Fri | Jun 25, 2021

Marriage or shacking up?

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

Commonly, we hear of couples opting to shack up, which is the informal expression for living in a sexual relationship without being married (Free Online Dictionary). The dilemma that couples face is whether they should be shacking up or wait until they are married. What are the pros and cons of shacking up (cohabiting or living in common-law arrangements)?

It is believed that living together before marriage may sabotage a long-term love relationship. Data shows that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced. (www.women' To determine if the timing is right to live together, Lisa Ann Smith, writing in Women's Health, suggests you ask the following questions:

Are you willing to wait?

It does not mean that if you live together it will make him propose or you should accept the proposal to marry. If you are already thinking about marrying each other, talk it out, make plans and wait. Smith posits that a report from Rutgers University states that only 40 per cent of couples were married after living together for five to seven years.

Who's paying?

If you decide you want to live together, you should discuss finances and who will be paying for what as you make arrangements for common-law living, and before you sign a lease. You both should be honest in terms of salaries and current debts and how the household will be maintained. Financial consideration should be given to cover living expenses plus the costs of having a baby if contraceptive strategies are not in place.

Willing to talk it out?

Differences will arise and you both should address them head-on from very early. As you talk things out, you will gain a deeper understanding of your partner. Write down times when you had arguments and the agreed outcomes so you can identify a pattern.

Ready for romance?

Cohabiting could easily get monotonous, so plan for quality romance time by scheduling date times and trying new romance techniques to build your sexual prowess in the union and that you are not bored by the time it's time for marriage.

No commitment

In several instances, women find themselves at the bitter end of the stick, as they may have children in a cohabiting relationship and the man chooses to go out dating. As the female with whom he lives protests, he claims that he is single and really has no commitment to her as yet. The reality is that in shacking-up arrangements or unmarried sex, there is no real commitment.

Outlook spoke with 10 women who are in cohabiting unions. It was found that eight of them felt that they were lying to themselves believing that because they were shacking up with a man who professed love, and they engaged in great sex. This was the perfect union to cherish for the rest of their lives. The decision to shack up may be out of desperation and insecurity and even lack of self-worth. Generally, women view as shameful other women living with a man who is not willing to make the vow of committing his life to her. Women actually bring more to cohabitation than the men do - more work and efforts to keep the relationship healthy.

Married men

In three of the cases, the women were shacking up with a married man as their way of having secondary control, with the hope that someday they will have primary control. Some will try entrapment by becoming pregnant to force the man's hand into marriage.

Some men will take all the precautions in avoiding impregnating the woman with whom they live, even when the woman desperately wants to have a child. She may continue living with him in hope until her biological clock stops ticking and her childbearing hopes are dashed. Male ambivalence in this situation is viewed as exploitative as the woman is used just for the purpose of sex without any commitment from her man.

Abuse of children

There are mixed views about co-habiting with women with children as it sets up situations for sexual, emotional and physical abuse by her male companion in the confines of the home. The child may report it to Mummy, who refuses to believe, and as such, mistrust sets in. The abuse may continue and the child becomes dysfunctional.

What are the other possible effects on children in a cohabiting union? Cohabiting parents are not as effective as parents who are married, according to a report from the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, titled Why Marriage Matters ( According to the report, which pools together findings from 18 scholars, "Children living in cohabiting homes do not do as well educationally, socially, or emotionally as children living in intact married households."

Unstable families

The study further suggests that the rise of households with children of cohabiting parents in common-law households is the greatest instability of children's family lives leading to dysfunctional children compared to children in nuclear families or single-parent households. According to the study, cohabiting relationships are more prone to be unstable, with multiple transitions and break-ups, and children are less likely to thrive emotionally.

The study establishes marriage as the 'gold standard for stability' and posits that married couples are about four times more likely to remain faithful to one another than couples who shack up. Some marriages may have pitfalls, but the study concludes that marriage will ensure that children have the best opportunity for being successful in life.

Sperm-donor father

Women really want to have a companion partner who will love them, cater to them, and make them feel special. They also want to experience a real family with the father of their children providing love and support to the entire family. Women who grew up in a loving nuclear-family environment will want that in their own lives. The liberal view of having a sperm-donor father in the absence of a family structure is a deterrent to some women going the route of cohabitation.

Biblical perspective

What does the Bible say about shacking up? Antagonists of the practice of common-law unions will readily quote biblical evidence against shacking up.

1 Corinthians 7:9 - "But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

Hebrews 13:4 - "Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."

Romans 13:14 - "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

1 Corinthians 6:18 - "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body."

Couples are free to choose how they share their lives in a liberal society while others who are grounded in religious principles will view cohabitation as 'moral nearsightedness' overcoming the society.