Cohabitation is an arrangement where you live together and have a sexual relationship without being married. It is an arrangement that is becoming increasingly common, especially among younger people. In a society that prioritizes the institution of marriage as an indicator of commitment, cohabitation often gets a bad rep. Here’s a defence of cohabitation.
Higher likelihood of breaking up
One of the biggest criticisms levelled against cohabitation is the ease of ending the relationships. With marriage, ending it is far more complicated going as far as requiring legal intervention. Cohabitation makes leaving far easier because of the perception that the participants are not as committed. This is often framed as a negative when it really is a positive. Why would we want people to stay in relationships they don’t want?
When divorces were difficult to get, people were forced to stay in those relationships longer. The introduction of no-fault divorce in the US for example led to a staggering rise in women seeking divorces. Any arrangement that makes it easier for people, especially women, to leave situations that are no longer working for them is a good one. It is progress.
I think it’s also good for partners to know that you will leave once the relationship becomes unhealthy for you. The fact that most women were for a long time financially dependent on men introduced a dynamic where men knew there was nowhere they were going and treated them poorly as a result. Men understanding that women can and will leave when things stop working keeps men on their best behaviour… if they want the relationship to survive.
Patriarchy and the institution of marriage
The institution of marriage is steeped in sexism and one could even argue misogyny. Society in general is very patriarchal and so its institutions are heavily sexist with a huge power imbalance between men and women. Cohabitation can give people who are struggling against the dominant power structures and traditional systems an opportunity to chart their own path. Cohabitation can allow them to form relationships that don’t rely on the existing traditional institutions, questioning everything from the hierarchical nature of the relationship and things like gender roles. Cohabitation can be an opportunity to design your relationship as you want it. People can also try doing this in marriage though that may be difficult.
The institution of marriage is rooted in sexism and misogyny with women being perceived as inferior and the property of men. As much as views have shifted, women still remain the inferior partner in most relationships as exhibited by things like the fact that women continue to bear the majority of the burden of domestic labour. You can try to make these changes in a marriage set-up but the key problem with that is we default to certain patterns that we see, it’s hard enough trying to create an equitable relationship in a heterosexual set-up but it’s far harder in a relationship like a marriage that has so many inherent pressures that you’re likely to default to.
Anarchists in particular write strongly against marriage arguing that it is a form of social control used to regulate sexual behaviour and reinforce traditional gender roles. It is based on hierarchy and power relations and reproduces itself in society which is dangerous because these power relations are then reproduced everywhere else from business to politics. Anarchists advocate for the creation of alternative forms of relationships and family structures based on autonomy, self-determination, and mutual aid.
Cohabitation can give a couple an opportunity to test their compatibility and work out any issues before making a deeper commitment in the form of marriage if they wish to do so. This can help you evaluate what you’re really getting into and also allow you to get to know each other better so that any future decisions are made from a point of knowledge.
Because of the hold tradition has on society especially when it comes to marriage, cohabitation is viewed as inferior to marriage which leads to a few drawbacks.
Instability: because of the perceived absence of commitment, cohabitation is viewed as more unstable.
Legal rights: married couples get more rights and protections than couples who are cohabiting.
Social stigma: too many cultures frown upon cohabitation with couples being stigmatized in society.
Cohabitation and reimagining how heterosexual relationships can work without patriarchy-related hierarchies should be valued and encouraged. This is especially true in light of the fact that women tend to gain fewer emotional benefits from marriage compared to men. Men experience multiple perks from marriage, not least of all living longer and earning more money. Women on the other hand get the opportunity to bear the brunt of household and child-rearing labour, leaving working women overwhelmed and stressed.
In fact, women fare better emotionally after a divorce than men whose well-being tends to drop much more dramatically. Marriage is not all that, try cohabitation. Here’s to reimagining and striving for more equitable relationships.
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