A nation will rise no higher than the strenght of its homes - Gordon B. HinckleyIn today’s world, living together without the commitment of marriage is common. The key words, however, are “without the commitment.” According to a new study, couples who cohabitate without tying the knot often lack commitment to each other—and men and women tend to have different expectations. In fact, the study shows that men are often less committed than women and feel less secure that the relationship will last. In their new paper from RAND, sociologists Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris found that 52 percent of cohabitating men are not “almost certain” that their relationship is permanent—and 41% say they aren’t completely committed to their live-in girlfriends. In contrast, 39% of cohabitating women are not “almost certain” their relationship will endure, and only 26% are not “completely committed.” W. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, wrote:

Both parties—but especially women, given the statistical averages— should be aware that their partner may not be committed to a common future. A long-term cohabiting relationship may prove to be an obstacle, rather than a springboard, to many young people’s goal of getting married and starting a family. [1]

Commitment Before Cohabitation

 Wilcox has a word of caution for young adults who are considering moving in together: Talk about the future and make sure you’re both on the same page. “Defining the commitment in the relationship is a matter best addressed before co-signing a lease,” he wrote. If couples really want to give their relationship a chance to succeed, they have to do the work required. Wilcox wrote:

Couples are more likely to flourish when they share common, clearly communicated goals for their relationship. But given the disparate purposes cohabitation now serves—different people see it variously as a courtship phase, an economical way to save on rent, a venue for convenient sex, a prelude to getting serious, or an alternative to marriage—young adults often end up living with someone who doesn’t share their relational goals. Couples considering living together would be wise to talk through the goals they want to accomplish in that move, and make sure they are on the same page. [1]

Research by psychologists Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades back this up. Citing their research, Wilcox wrote:

Cohabiting couples are in for trouble when they “slide” into cohabitation and then marriage rather than “decide” to take the same steps. …

Women who cohabit prior to engagement are about 40 percent more likely to divorce, compared to those who do not cohabit. By contrast, couples who cohabit after an engagement do not face a higher divorce risk. Those who cohabit only after engagement or marriage also report higher marital quality, not just lower odds of divorce. Stanley and Rhoades think that “sliders” are more likely than “deciders” to cohabit prior to an engagement, and to have trouble in their marriage if they go on to tie the knot. On the other hand, couples who deliberately choose to move in together after a public engagement or wedding are more likely to enjoy the shared commitment that will enable their relationship to last. [1]

Couples who live together without tying the knot are twice as likely to break up compared to those who are married, according to Wilcox. He said, “Marriage is an institution that is surrounded by legal, religious and cultural meanings that people tend to take more seriously.” [2]

Children Suffer in These Unstable Unions

The other dynamic that often comes into play with cohabitating couples is the children produced in these unstable unions. More than half of all births to American women under the age of 30 were to unwed mothers. And two-thirds of all babies born in the United States are to women under 30. Often, the mother is cohabitating at the time she gives birth. [2]

This trend raises serious concerns for the children involved. According to Child Trend’s 2012 report:

There are several reasons to be concerned about the high level of nonmarital childbearing. Couples who have children outside of marriage are younger, less healthy and less educated than are married couples who have children. Children born outside of marriage tend to grow up with limited financial resources, to have less stability in their lives because their parents are more likely to split up and form new unions, and to have cognitive and behavioral problems such as aggression and depression. [2]

Even children living with both unwed biological parents, they are “more likely to be poor and to face multiple risks to their health and development,” the report said. [2]

When biological parents part ways and bring new partners in the picture, this also increases the risks for children, and the statistics are sobering. Citing the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, minister Wayne Stocks wrote:

In the instance of physical abuse, children living with a single parent are 3.1 times more likely to be abused at a rate of 5.9 per thousand compared to 1.9 per thousand for married biological parents. Children in “Other Married Parent” families are 5.2 times more likely to be physically abused, and those kids living with a single parent and their cohabiting partner are an astounding 10.1 times more likely to be physically abused than children living with married biological parents. [3]

Marriage is Fundamental for Family Stability

Sociologists and other researchers are clear: Children fare the best when raised by two married, biological parents. Nearly 20 years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—took a stand on marriage and family relations in The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

… Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. … Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ—said:

The family is the most important social unit in time and in eternity. Under God’s great plan of happiness, families can be sealed in temples and be prepared to return to dwell in His holy presence forever. That is eternal life! It fulfills the deepest longings of the human soul—the natural yearning for endless association with beloved members of one’s family. [4]

The late Gordon B. Hinckley, then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors. [5]

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