Cohabitation Through the Eyes of a Psychotherapist


CINDY HIDE         Welcome to Love Money & the Law.  The subject is cohabitation.  Shall we get married or do we live together?  My guest is Tobi Oidtmann a psychotherapist in Houston, Texas, and we are going to explore all the aspects of cohabitation in just a few short minutes.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Right.

CINDY HIDE         The stats now are showing that about sixty or seventy percent of couples live together before they get married.  And I believe also that the stats reflect that’s not necessarily a good thing for a marriage.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           The original data showed around 2012 that by living together cohabiting first there was a fifty percent higher rate of divorce in the marriage.

CINDY HIDE         Why do think that is?

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Well they adjusted it a bit in 2014 and at that point they said some of it might have had to do with differences in personalities, difference in family cultures.  There were other things.  How many other relationships had they had before in terms of living with someone?  There would be a number of other factors that might – but the results were pretty much the same. With the new bit of information that if the cohabiting relationship lasts at least seven years, it seems that then the chance of divorce decreases from 50%.  It may still be higher, but it’s not at the fifty percent rate that it was earlier.

CINDY HIDE         So in other words if you live together at least seven years and then get married there is a pretty good success of staying married.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Well there’s a lower chance of divorce.  The longer you live together –the longer you cohabit it diminished the chance of divorce.  However, most cohabiting relationships last approximately on average 22 months.  Many of them less than a year.  So, there’s a big gap between 22 months and 7, 8, 9 and 10 years.  The norm is not a long term cohabiting relationship.  Generally other factors intervene and the relationship dissolves.

CINDY HIDE         So if couples are moving in together to sort of try it out, what are some of things that you understand are the reasons for a breakup in the relationship versus again – most marriages I believe last longer than a year even though they might end in divorces but cohabitation does not provide the same security or why do you think – what is the reason for that?  Do you know?

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I think there are several reasons.  Number one it’s not as committed.  You’ve already got a way out.  Thus the name cohabitation.  So many people will say oh just try this out and see if it works or I’m here for a year and maybe I’m going to go somewhere else and so it’s not that this is the rest of my life kind of a commitment.  If couples that are cohabiting do become engaged and marry, they also after the engagement have lower possibility of divorce.  So the formalization of the commitment beginning with an engagement and then moving into a formal marriage ceremony does seem to make a difference.

CINDY HIDE         So, there’s a different energy around getting married versus cohabitating, right?  Still today.  I mean we could say that’s the case years ago because we had a much more traditional sort of society or cohabitation was not very well accepted frankly and now you know young couples particularly move in together, they have children together, uh blended families are moving in together.  I mean what do you see, if anything at all is a result of that and – you know – for kids for example that grow up in a household where the parents are not married.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           It is at some cost to the children and maybe to a degree to the parents in that although it is becoming a more accepted way of shaping a family, it is very difficult on the children.  The data shows that the children have many more issues later on.  It could be depression, poor performance in school, oppositional defiant behavior, anxiety, any number of behavioral health mental health issues.

CINDY HIDE         So there’s actually a connection between cohabitating parents and the issues that you just mentioned? There’s some way that they can measure that?

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Well there’s more than that.

CINDY HIDE         Okay.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Yes.  There’s data

CINDY HIDE         Okay.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           And the greater part is that they are not as well supported by the community or their family although the couple may choose to make this choice, the parents, the grandparents, extended family members, certain many religions, schools, community organizations do not readily accept that at this point in time and the children bear the brunt.  And because they are left out, set aside or in any other way uh denigrated, they end up with certain emotional issues.  Likewise, the women typically end up with higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety as well because of those circumstances.

CINDY HIDE         Is that because – because a lot of those relationships don’t work out and maybe there is a child born during the first year –

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Generally during the first year a lot of times.   Thirty some percent -- 37, 38 percent during the first year.

CINDY HIDE         Wow.  That’s that’s very high.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Yes.

CINDY HIDE         And then if the relationship doesn’t work out then boom you have – you have --

TOBIE OIDTMANN           You’ve got a child.

