Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 1999
Common-law leads to divorce
Marriage preparation leader agrees with study showing fallout of cohabitation
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Couples who live together before marriage take longer to head down the aisle and are more likely to divorce when they do, according to a study by a B.C. sociologist.
But that isn't news to John MacDonald, director of the archdiocesan Family Enrichment Centre.
"I tend to agree with that kind of data," MacDonald said. "We've seen some of that first hand here."
The centre hosted a gathering of marriage preparation facilitators April 17, to discuss issues they face with couples in the program. Among those concerns was cohabitation.
"One of the issues is that by the time the couple comes to you, (cohabitating) is not an issue anymore," MacDonald said. "They've been there, done that."
MacDonald said 60 per cent of the couples who attend marriage preparation courses already live together prior to marriage and of those who don't, about 20 per cent are sexually intimate.
Premarital cohabitation is not necessarily about sex, said MacDonald. Economic matters, conveniences, wanting to get out of the parents' house are usually precursors for couples moving in together.
"Some of it is genuine fear of marriage," MacDonald said.
Zheng Wu's unfavourable findings of the effects of cohabitation on marital bliss solidifies the age-old saying "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free."
The study by the University of Victoria sociologist, released in the Canadian Review of Socioloy and Anthropology, shows that about 55 per cent of couples who live together eventually marry.
Women in common-law relationships are 26 per cent older when they marry than women who never lived with a man before marriage. Men in common-law relationships were 19 per cent older than their male counterparts who forfeited the premarital living arrangement.
The study found that cohabitation also increases the odds of divorce. Women who live with a man prior to marriage are 80 per cent more likely to divorce or separate than are women who have never entered into a live-in situation.
Men who have been in common-law unions are 150 per cent more likely to be involved in marital breakdowns.
Wu said divorce may be more common among couples who live together before marrying because those couples had hesitations about marriage to begin with.
Wu completed the study two years ago based on Canadian census data and national surveys. His findings will be published in a book to be released later this year.
Wu's study found distinct characteristics of common-law couples which are less common in married couples.
Common-law couples are more likely to come from a working-class background and have had an unhappy childhood. They are also less educated and tend to be non-religious.
Wu said cohabitators are a "certain people. They're more liberal and unconventional. When there's problems they're more likely to end the relationship, rather than stay together."
He noted another possible explanation for the higher divorce rate - living together out of wedlock encourages a more casual attitude towards marriage and decreases commitment.
MacDonald agrees, saying a common-law relationship "diminishes the bond of marriage which God intended for us. It takes away the commitment and sacredness of that vow."
Since premarital cohabitation often exists prior to a couple marrying, there is little MacDonald can do to alleviate what's already been done. He looks to the future instead.
"We try to encourage them to live separately for the few months leading to their wedding," MacDonald said. "We encourage this so it can give the marriage night special meaning."
This has been called re-virginization by some, but MacDonald refers to it as a "beautiful gift to each other.
"We're not talking about the past, we're talking about the future. We're preparing them for the marriage after the wedding."
Although the majority of couples have lived together prior to heading down the aisle, facilitators in marriage preparation classes continue to encourage a non-cohabitating union.
"We try not to preach to the couples, but encouraging them to see what is best, to see the benefits of not living together. We're planting a seed, to catch their ears. Make them think a little deeper.
"We try to give them this intimate and very real connection to God."
In turn, MacDonald hopes such encouragement will reflect on the couples and how they pass this information onto their children.
"We're hoping this plants the seed for them for the future," MacDonald said. "I think we need these preparation classes when they're students, when they're younger. We need to be doing our homework much earlier."