Cohabitation’s Impact on the Family
About the Guest
Cohabitation doesn't hurt anybody. Or does it? Researcher Glenn Stanton, author of the book "The Ring Makes all the Difference," talks about the cons of living together with the opposite sex without the benefit of marriage, and the impact cohabitation has on women and children.
Glenn StantonGLENN T. STANTON is the director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world. Stanton also served the George W. Bush administration for many years as a consultant on increasing fatherhood involvement in the Head Start program. Stanton is the author of eight books on marriage and families and a regular columnist for various blogs. He is also the c...more
Cohabitation doesn’t hurt anybody. Or does it? Researcher Glenn Stanton, talks about the cons of living together with the opposite sex without the benefit of marriage.
Cohabitation’s Impact on the Family
Bob: Dave and Sandy are married. They both have good jobs. They’re making okay money. Money is tight at home, but they’re getting by. Roger and Elaine are living together. They both have good jobs, making okay money; but they’re broke. Glenn Stanton says the difference is the ring.
Glenn: What’s interesting, as well, is—in cohabiting relationships, the woman is dramatically more likely to be working outside the home. Even though there’s going to be two-income earners in that home, they are still more likely to live in poverty. That is because cohabiters don’t share their money like married couples do. Married couples more likely pool their money. Pooling the money and sharing the money makes it more productive. That ring does make a difference.
[Everything I Have Is Yours by Billie Holiday]
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. That’s Billy Holiday singing. The normal path to marriage today involves living together before you get married. It’s really a bad idea, as we’ll see today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell today; right?
Bob: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. They are the poster couple for cohabitation. I mean, you stop and think about it—in Hollywood, marriages are disposable. They just don’t go very long.
Dennis: How many times was Liz Taylor married? Or was it Zsa Zsa Gabor?
Bob: Well, I think both of them. I think if you put them together—
Dennis: Nine or ten?
Bob: I think—
Dennis: Together, 140?
Bob: But if you take Goldie and Kurt, they’ve been cohabiting for years now. They don’t need marriage / they’re not big on marriage—they’re happy the way they are. They have kids together. They are the poster kids. They’re the ones who hold up the standard and say: “Look. You don’t have to be married to be happy. You can do this whole cohabiting thing and it works out great.”
So, I want our guest today—I want Mr. Smarty-pants, the guy who’s sitting here—[Laughter]
Dennis: You’ve found fresh ways—
Glenn, I have to tell you. [Laughter] Over the years Bob and I have been doing radio—we’re coming up on 20 years—
Bob: I don’t think I’ve ever—
Dennis: —we have found such a spectrum of ways to offend our guests. [Laughter]
Glenn: Well, no. He noticed that my pants were, indeed, quite smart.
Dennis: Ohhh! [Laughter]
Glenn: I don’t take that as an offense at all!
Dennis: That is the voice of Glenn Stanton. Glenn works at Focus on the Family® and will probably stay there now and not join us, like he was planning to.
He is the author of the book, The Ring Makes All the Difference. We welcome you back to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: And hold on! If Jim Daly—
Dennis: So, Mr. Smarty-pants, go ahead and answer—
Bob: Wait, wait. If Jim Daly is listening—he was not planning to join us. Dennis made that part up. I just want to clear that up; okay? [Laughter]
Dennis: We’ll just start a little rumor among friends, here.
Bob: Oh, come on.
Dennis: Okay. Glenn, I’m going to have a little dignity here. I’ve even forgotten what your question was!
Bob: Goldie and Kurt—
Dennis: What about it?
Bob: They’re the model; right?
Glenn: Yes, yes.
Bob: Couples can have a happy non-married relationship, and they’re the proof of it. So what do you say to that?
Glenn: So, it’s the POSSLQ—yes—from the first day—but that’s the point. You kind of laugh and you want to go: “Okay, yes, we need to tell the researchers about them because they’ve created this whole paradigm shift. Okay, just throw out four decades of research showing this.” The reason people bring up them is that they’re the exception to the norm, and they know that.
It’s like me saying: “Well, you know, I just don’t believe the whole smoking thing because my grandfather smoked until he was 98! That’s just a bunch of rubbish.” People do bend the rule, but that doesn’t change the rule itself.
Bob: Yes, good point.
Dennis: Well, you speak all around the country / you debate. Undoubtedly, you’ve had a young couple who have raised their hand and said: “Look; look—we’re a Christian couple. We decided to move in with each other, but we’re just not going to have sex.” So, all is on the up-and-up; right?
Glenn: Yes. I often want to say, “Say that again with a straight face.” [Laughter]
Dennis: What I want to do is—I want to ask a clarifying question: “How do you define sex?” because this generation—there’s a lot of ways to get around the issue—and in reality, they’re still having sex.