CINDY HIDE         a child in the middle and no family support to speak of.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Right. Yes, it’s a difficult choice.

CINDY HIDE         So are there any – I mean; can you say anything positive from a psychological standpoint with respect to a cohabitation situation versus a marriage?  I mean –

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I think you have to look at several things.  One, is there a family of origin.  That means the family they grew up in.  What were those family relationships like?  What was that culture like?  What were the dynamics like?  That works towards imprinting and expectations in any sort of a close relationship.  So how many relationships have they had prior to this relationship?  That could make a difference as well.  Are they someone that goes from relationship to relationship to relationship.  That might mean that there is some issue that has yet to be resolved and rather than resolving the issue, they simply move from relationship to relationship to relationship.  So there are those factors.  The couples I think that do better cohabiting that I see they are coming in and they may be cohabiting they may be simply saying we’re dedicated to one another and they work on their issues.  They work on their issues with me whether it’s – it could be anything – finances, religion, expectations, life goals, whatever it is and they work through it.  And then when they move into that next step, assuming that’s marriage, they’ve already done the hard stuff before they’ve actually – they’ve worked in session before they’ve actually moved into the marriage itself.  So that can be helpful.  Also, getting clarity in counseling therapy is this someone that’s all I think they are?  Because sometimes we’re very young and we have the chemistry and there’s no question you know it’s there and it’s reassuring, it’s loving, it makes you feel as if you are an adult, you’re into this path.  But maybe it’s wise to look a step behind and say okay what are their family traditions.  You know, what are the things that are going to affect us and even better yet, where are they in their life?  In other words, marrying, or committing, or cohabitating right out of high school, right out of college, those are artificial environments.  You’ve not really been out of the world long enough to be tested and learn what this person or that person is like under pressure. When it really gets rough. So entering some sort of a counseling or therapeutic environment can sometimes work through some of that.  Looking at each other’s history.  Knowing about family origin influences.  That can make a difference.  But someone that says I want to be with this person because I’ll feel safe and I’ll be taken care of.  You have to look a little more at that.  Or, I wanted this because I’m working hard and I want to come home and I want to have meal and I want to have my clothes done and I want a family.  I don’t even necessarily care about the person as long as I want the family.  Those things do not bode particularly well.  It’s becoming more common but I don’t – and the outcome is a little better but it’s still not all that it is with a traditional engagement and marriage.  It just – the marriage is saying this is the rest of my life.  Cohabitation says let’s give it a shot.

CINDY HIDE         That’s try it.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           And there is a big difference.  So you work harder through something if it’s going to be with you the rest of your life than you will with an issue – well if I get tired then I’m just out of here and that’s it.

CINDY HIDE         Let’s talk about the senior community for a few minutes, because this is also a new trend for those over 60.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I think what gets thrown into the mix is wisdom that comes from life.  And that’s a big factor as we move into that – yes they are the pragmatics – there’s benefits, life insurance whatever and do I lose that.  For some people, a marriage is a commitment of heart, mind, body, and soul and you know they don’t even want to consider cohabiting.  They want that.  That’s important.  That’s their value and that’s to be appreciated.  With the more experienced older individuals, they are more to a degree more open minded with one another in the community because they understand the dollars and cents.  They are on a limited income.  They’ve got to watch blah blah, blah blah – whatever it is.  They understand that.  So they accept that of one another, but in a cohabitation as opposed to a marriage, at that point you can get resentments. uh and and it’s – everything tries – you try to divide everything up but I have had people say it doesn’t always seem like it’s fair in terms of who pays for this or who does what or how do we spend our free time or what do we do socially.  I mean there are some issues.

CINDY HIDE         In some ways, things don’t change.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           It’s not very different in that way.

