23 September 2013
Cohabitation influences relationships
Cohabiting couples can be relatively common in most therapy practices, since the rates of cohabitation have risen substantially over the years. It is estimated that approximately 50-60% of couples live together before getting married (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; Stanley, Whitton, &
Markman, 2004). Some may assume that these couples should be treated the same as married couples because there issues are the same. However, the reality is that cohabitating couples have unique issues and considerations that should be taken into account. Research has consistently found that couples who cohabitate prior to marriage are at greater risk for divorce and poor relationship quality, suggesting there are some risk factors inherent in these relationships
(Stanley, Rhoades, & Markman, 2006). Current literature identifies some key characteristics and risk factors associated with cohabitating couples which will be reviewed, providing insight for practical clinical considerations.
While all couples will be unique in a multitude of ways, cohabitating couples may share some common characteristics. A national study by the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development found most cohabitating couples came from lower SES, lower levels of education, and non-White race/ethnicity. They generally are found to have greater ambivalence about their relationship and higher rates of relationship conflict, especially when children are involved (Klausli & Owen,
2009). Hsueh, Morrison, and Dorris, (2009) found the top five problem areas for couples to be 1) current relationship concerns (i.e., stress, unmet needs, conflict), 2) individual problems (i.e., personality, mood, health problems, psychological problems), 3) communication concerns, 4) arguments, and 5) emotional affection or distance.
Cohabitating couples have similar relationships to dating couples, especially in terms of problem frequency; however, they actually have been found to have more arguments than dating couples. Compared to married couples, cohabitating couples report having more vibrant, but more volatile relationships. In other words, they have more affective and dynamic relationships, which can often lead to greater reactivity and arguments (Hsueh, Morrison, and Dorris).
Couples‟ reasoning for cohabiting can greatly influence the “tone” of their relationship and commitment level. Some couples cohabitate for relationship reasons (i.e., spend more time together, wanting to spend life together) and others live together for more external reasons (i.e., finances, pregnancy, convenience; Surra & Hughes, 1997). This can impact their level and type of commitment. Rhoades, Stanley and Markman (2009) suggest that those who live together for relationship reasons are likely to have more of a dedication type of commitment. In other words, their level of commitment stems from their dedication to the relationship and their desire to remain in it. However, those who cohabitate for external reasons are thought to have more of a constraint type of commitment, or their commitment stems from the external constraints that keep them from leaving, not their desire to stay in the relationship
According to Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2009), most couples report spending more time together and convenience as their primary reasons for cohabitating, which could have various types of impact on their commitment according to the rational just discussed. Many couples choose to live together to “test” out their relationship, to determine if they want to continue in it or not. While this may sound like a good idea in theory, it can actually have a negative impact on their relationship. Those who use this type of reasoning are found to have more negative communication, higher levels of physical aggression, poorer