Glenn: That’s exactly right, but here’s the other big thing that we really do need to understand. It’s the issue of—sex is a huge thing—but it’s the issue of intimacy.
That’s kind of what you’re getting at—is there are a lot of different ways to have physical intimacy.
The point that I make is: “When you wake up in the morning—come from separate bedrooms even—into the kitchen, in your pajamas, and fix your breakfast together, and drink your coffee together—that is an incredibly intimate thing. Brushing your teeth together at the same sink is an incredibly intimate kind of thing. Those are intimacies that kind of break down and really shouldn’t be happening, from a moral perspective; but just from a human perspective, they bind the couple together. Sex is not just the only intimacy that marriage brings together—it’s that sharing the life together.”
Bob: You’re saying that the foundation of a promise—a pledge, a commitment, a guarantee—before those kinds of intimacies are shared, whether it’s the toothbrush or whatever else—forget sex—the foundation of that commitment is what keeps that intimacy—
Glenn: Exactly. Those are intimacies that are happening, without the commitment of the relationship itself. C.S. Lewis—and I love this quote—he says, “The monstrosity of pre-marital sex is it separates one part of the relationship from all the other parts of the relationship that are supposed to go with it.”
The commitment of the person—what we talked about yesterday in Genesis 2—the burning of the bridge, if you will / burning my bridge to my parents, to my friends, to all my other relationships, and, “Honey, I am all about you.” It’s having those particular intimacies, not just sexual, but all the other domestic intimacies before the final commitment has been made. That’s why the researchers are telling us that cohabiting relationships are, qualitatively, different and less healthy kinds of relationships because it’s separating those intimacies out.
Dennis: Glenn, I’ve been listening to you, now, as you’ve talked about this. I’m thinking about the Christian community, as a whole—I’m thinking: “We have really not done a good job of addressing the people who are cohabiting, nor have we done a good job of addressing cohabitation.”
Glenn: Absolutely; yes.
Dennis: What would you say ought to be our proactive game plan on a go-forward basis? The church / the Christian community—we’re the protector of the marriage covenant. Our God created marriage. He made them male and female; and then He set about the conditions for a man to leave and cleave and become one, and then to be naked and unashamed.
Glenn: Yes. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who wrote the famous “Dan Quayle Was Right” article many, many years ago—she has a great phrase. She talked about us being the custodians of marriage / the caretakers of marriage. I would say, “I think you’re absolutely right.”
The irony is for me, as just an unrepentant, unapologetic believer in Jesus Christ—we take His wonderful picture of what marriage is and boil it down to very simplistic things: “Don’t have sex outside of marriage. That’s basically all God has to say about that.” No! He says, “Don’t have sex outside of marriage,” because of what marriage is—because of what sexuality is. We have not been very good about teaching, first of all, who the human person is—what God made us for / why He made us the way He made us. It’s fascinating for me to read the first four chapters of Genesis, alongside the science, and see that science is supporting what God said, way back when, because of how He made us.
The church needs to be able to understand that—to tell the big, glorious, beautiful, wonderful story of what relationships are about, why sex is a valuable thing, why marriage is a good thing, and why cohabitation is really a cheapening of that, and why it doesn’t tend to work out.
Bob: Okay, so what does a mom do or a dad do—what do a couple do when they either find out or they get the call from a son or a daughter, who says, “Hey, we’ve decided to move in together.” Or maybe they don’t get the call; and they’re just over at their son’s apartment and they go, “Her clothes are in his…” Do they wring their hands? Do they sit down and say, “It’s time for a family meeting”? Do they smile and say, “Well, it looks like you guys have chosen a different way.” How would you counsel somebody?
Glenn: Or say, “It’s none of our business.”
Glenn: You know what? It absolutely is your business. We will tend to think, as Christians, “We need to go into the preaching mode—tell them it’s just wrong!” You know what? We need to understand. I love the second great commandment that Christ gives us. The first is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love of others is a very, very important criterion to us, as Christians. The way I approach it—I mean, my kids are not old enough to kind of go into this; but when I look at couples facing this, I just simply want to ask the question: “Do you think this is best for you? Do you think this is the thing that is going to get you what you’re really looking for?” To do it from a wellbeing point of view, and to talk about, “Okay, how do you think this is going to set you up for relational success?” and just have them explain it.
That’s why I wrote this book. It’s not a preaching book. It’s a practical book to say: “You know what? If you think cohabitation is going to deliver you into the realm of good, happy, healthy, long-lasting relationships, there is more evidence, quite honestly, for Big Foot than there is this idea that cohabitation leads us to healthy relationships.” [Laughter]
Ask the young couple, “If you’ve got research to show me that your relationship, cohabiting, is going to lead you in a good place, show it to me.” It’s interesting because these young people are like: “Don’t tell me your religious beliefs. Don’t tell me your pie-in-the-sky beliefs. We want hard evidence / hard data.” Well, here we’ve got hard data; and we want to ask them for it—to say, “If you think this is going to deliver you in a particular direction, show us what evidence is there.”
