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Title: Cohabitation
Subtitle: An Obstacle or an Obeisance to Marriage?
Author(s): SANDERS, Henk
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 13    Issue: 1   Date: 2007   
Pages: 19-32
DOI: 10.2143/INT.13.1.2021296

Abstract :
The central question in this contribution is what role “unmarried cohabitation” plays in the so-called “decline of marriage”, and whether there is any mention at all of a new form of life that constitutes an alternative to marriage. The spread of unmarried cohabitation is massive and there is even mention of a shift in the way people start relationships. Still, the impact of unmarried cohabitation as a new alternative form of life is relativised by its contextualisation in time and place. In most European countries cohabitation turns out to be an extended prelude to marriage, sometimes even including parenthood. Still, a minority of couples seems to be cohabiting in a non-marital way. But all cohabitation is not alike. Consequently the author focuses on the sociologically different forms of unmarried cohabitation among young adults, but also points to some important shifts in the concept of love and in the meaning of marriage and cohabitation. Many contemporary couples cohabit for “strategic” reasons in a permanent-loose, provisionally definitive relationship. For many young adults cohabitation is thus not so much an alternative to marriage, for it seems to be connected to and intertwined with marriage, as a process. Contemporary young adults are not so much as against marriage as they are against divorce. Most of the young adults also dream of a permanent relationship and try to overcome the fear of a possible dissolution by scouting out each others’ marital capacities while cohabiting. These insights might leave the door ajar, so to speak, for a more nuanced ethical thinking. The author ends with some initial thoughts about the question whether Christians could also integrate cohabitation in one way or another into the Christian ideal of marriage.

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