The following was contributed by Cristina Cevallos.

Once again, marriage and motherhood have been thrust into the media spotlight.  This time from a somewhat unlikely source – an NFL football player.  Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs’ star kicker, Harrison Butker, gave a glowing recommendation for marriage and for women to become mothers, during a commencement address at a Catholic college – and that didn’t sit well with today’s feminists and plenty of people on the ideological left.

Yes, there were people who stepped up to defend Harrison Butker.  Somewhat surprisingly, the wife of the Chiefs CEO, Tavia Hunt, took to Instagram, where referring to her daughters, Hunt stated:  “But I also want them to know that I believe finding a spouse who loves and honors you as or before himself and raising a family together is one of the greatest blessing this world has to offer.”  She continued: “Studies show that committed, married couples with children are the happiest demographic and this has been my experience as well.”

Tavia Hunt is absolutely correct.  There is an almost unassailable amount of research that would support her assertions about the positive nature of marriage.  Yet, we continue to see cohabitation (living together without marriage) become entrenched as the “norm” in societies around the world.  Pew Research tells us (2018), “It is now more common for people to have cohabited than married.” The number of couples cohabiting is not abating.

Unfortunately, traditionally-minded individuals – including religious leaders – seem to have “yielded the playing field” and rarely speak out against this problematic cultural shift. You might have noticed, too, that the word “partner” has become the accepted lexicon for referring to one’s “significant other.”  The term “spouse” is more often than not cast aside by married couples for the more culturally-acceptable term “partner.”  It’s time to ask ourselves: “Am I complicit in this shift” and “how do I best understand what is happening?”

Why do people live together and not get married? 

To answer this question, we must first share the same definition of marriage. In a few words, it is giving one’s self and receiving the other’s self. It implies three requirements: 1) totality: surrender of body and soul 2) exclusivity: just to one person, and 3) definitiveness: forever.

With that, there may be three reasons why couples do not get married but decide to live together, even though they claim to love each other. First, because they do not share this definition of marriage and think that it is only the signing of papers or a rite (that is why they do not care whether or not they are married).

Second, because they do not want to be involved in a total union (they love each other, but not enough). Their love is incomplete, they do not trust the other person or do not want to build and share a common existential project. They love each other with a limited love, which prevents the total trust that would allow them to give their life to the other.

In fact, a Pew Research Center report based on a survey of over 9,000 married and cohabiting adults found that, while married adults were more likely to cite “love”, unmarried couples cited “companionship” as the reason why they decided to get married or cohabit respectively.

Testing each other

A third reason is the use of cohabitation as a test to see if the couple is compatible and if their marriage could work. However, the very thing that makes marriage work – an unconditional commitment to love someone “until death do us apart”- is absent in cohabitation, so rather than testing the relationship, cohabiters are testing and discarding people.

In fact, research shows people who marry without cohabiting first are less likely to have failed marriages. Along the same line, other studies show that living together prior to being married is associated with higher risk for lower relationship quality.

The latter is explained by the fact that most of the problems that cohabitors have to deal with are easier to solve when there is already a life commitment. Additionally, living together makes it harder for couples to break up, since they usually stay with someone only because leaving them “just too much work”.

What is more, married people do better emotionally. For example, the “iFidelity survey”, by the National Marriage Project and the Wheatley Institution, found that married adults were significantly more likely than cohabiting adults to report higher relationship stability, commitment, and satisfaction.

Pew’s research also showed that more married adults expressed trust in their partner’s faithfulness, honesty, and financial responsibility, and believed that their partners would act in their best interest, compared to cohabitors. Likewise, the first were more satisfied with their partner’s parenting skills, handling of work and family matters, communication skills and sharing of household chores.

Effects on Children and Child bearing 

If marriage seems to be the best option for couples, it is definitely the best option for children. Cohabiting relationships do not provide the mental and emotional support of a marriage. A study found that children born to parents that live together but aren’t married experience higher levels of family instability, which causes emotional stress and lack of trust. Additionally, the most dangerous living arrangement for a child (for both physical and sexual abuse) is to reside in a home where the child’s mother is living with a non-biologically-related male. It is also not a surprise that premarital cohabitation was found to be associated with higher rates of divorce, since it  instills the break up mentality that commonly affects the couple.

Furthermore, while cohabitation fosters enough intimacy to facilitate childbearing, it doesn’t imply enough commitment for couples to deliberately seek to become parents. Consequently, as this type of relationship takes root in cultures, fertility rates drop, mainly because of abortion and contraception.

The problem affecting children born out of wedlock involves society as a whole. Many end up being raised by single parents, which leads to having communities with higher rates of crime and juvenile delinquency, less commitment to community and engagement in civic responsibilities.

On top of that, in terms of finances, married couples do better, as they make long term decisions together. Because there is no formal commitment between cohabitors, there is less pooling of resources, steps to save and generate more wealth over time, lack of legal benefits and passing on of intergenerational wealth.

True love doesn’t come with a escape hatch

You don’t need to live or have sex with someone to know if you are compatible, if they will be a good parent or if you will be able to overcome problems together. To be sure of this, you both need to get to know each other’s values, personalities and emotions. The ease that living together provides for sexual intimacy can cloud this process and prevent you from building a relationship beyond the physical.

While the one who marries gives everything, the cohabitant does not. Being willing to share a bed and rent is only a sign of partial, temporary and provisional love. So, why would you give everything to someone that only wants to live with you if there is an escape hatch?

What can I do?

  • Become educated on cohabitation and share what you’ve learned. Even though many understand that cohabitation, from a moral perspective, may be wrong, they are not aware of the extensive research about the harms of pre-marital sex and cohabitation.
  • Don’t succumb to societal pressure to accept cohabitation as the norm – and do not use the word “partner” in place of “spouse.”  Gently remind others, when appropriate, to do the same.
  • Speak to your children, often and early, about the positive aspects of marriage relative to other forms of “family structure.”
  • Invest in your own marriage and understand it as the incredibly valuable asset it is – and then model healthy marriage to others.
  • Give marriage the respect it deserves by advocating for it in government and society.