Focus on the Family’s own Glenn T. Stanton, director of global family formation studies, has just released his fifth book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, on why marriage is better than cohabitation — for everyone.
Why did you feel this was such an important book to write?
Because there is nothing that so many people so freely chose to do with the mistaken understanding that it will boost their chances of attaining a happy, thriving marriage (than live together before marriage) — but in fact, nearly all the evidence indicates there are few things they could do to so efficiently and effectively sandbag any chance of a successful marriage. More than 60 percent of marriages in the U.S. are preceded by cohabitation. These couples need to know what the social sciences say on how harmful such a choice is to their current and future relationships. I don’t know of anyone who wants to intentionally hurt their likelihood of succeeding at marriage, but that is exactly what they are doing. The science is robust and clear on this point.
So many people today think of cohabiting as some kind of “try-out” period for marriage, to see if they are actually compatible with each other or not. What’s wrong with that perspective?
Because it applies a consumer mindset to something that is far more valuable, complex and consequential than a new car or lap-top computer. You try out things. You don’t try out a beloved. Cohabitation by definition says, “I’m not really sure about you. Can I just take part of you, and give you only part of myself, and see how it works for me?” Marriage says, “Here is all of me, I give you all and hold back nothing.” And that is why these vows are spoken publicly in front of lots of very important people. If you are not ready to give or receive that, you are not ready to wake up together every day. And that is not just your pastor or grandmother saying that. Cold, calculated scientists are saying it. And I tell their story in plain language in this book.
A lot of other people think that for kids, having parents who live together but aren’t married is better than having parents who were married but are now divorced. What does the research show on that? Why is marriage — that so-called “piece of paper” so important to everyone in the family?
That is an interesting finding in the research. A cohabiting couple — in terms of well-being outcomes — typically looks more like a single person than a married person. It is not just how many people are in the home, in the relationship, but the actual relationship between them (that matters). Children living with two cohabiting parents are three times more likely to be living in poverty compared to a child living with two married parents, even when both cohabiting parents are working, which is more the case in cohabiting homes. Cohabitation really does nothing to benefit children over living with a truly single parent. In fact, it can tend to elevate some very important dangers, like sexual and physical abuse for the child at the hands of mom’s live-in boyfriend.
What do women lose in cohabiting relationships? What do they gain by being married?
That is a new finding in this book. That women really lose out in some really big ways that cohabiting men do not. Women are more likely to believe their cohabiting relationship is moving toward marriage, while the guy is more likely to think they are just hanging out, having fun. This means misplaced hopes and wishes for cohabiting women are quite common. Cohabitation also tends to make the man less committed to the relationship — and to the marriage if it ever happens. Researchers find there is no weakening of commitment on the part of the woman in the cohabiting relationship or the future marriage. Cohabiting women are more likely to have to work outside the home, compared to married women. Married men actually help out more — up to eight hours a week — with household chores than live-in guys. Men with rings are shown time and again to be better men than their live-in, but ringless peers. And there is not just a small bit of research that shows this. It’s a big boatload.
What do men lose by cohabiting? What do they gain by being married?
Well, they gain easier and more reliable access to convenient sex, warm meals and maid service. And they have to offer less overall commitment for it all. And it would seem in all this, this is perhaps one of the reasons why wives are happier than live-in girlfriends no matter how you measure such things. So that is one thing husbands get: happier women.
But they also are not as likely to be getting into trouble with infidelity, carousing, fired from work or unemployed at all. They are healthier, happier, more likely to finish college and be content in their careers. They are more likely to enjoy higher levels of sexual satisfaction than their buddies who shack up. The only real benefit men get from cohabitation is being the kind of man who gets better access to sex, food and cleaning services without having to give much for it. And no real man worth having really aspires to that.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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