Merging families without marriage

Sound off: Is an unmarried merge of families setting a bad example for the kids?

Two weeks ago I wrote about moving in with my boyfriend, Mr. W.  This was a decision we did not take lightly in our 2 ½ years of being in a relationship with each other, and I’ll be moved out of my own place and into his by this weekend.  By moving in with each other, we are each giving up our total independence of having a space to call all our own – something that became very sacred in each of our single lives.  We’re giving up the separateness of our families as we combine them into something new.  But these are no longer sacrifices as we gain so much more – more time with each other, a shared life, a break in the financial obligations, and all the other perks of living with the one you love.

There was plenty of discussion before we finally came to this stage of feeling confident enough (and out of shellshock from our previous divorces) to be able to live with someone we love once again, plus going through the complicated process of combining families.  We’re making a bunch of decisions that are solidifying the permanent status of our relationship – but without yet being married.

Understandably so, several readers took issue with this – questioning the example that is being set for the kids, as well as feeling that “it’s a slap in the face” to those who are married.  I had originally written this article as a story of hope for those just starting their single parent adventure, feeling pulled apart by the financial hardships and lack of time that go along with that role.  But I realized there is a whole other issue at hand that needs to be discussed –

Merging families without marriage.

According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau in 2007, 6.4 million couples chose to cohabitate before marriage – making up roughly 10% of all opposite sex coupled Americans, and rising almost 1.5 million since 2006.  And of that number, 45% of them had children living in the household that were related to at least one of the cohabitating adults.  And while past research showed a higher percentage of failed marriages in those who chose to live together before marriage, the present research shows there’s virtually no difference.

I have several friends who chose to live together before marriage.  One couple in particular just recently tied the knot, and is now in the final stages of an adoption process that will make their unified family complete.  Another couple, who has no children, is showing no interest in ever getting married.  And yet it’s unthinkable that they would ever split up despite their lack of marriage license.  My sister (also no kids) is in the process of planning a wedding with her fiancée while also living with him.  And one couple that swore off marriage yet raised a whole family together for 30+ years finally bit the bullet and exchanged rings a few years back – after their kids were raised, finished college, and making lives of their own.  Heck, even the royal couple, William and Kate, are setting their own cohabitation example for the world while in the spotlight by “living in sin”.  And another couple I know are raising their two children together and are unmarried.  In fact, they weren’t even allowed to marry until recently, being that they are also lesbian.

I have friends who did not move in together at all until their wedding night – planning a life together in separate homes, yet letting the reality of it be a mystery until they were legally joined. One I wrote about here, her marriage 6 months ago also symbolizing a sacred promise to her new husband.  My own parents just celebrated 34 years of marriage last week, starting their new life together on their wedding night.  And another couple I know who waited until marriage to cohabitate has been married for 40 years – yet are now living in, not only separate beds, but separate homes, just so that they can remain happily married without killing each other. 

And then there are my single mom friends who choose NOT to live with someone else while raising kids.  One in particular has only been divorced for 4 or so years, has a steady boyfriend, and promises she will never marry nor cohabitate again.  She enjoys her personal living space too much, and she’s adamant in her unwillingness to ever give it up – especially while raising her kids.  This same mom lived with her ex-husband before they got married and had children, and shared a wonderful marriage with him before they grew apart and divorced.  

So here’s your chance to sound off – no judgment.  I’d love to hear your point of view about living together before marriage in general.  Do you see a problem with it?  Does your view change if there are no kids involved?  Do you think relationships suffer from living together before marriage, or suffer if a couple does NOT live together before marriage?  Do you have a personal story to share?  Let me know.  And as always, anonymous comments are welcome, but mean comments are not.

