Plan Ahead to Oppose Cohabitating

farmhouse[1]To: Marybeth

From: Opposed to cohabiting

Can you offer any advice for my young adult daughters about why not to live with their boyfriends? I feel strongly that living together is to be saved for marriage, but it is hard for them to understand because “everyone is doing it” and they think I’m just old fashioned. They are (or will soon be) independent adults, making good choices otherwise. So far we haven’t had to cross this bridge, but I’d like to be ready with some great advice and suggestions.

To: Opposed

From: Mb

If only “everyone” always made smart decisions. It would be so much easier to go along with what’s cool and current, wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, changing societal attitudes about marriage have taken a toll on the institution itself, and even young adults who have been raised with the example of a healthy, traditional marriage exhibit skepticism — if not cynicism — about the value of it’s traditions, especially about the importance of establishing a home in the context of marriage.

When your daughters say “everyone is doing it,” it’s possible that everyone they know really is. A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics says from 2006 to 2010 nearly half (48 percent) of women 15 to 44 years old cohabited outside of marriage. That number is up from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995. So the trend is for greater numbers of women to move in with a partner before marriage.

In fact, less than a quarter of “first unions,” defined as a first marriage or first cohabitation, were marriages during the span of the study.

Additionally, cohabiting couples are delaying marriage for longer periods of time. If young women believe that moving in with a boyfriend will speed up the process of getting married, the statistics indicate otherwise. In 1995, the average length of living together before marriage was 14 months. In the CHS study, the average was 21 months.

A full 20 percent of cohabiting women became pregnant in their first year of cohabitation. Forty percent of first-year cohabitations transitioned into marriage within three years, but 27 percent dissolved within five years.

Yet statistics aren’t what compel young adults when it comes to decisions about marriage and living together. Love and optimism go hand-in-hand, after all, and all the data in the world won’t convince them that moving in with a boyfriend isn’t in their best interests, especially if they also cite pragmatic concerns such as the cost of maintaining two apartments.

You’re smart to look ahead and have conversations about this subject well before the time when such decisions are being made. But rather than focus your comments on the mistake you think it would be to cohabit, reinforce your confidence in the good decisions your daughters are making, and on your belief in the institution of marriage.

Obviously, you can’t control the actions of independent adults, and trying to do so (think: withholding love, support, future wedding funds) is unlikely to result in anything but strife. Instead, share these thoughts with your daughters early and often:

“I believe with all my heart that establishing your home in the context of marriage is the best step you can take to commit to your loved one and begin your life together. I’m here to do anything I can to support your decision to get married and to create a home. I love you and I want what’s best for you, and while you are free to make your own choices, I want you to know that I believe your happiness and the stability of your love will be greatest if you marry before you move in together.”

Just in case, you might want to memorize some statistics, too.

Marybeth Hicks is a columnist for The Washington Times and founder and editor of Ontheculture.com.

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