Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Dangers of Live-In Arrangements

           I have a friend who is the CEO of a large factory manufacturing high-value components of computers in an industrial zone in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.  He is a Malaysian of Indian descent and is a non-Christian.  When he realized a good number of his workers, most of whom are Catholics, had not been married in Church and were just “living in”, he went out of his way to consult a Catholic priest about how to convince these couples who were cohabitating to be formally married in their faith.  Just using his common sense, he was convinced that people in live-in conditions could pose a danger to his workforce and can affect the productivity of his workers.  True enough, his instincts are supported by social science research.  A summary of these findings are found in the blog http://primacyofreason.blogspot.com which is an initiative of a Filipino educator, Dr. Raul Nidoy.

          Sociologists have exploded certain myths about the benefits of live-in arrangements, which are becoming very common in many countries of the West, especially in Europe.  While residing in Spain for a number of years, I was struck by the number of live-in couples among the present generation.  A rationalization often given for starting with a live-in arrangement is to avoid a broken home in the future by first checking compatibility between the partners.  On the contrary, studies show that couples who live together before marriage have double the chances of divorce than those who don’t.  Living in does not help build the habits of commitment, mutual communication and support that are at the foundation of marriage.  Spouses who eventually divorce tend to be people who do not have a high level of commitment and self-sacrifice to always seek the good of the other person.  Thus, it has been found that living together is “the worst possible preparation for marriage” and is “a training for divorce.”

          Then there is the excuse of saving up first in order to attain financial stability. Ironically, research has found that cohabiting couples have lower incomes than married couples.  A possible explanation is that married men with children are motivated and committed to become more responsible and productive.  In marriage, there is more sharing of economic and social resources, thus acting like an insurance pool as protection from uncertainties.  Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that people who are cohabiting experience lower levels of subjective well-being and higher levels of depression, domestic violence and murder.  One research suggests that due to the lack of long-term commitment, couples who live together without the benefit of marriage are less motivated to develop their conflict resolution and support skills.  Also, compared to married couples, cohabitors are less connected to the community and the church.  Thus, they get less emotional, social and material support.

          It is neither true that cohabiting is a way of adapting to modern times.  Historical research shows that cohabitation and contraception were common in the ancient Roman Empire.  This led to the mistreatment of women, considered as toys for sexual pleasure, the degeneration of families, and the eventual moral decay of society.  The Christian vision of marriage and family brought respect, dignity and happiness to families and society.  Those who are cohabiting swear that they love one another and want to be together as early as possible without the formalities of marriage.  These people should be told that if their love is real and not a matter of volatile feeling, they will want to give the best for each other and for their mutual relationship.  Research and proven wisdom have shown that cohabitation is bad for the partners, for their future marriage and their children.

          The poverty rate among children of cohabiting couples is five fold greater than the rate among children in married-couple households.  Compared to children of married biological parents, children age 12-17 with cohabiting parents are six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems.  Likewise, adolescents from cohabiting households are 122% more likely to be expelled from school and 90% more likely to have a low Grade Point Average (GPA).  One of the greatest problems of children of cohabiting couples is the high risk that the couple will break up. 

          Cohabitation is condemned by most religions because it is all about pre-marital sex.  In Islam, living in zina, fornication, is absolutely forbidden and is severely condemned as irresponsible and immoral.  Buddhists considered it kamesu micchacara, a sexual violation.  It is condemned by Hinduism.  The Jewish Torah prohibits it:  There shall be no kedeshah, promiscuity, among the daughters and sons of Israel (Dt. 23:17.  St. Paul) taught that the pornoi, fornicators, will not inherit the Kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9).

          More recently, Pope Francis in the “Joy of Love” presents a very strong case against cohabitation:  “Marriage is a means of expressing that we have truly left the security of the home in which we grew up in order to build other strong ties and to take on a new responsibility for another person.  This is much more meaningful than a mere spontaneous association for mutual gratification, which would turn marriage into a purely private affair.  As a social institution, marriage protects and shapes a shared commitment to deeper growth in love and commitment to another, for the good of society as a whole.  That is why marriage is more than a fleeting fashion; it is of enduring importance.  Its essence derives from our human nature and social character.  It involves a series of obligations born of love itself, a love so serious and generous that it is ready to face any risk.”

     Indeed, my CEO friend had the right instinct.  Cohabitation does not only hurt the live-in partners themselves.  It is also a disservice to society itself. Fortunately, he was able to convince a large number of his cohabiting workers to join a Catholic mass wedding officiated by the parish priest in Sta. Rosa. Those who are interested in the studies cited in this article may log on to http://primacyofreason.blogspot.com. or email ranidoy@gmail.com. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.