Since one-sixth of our population is currently living together according to a survey published in National Health Statistics Reports (#111) and Drs. Nugent and Daugherty’s study seems to cast serious doubts on the confidence of these couples about whether living together really helps anyone, one could wonder why people continue to choose it. Does living together satisfy the heart’s longing for relationships and security or do these couples live under a false sense of security?
Couples share a key to their dwelling with someone they have come to know and have begun to trust enough to allow complete access to their private world. This person can now come and go from your possessions and presence every day. Only a fingerprint on a smart phone or a password on a computer would prevent total access to your social media life and even financial accounts. Obviously, if there are children from a previous relationship, they also share access with a new person who now has a key to their home.
Most would agree that cohabitation provides an opportunity for increased sexual activity. The report confirmed this reality by showing an increase in sexual activity among 18 year olds who choose living together. While some may choose to live together out of convenience or for financial stability without any intention of sharing a bed, the opportunity generally proves too much for any resistance to other relationship perks. There is even a name for the casual sex—friends with benefits—and it doesn’t even require cohabitation. The aura of growing intimacy and closeness created by proximity and opportunity leave one to assume this partner now cares more for them than they did in the past.
In a world where chemistry creates sexual activity as easily as intimacy or a desire for stable relationships does, it is healthy to ask what should precede access to a person’s body. I recently listened to a young woman ask to return to a parent’s home because she was pregnant and the father was not interested in having children—or working for that matter. It was a rude awakening.
This may be one of the reasons for higher poverty and the increased likelihood of separation or divorce among those who cohabit. Obviously, some sexual activity isn’t preceded by serious conversations about the future at all. At least more than the next few minutes of the future. Where sexual activity is concerned, it seems living together isn’t the protection for happiness that our culture would have us believe.
With the overconfidence about whether living together helps prevent divorce, it seems fair to assume that many are relying on the permanence of a relationship. They assume a sense of security that may not be based upon reality. In other words, the relationship works right up until it doesn’t. I haven’t seen studies on the depth of hurt in someone who lost their possessions because the other person changed the locks after a fight. Betrayal comes with or without a piece of paper saying it shouldn’t happen.
Satisfying relationships involve commitment. Giving someone a key is one level of commitment. Buying a pet together is another. Sharing resources is still another. Each of these increases the amount of “skin in the game.” Sexual activity is a much higher commitment than most people understand. It changes a relationship forever. Sex without the protection of commitment puts the heart out on a limb that can be sawed off with much less ceremony than divorce. The other person can simply walk away. We long for the commitment that we hope sex will assure. The greater incidence of breakup among couples living together seems to belie the confidence placed in what cohabitation means.
Conversation is the only solution to lack of security. Getting to know someone for days and weeks and months before giving total access to body, mind and soul is a better path to security AND satisfaction.