Bob: And when they say, “Well, we know what the statistics are; but we’re different!”
Glenn: Absolutely; they’re going to say that. Say, “Okay, how are you different?” One of the things I point out in the book: “Millions of couples have gone before you, down this road. Scholars have had the opportunity to study them and to look at them carefully. These are not Christian scholars / they’re not conservative scholars. The point is—you may think—that’s human nature is: ‘I can drink and drive, and I won’t be the one that gets in an accident.’
‘I can smoke, and I’m not going to be the one to get lung disease.’ ‘I can take drugs, and I’m not going to be the one that gets addicted.’ Everybody who finds themselves in that situation will say: ‘You know what? I was the one that didn’t think I was going to get there.’”
Our young people need to be smarter about that—that it’s not just wishful thinking that’s going to get them there.
Dennis: One of the things that does occur, if you cohabit long enough, is you’re going to slip up—even with the best of precautions—you’re going to get pregnant / going to have kids. Talk about the impact of cohabitation on children—because let’s say you’re having this conversation with a couple, who have moved in with each other—and, again, continuing on in that spirit: “How healthy is this for kids being raised in a home of cohabiting couples?”
Bob: I read these stories about couples who got married—their son and daughter were the ring bearer and the flower girl at the wedding. You smile at that—
—it seems kind of commonplace. In fact, when you talk to couples today and you say, “How long have you been married?” the answer you get is: “We’ve been married five years. We’ve been together eight.”
Glenn: Exactly, yes.
Bob: That’s more common. More and more you hear that. So, again, it’s almost the default: “Yes, we’ve got a couple of kids. When we get married, they’re going to be in the wedding.”
Glenn: Yes. In the mid-80s, about 20 percent of cohabiting couples had kids in the home. Today, it’s about 40 percent. It’s doubled in a relatively short period of time, but we do need to understand that cohabitation impacts kids negatively.
Look at just poverty. Poverty drives so many other things—education / well being—things like that. Kids living with cohabiting parents—a mom and a dad who just simply aren’t married—are three times more likely to be living in poverty than a child living with the same mother and father who are simply married. That ring does make a difference.
What’s interesting, as well, is—in cohabiting relationships, the woman is dramatically more likely to be working outside the home. Even though there’s going to be two-income earners in that home, they are still more likely to live in poverty. That is because cohabiters don’t share their money like married couples do. Married couples more likely pool their money. Pooling the money and sharing the money makes it more productive in that way.
Dennis: They have shared values / core convictions that drive the spending of the money. I can see how a cohabiting couple might not ever come to the conclusion of building a checking account—where it’s all in one and, therefore, you have to hammer through: “What do we believe, Honey? What are our values, as a couple?”
It could be two individual people doing their thing—connecting, at points, around sex and maybe some entertainment, living together, physically, and raising children. I just wonder: “How would that work if you didn’t have core values being hammered out for yourselves? How could you have a core value about what you were going to build into the lives of your kids?”
Glenn: Yes; and this idea that, “Whatever is mine is yours,”—you can say that, but it really does work itself out in a different way in marriage.
The other thing is domestic violence. Kids living with cohabiting parents are significantly more likely to suffer from domestic violence, but that’s true of the woman also. A woman living with a guy is ten times more likely to be a victim of domestic violence. In fact, one data point shows that she is nine times more likely to die at the hands of her live-in partner than a woman who is married to a man. The ring on a man’s finger makes him a safer, more respectful individual than a live-in boyfriend. That’s true for children as well.
Dennis: Speak to the issue of sexual abuse of children. Any data that indicates they’re in a riskier place there as well?
Glenn: Absolutely. Here’s the biggest thing that people need to understand—biological fathers are not as likely to abuse their own children. Live-in boyfriends—I mean, absolutely off the chart.
In fact, social scientists will tell us that: “If a child is living in a home with mom and live-in boyfriend, that child is nearly guaranteed to be sexually or physically abused in some way.”
Bob: So, if somebody’s been listening to us this week—hearing us talk about cohabitation—and they’re in one of these relationships—guy or a girl—and they are going: “You know, I’ve always had this kind of thing in the back of my mind, saying: ‘Is this really right? Is this really a good thing to do?’ I hear you guys, but we’ve been together for two years. You’re saying, ‘I go home, and just break it off, and take my stuff and move out?’ I’m not sure where I’m going to move to, and I can’t afford to move out. What’s the way out of this deal?”
