5. What Are the Factors That Put Cohabitors Who Marry at Risk?
Individuals who choose to cohabit have certain attitudes, issues and patterns that lead them to make the decision to cohabit. These same attitudes, issues and patterns often become the predisposing factors to put them at high risk for divorce when they do choose to move from cohabitation to marriage. The cohabitation experience itself creates risk factors, bad habits, that can sabotage the subsequent marriage. These attitudes and patterns can be identified and brought to the couple preparing for marriage for examination, decision making, skill building, change. Without creating "self-fulfilling prophecies," those preparing cohabiting couples for marriage can help them identify and work with issues around commitment, fidelity, individualism, pressure, appropriate expectations.
Many studies explore why cohabitors are more at risk when they marry. The research suggests that there are two overlapping and reinforcing sources for risk:
. Predisposing attitudes and characteristics they take into the marriage.
. Experiences from the cohabitation itself that create problem patterns and behaviors.
Predisposing Attitudes and Characteristics
. Cohabitors as a group are less committed to the institution of marriage and more accepting of divorce. As problems and issues arise to challenge the marriage, they are more likely to seek divorce as the solution (Lillard, Brien and Waite, 1995; Bracher, Santow, Morgan and Trussell, 1993; Thomson and Colella, 1991; Bennett, Blanc, and Bloom, 1988).
.. "Sexual exclusivity" is less an indicator of commitment for cohabitors than for noncohabitors. In this regard, cohabitation is more like dating than marriage. After marriage, a woman who cohabited before marriage is 3.3 times more likely to be sexually unfaithful than a woman who had not cohabited before marriage (Forste and Tanfer, 1996).
. Cohabitors identify themselves or the relationship as poor risk for long-term happiness more often than do noncohabitors. There is evidence that some cohabitors do have more problematic, lower-quality relationships with more individual and couple problems than noncohabitors. Often this is why they feel the need to test the relationship through cohabitation. There is the probability that some of these significant problems will carry over into the marriage relationship (Lillard, Brien, Waite, 1995; Thomson and Colella, 1991; Booth and Johnson, 1988).
. Cohabitors tend to hold individualism as a more important value than noncohabitors do. While married persons generally value interdependence and the exchange of resources, cohabitors tend to value independence and economic equality. These values do not necessarily change just because a cohabiting couple decides to move into marriage (Clarkberg, Stolzenberg and Waite, 1995; Waite and Joyner, 1992; Bumpass, Sweet and Cherlin, 1991).
. Cohabitors can allow themselves to marry because of pressure from family and others, and because of pressure to provide a stable home for children. While it is generally better for the children in a cohabiting household or a child to be born to a cohabiting couple to be raised in a stable marriage, this is not by itself sufficient reason for the marriage. While family and friends are often right to encourage marriage for a cohabiting couple, a marriage made under such pressure is problematic unless the couple chooses it for more substantial reasons (Barber and Axinn, 1998; Wu, 1995; Mahler, 1996; Manning and Smock 1995; Teachman and Polanko, 1990).
. Cohabitors are demonstrated to have inappropriately high expectations of marriage that can lead them to be disillusioned with the ordinary problems or challenges of marriage. Cohabitors generally report lower satisfaction with marriage after they marry than do noncohabitors. There is danger that they think they have "worked out everything" and that any further challenges are the fault of the institution of marriage (Brown, 1998; Nock, 1995; Booth and Johnson, 1988).
Experiences From the Cohabitation Itself
. The experience of cohabitation changes the attitudes about commitment and permanence, and makes couples more open to divorce (Axina and Barber, 1997; Nock 1995; Schoen and Weinick 1993; Axinn and Thornton, 1992).