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Cohabitation harms marriage, expert says

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Cohabitating couples are 30 to 50 percent less likely to have successful marriages, statistics show.

"We now know unequivocally that cohabitation doesn't work. Churches -- the gatekeepers of weddings -- can delay no longer. They must educate, equip and elevate marriage to the position it deserves," Mike McManus wrote in his book "Living Together: Myths, Risks and Answers."


From 1960 to 2011, the number of cohabitating couples jumped from 430,000 to 7.6 million, according to statistics McManus cited at an event hosted by the Family Research Council (FRC).

As a rising social norm, cohabitation has become prevalent across all generations in Christian and secular realms and often results in divorce, McManus said. The divorce rate could be reduced if churches would take a higher interest in preparing couples for marriage, he said.

McManus co-founded Marriage Savers in 1996 with his wife Harriet to help churches reduce divorce rates in their cities. Marriage Savers collaborates with churches in 229 cities to work on reducing the rate of cohabitation and divorce while raising the marriage rate. Participating churches sign a public marriage policy to work with other churches to reduce the number of divorces in their city.

"Our goal is to reduce the divorce rate, reduce the cohabitation rate and raise the marriage rate," McManus said at the Aug. 30 FRC lecture.

Through the Marriage Savers program, the average divorce rate has fallen 17.5 percent in cities with marriage policies, while dropping only 9.4 percent in other cities, according to McManus.

Cohabitation not only is prevalent among younger couples but among adults more than 50 years of age as well. The number of older couples living together has doubled from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.75 million in 2010, according to researchers at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green University in Ohio.


Many older, previously married couples say a wedding is too much of a hassle and are content simply to live together. Among couples between ages 50 and 64, 12 percent were cohabiting in 2010. That is up from 7 percent 10 years prior, according to NCFMR researchers in a HealthDay article.

Young couples cohabitate for much different reasons. Some say it is a trial period before marriage, while others blame it on finances. McManus has found through counseling couples with his wife that men and women have competing qualifications for cohabiting. Women see it as preparation for marriage, but men cohabit to avoid marriage, McManus said. This difference, he said, is the cause of many divorces in young couples.

"We want to help men and women have marriages that last," McManus said in his lecture. "This is important for them; it's particularly important for their children, of course."

The effect of cohabitation and divorce on children is vast. Children in cohabiting homes are 20 times more likely to be abused and are 22 times more likely to be incarcerated as an adult than a child from an intact home, McManus said. Children harmed by the divorce of their parents shy away from marriage and are more likely to cohabitate when they grow up.

To help couples have successful marriages, McManus encourages them to live separately before their wedding and abstain from sexual activity. This enables both the man and woman to remain chaste and amplifies the pleasure of sex after marriage, he said. The majority of couples who abstain from sexual activity before marriage will not be as prone to divorce, he said.


McManus's goal with Marriage Savers is to reduce the divorce rate 15 to 50 percent in each city. Some cities have seen a 70 percent drop in divorce already, he said.

Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. For more information about Marriage Savers, visit Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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