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8 thoughts on “Merging families without marriage”

  1. I think times are changing, and society has to change also. I too know many people who have done things out of the traditional order. Yes, back in the day, you would date for a while, get married, buy a house, then start a family. But that is not reality anymore. I personally did not live with my hubby until our wedding night. I think that might be the only reason he proposed when he did was because I refused to live with him until we were married. But that was my personal preference. I knew that if we lived together, we would not make it down the aisle. I probably based that on the failed relationships I have seen. It is a lot easier to break up then go through divorce. What I don’t agree with is the single moms who bounce from boyfriend to boyfriend, introduce them to the kids before it is serious, and possibly live with each of them, all the while dragging their kids through the emotional turmoil at the same time. Kids get attached to people in their life, and don’t understand why they aren’t around anymore. That fact that you did not enter into this decision lightly says a lot about the time and thought you put into it. Does it set a bad example for your kids? Only you can determine that. You know your kids and their maturity level better than anyone else. And from what I read in your blogs, you are very open with your kids and take their well being into consideration. I say keep doing what you feel is right. It is a free country, and people can disagree if they want to. Not everyone is the same, nor does everyone have the same views on how you should live your life. I’m sure those that disagree with your decision have done something in their life that someone else disagreed with. Parenting is hard enough. Whether you are single or not, you’ll always have deal with getting criticism from everyone who thinks you aren’t doing things the right way. The truth is there is no right or wrong when parenting. Every situation, parent, and child is different, and you have to adjust to the differences and roll with it. Good luck, and keep up the good work in raising children that will make the right decisions… for themselves.

  2. To quote my daughter’s favorite book this week, “A rainbow would be boring if it were only green or blue…what makes a rainbow beautiful is that it has every hue.” A loving family environment doesn’t require a marriage license….just love and respect. That’s all. I am in a rather traditional marriage to my high-school sweetheart, and am a stay-at-home mom, but that’s just who we are. If everyone were like us, the world would be one boring place, that’s for sure. I’d rather we all focused more on being kind and respectful than whether or not we all adhere to the same values. (For the record, even though we are very traditional and somewhat boring….we did live together before we were married because we couldn’t stand living apart, and we couldn’t afford to live apart….why pay two rents when you can pay one? So far, our children have survived their parents scandalous past….)

  3. I agree with both previous posters. Marriage, traditionally either a political contract or a requirement in patriarchal societies where women are more or less property, is no longer a requirement for a loving family. It still appeals to many people, and there is nothing wrong with that, but the societal taboo against unwed couples cohabitating is no longer anywhere near as strict as it once was, and marriage isn’t what works for some. As long as the adults are in a loving and committed relationship, it shouldn’t matter what papers are or aren’t signed. And what about same-sex couples? Insisting that a family that doesn’t have a marriage license involved isn’t a good family is pretty exclusive against people to whom marriage is denied in most states.

  4. I agree — marriage “is no longer a requirement for a loving family.” But, it never was! Marriage wasn’t about love until recently … and that’s why there’s so much divorce. Once it began to be about something other than property and possessions and producing an heir to keep all the property and possessions, all hell broke loose.

    But, get divorced and you’ll see that it’s still about money and possessions — as in who gets what because the judge doesn’t care about love; he/she wants to divvy it up.

    If you think it’s any easier to split after you’ve lived together, it isn’t. Once you start mingling finances, furniture, kids … it’s just as messy and painful, maybe more so because the law doesn’t have your back.

    But, of course, we never get into things thinking they’ll end.

    What Erica says is true; GLBT have the same loving relationships as anyone else — but then why are so many GLBT people fighting for the right to get married? Because it matters. The way things are going, only the GLBTs will be marrying and everyone else will be shacking up, and wouldn’t that be interesting?

  5. Kat, you are absolutely right…I guess I meant a ‘societal requirement for a loving family’. Or for two people of opposite sex living together and/or reproducing. Despite what the song says, love and marriage don’t really have a lot to do with each other. It is nice when they do, but there is no requisite correlation.

  6. I’m married. I don’t feel like you slapped me. How would your cohabitation make his or her marriage vow less meaningful or dignified? I’d love to read the reasoning behind that person’s statement. I really wonder how much the average person thinks and reflects before they speak (or write, in this case).

    You didn’t jump thoughtlessly into cohabitating – you took 2 1/2 years! LOL That’s a lot of time to get to know each other and allow the children to adjust to the idea. Your children will remember your responsible and careful consideration and use the same standards when they face this decision. That’s setting a good example.

    The only tangible benefits I see to a legal marriage are essentially financial: health insurance, life insurance, equal interest in assets, etc. I’d guess some people also need that contract to feel secure emotionally and/or to comply with religious beliefs.

    I wish you & Mr. W and your children the best. And I’m glad you didn’t ask me to help you move.

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