Glenn: It’s interesting—what you just said is what the social scientists call the relational vortex. They’ll say it’s easier for a woman to leave an unhealthy dating relationship than it is to leave an unhealthy cohabiting relationship because of the entanglement: “You know what? We’ve got our stuff together, and I’m emotionally tied to this guy.”
For the woman, if she is in an unhealthy relationship—as a wife, she has more power to change the guy in her life. When they’re living together, she just kind of has to stay tangled in this; and it is too difficult to leave. She would do well to really think about leaving—and the church to come alongside her and say: “We want to help you do the right thing. We can provide a place for you to live.”
Dennis: In your book, you use an illustration. You contrast two couples: Todd and Leslie and Steve and Terry, who both live in Dallas. Just real quickly, just tick off how those two relationships—one couple who are married and the other couple who are living together—right? Explain how they’re different—not just in the cohabitation—but in the benefits and in the relationship.
Glenn: Well, first of all, how they’re similar: They both have good jobs, both relatively well-educated.
They’re good—good folks; but by the nature of their relationship, their relationships are very different—we talked about it earlier.
The guy, in the married relationship, is more likely to help out with household chores. He is less likely to be domestically violent against his wife. The married couple is more likely to earn and save more money, even though they are less likely to have both of them working. They’re more likely to be college-educated and to have gone on to college and get their college education.
Although, in this case, both of them were college-educated—the cohabiting couple is up to three times more likely to suffer from depression. The depression stems from the nature of the relationship itself. The married couple is significantly more likely to be more sexually-satisfied. This couple over here—the cohabiting couple—is significantly more likely / anywhere from three to five times more likely to be unfaithful to one another and to be less sexually-satisfied, across the board.
In fact, you could say if somebody asks—and people ask me all the time, “Glenn, is there any positive thing that cohabitation produces?” You know what? There is really not. The research doesn’t indicate any—even small measurable way—that cohabitation tends to do better than marriage does. Marriage outstrips everything that cohabitation can do.
Dennis: I can think of one.
Glenn: What’s that?
Dennis: Nighttime TV.
Glenn: You know what?
Dennis: Nighttime TV. It is the driving force of most of the programs that you can watch that aren’t news talk in the evening. It’s the theme of what’s driving it all—couples moving in / shacking up.
Bob: I have said—as I’ve spoken at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways to engaged couples or to couples who are thinking about engagement—I’ve said over and over again: “If you are currently having sex with your boyfriend or your girlfriend—living together or not living together—one thing you know is true about the person you’re thinking about marrying is, ‘That person is willing to have sex with somebody they’re not married to.’
“Now, what makes you think, once they’re married, that goes away?—because today they’re willing to have sex with somebody they’re not married to. Why would you think that would change? Of course, that applies, not just to the person you’re thinking about marrying, but you as well. You’re sowing seeds that are not healthy seeds—that will bear bitter fruit.”
Dennis: Glenn, I just want you to know that we really appreciate you and Focus on the Family. You guys are in the fight for marriage and family—and not just the benefits of both—but going back to the Master’s design.
Thank you for writing / doing the research and really giving us good, healthy material, here in a book—that doesn’t just give us the ability to place a better argument on the table but be so well-informed that we’re not intimated and back down from the biblical design.
Glenn: And to make the case for, really, what’s good for people and to be able to argue for what’s good for them. We want to say, at Focus—we are greatly encouraged by the work that you guys are doing and have somebody standing, side by side, with us to do this kind of work and to do it so well.
Dennis: Well, I appreciate you. Jim, I’m sorry he is no longer an employee of Focus on the Family. [Laughter]
Bob: Oh my! We’re in trouble. [Laughter]
Dennis: This is how you found out, Jim—don’t forget it! I’ll likely find a horse head in my bed. [Laughter]
Bob: Jim, if you’d like a copy of Glenn’s book, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us, online. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Glenn’s book is available to you right there.
It’s called The Ring Makes All the Difference. Again, our website is: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and you’ll find information about Glenn Stanton’s book, The Ring Makes All the Difference. Or if you prefer to order a copy of Glenn’s book by phone, the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, a quick word of thanks before we wrap things up to the folks who made today’s program possible—it’s those of you who partner with us, here in the ministry at FamilyLife Today, by joining with us financially. FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported ministry. The only way that we’re able to be here each day, doing what we do, is because folks, like you, help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program with your contributions.
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With that, we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family can worship together in church this Sunday. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to hear from a friend of ours, Dave Wilson, who’s a pastor in Michigan. He’s got a message for guys. In fact, this is a message that we heard him share, back a few months ago, on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise. We thought it was a great message—so we’re going to share it with you Monday. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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