global capitalist system which has given rise to an increased emphasis on individuation, a selective factor to be examined in depth shortly. According to Hall (1996, p. 1) “by improving the status of women and undermining patriarchal authority, the process of capitalist industrialization encourages the growth of informal and unstable martial patterns across cultures. ” Further evidence to support this prediction is found in the favorable attitudes toward cohabitation as expressed by women based on their levels of formal education and labor force participation, while negative attitudes towards this informal cohesiveness in relationships are associated with the traditional values of religion and desire for children (Hall, 1996). Additionally, the increasing emergence of sexuality from the confines of reproductive purpose has produced plastic sexuality, “sexuality that is largely freed from reproduction as well as institutional, normative, and patriarchal control,” (Hall, 1996, p. 2). Because this sexuality has evolved as unbounded by the limits of legal union, plastic sexuality has been identified as malleable and able to be defined even so informally as that of a personality trait on an individual basis (Hall, 1996). This significant emergence of plastic sexuality as a determinate relevant to eventual martial satisfaction functions as a powerful catalyst for the evolving transformation of the human intimacy in relationships that are “organized and sustained primarily from within the relationship itself, not materially supported by, nor anchored in external social criteria such as norms, traditions, or formal institutions,” (Hall, 1996, p. 2). These relationship classifications are more democratic and egalitarian in economic, sexual, and household task duties, thus providing a more compatible relationship structure for the work force participation of both partners. Improved birth control methods and more permissive societal attitudes toward premarital sexual intercourse in addition to a “greater unconventionality in family ideology, economic insecurity, and less commitment to religion” are cited by Woods and Emery (2002, p. 102) as fundamental reasons as to why couples may choose to live together in the absence of marriage. I hypothesize through these literary findings that the desire for egalitarian constructs as a result of an evolving societal movement act as a significant factor in addition to several others towards the dissolution of marriages with cohabitation prior to wedding.
Empirical research on the linkage between premarital cohabitation and subsequent martial stability and satisfaction remains surprisingly consistent, suggesting that premarital cohabitation is indeed associated with an increased risk of martial dissolution. According to the data presented by Teachman (2003, p. 1), “marriages preceded by a spell of cohabitation are as much as 50% more likely to end in divorce at any marital duration than marriages not preceded by cohabitation. ” Evidence suggests that the progression of cohabiting couples for adaptation into this union of shared household follows along an identical pathway in comparison to marital adjustment. Couples establish mutually satisfactory affectional and sexual relationships, separate from families of origin, and develop a couple identity in the first few months of cohabitation, either within the confines of marriage or outside of them (Nicole & Baldwin, 1995). This statement provides a hypothesis that while individuals who first share a household following marriage enter into this legal union with an exciting prospect of joining together to resolve these issues, those who have cohabitated prior are exempted from this process, and therefore, may be left wondering “now what?