CINDY HIDE         From your 20s to your 60s.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Yeah.  It’s not – it’s different because you’ve spent a lifetime and at that point you’re making choices that are based on your life experiences and where you are in life as opposed to when you are younger.  And you’re thinking, oh you know – I’m young, I’m vibrant, alive, I can live forever, I can do this, I can do that, or so I can cohabit until I find the right person.  Once you have a committed enough relationship that engagement is involved, the likelihood of divorce diminishes right.  It doesn’t go away completely, but it significantly diminishes. If it’s simply cohabitation, we’ll see how it works, we’ll see how it feels.  We’ll try it out.  Whatever words are used, generally the underlying motivations are a little bit different, but there’s not the commitment we’re going to make this work no matter what.  It’s let’s see if it works, not the commitment to make it work, but let’s see if works and if it doesn’t fit, if it’s like a shoe that doesn’t fit.

CINDY HIDE         Big difference.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Exactly.

CINDY HIDE         Do you think there is a difference between males or females or a different perspective with respect to living together versus getting married?

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Data shows that more typically the female that enters cohabitation is anticipating it as the first step toward marriage whether they say it or not.  That’s what – that’s the way they are going in. Now they’ll say I may need to think about it, I’m not so sure they have this habit or that habit, but in the back of the mind, that’s really what they are thinking. And I believe a lot of males today don’t’ necessarily see it that way.  They are cohabiting.  They care. But they are not so sure that it’s going to go forward.  It is more of a trial run for them than it is for the females.

CINDY HIDE         I still have yet to understand why there is such a gender difference there with respect to living together.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           It could be a lot of things.  It could be hormones.  Really, to be very basic, women estrogen right.  And so here is an interesting fact, women today are entering and graduating college in higher numbers than they have for years.  I think it’s in the 67, 69 percent or something like that.  However, males are entering college in lower numbers and they’re graduating in lower numbers.  They are down in the 40 percent now. 

CINDY HIDE         Oh my goodness.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           There is this data that’s showing the 21 year old males of 20 years ago are now 31 or 41.  They are maturing or ready to assume the mantel of responsibility and accountability later, but they may not have gone through what their fathers or grandfathers may have gone through.

CINDY HIDE         So, there’s actually two sort of undercurrents here.  One is psychology and one is sociology with respect to how does this feel to the person and then there is the outside world I mean how are we socializing today versus 20 or 30 years ago.  So how do we reconcile these two because I don’t believe human nature changes.  Our society does.  Sometimes we look a little different because of perhaps economic reasons.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I think it’s a bit challenging at time because the way our society is moving today, males and females generally have an extended period of education, and in the case of a female, she may be fully adult and there are other circumstances – might be ready to start a family or a home or a household, but she’s going through college and she wants to build her career so it then impacts that whole choice around cohabitation.  In other words, I find someone, I really care about him but I’ve got to do A, B, and C to start my career to do what else.  So there are other – and for the males as well.  So there are other intervening variables.  There is a psychology in what’s involved with maybe choices and what you feel.  There’s also the world as it is today, and I think that it’s not been resolved.  I think that’s why more people are cohabitating – they are living together – but for different reasons now.  And maybe they are thinking about it a bit differently than they used to. I still – the preponderance of the data still says – a committed engagement – traditional engagement -- marriage is the one that is less likely – has lower incidents of divorce.  So that is definitely a thing.  But if you’ve got two career driven people trying to build in the first ten years what they’re going to do in the next twenty years, it makes a difference.

CINDY HIDE         It does.  I think that is probably more the direction that we are heading because both genders are very independent now and again women did not have the same opportunities that we do now 50 years ago and with the advent of no-fault divorce, it started in the late 60s and has swept the country ever since, it used to be that those traditional roles for women were a matter of necessity and it was hard to break a marriage -- to exit a marriage unless you had a basis for fault.  That’s not the case anymore.  Society has called for – it’s demanded a change for women to become more financially independent and there are great benefits with that too for our independence.  You know, you don’t have to stay in a marriage for financial reasons if you don’t want to now.  And I think that’s a very different mindset today than it was like I said as early as the 60s.  So, you know, with that has come a whole different lifestyle to be examined, and I think if we are still looking at it from a psychological standpoint that the feeling that’s inside a relationship of a marriage versus cohabitation – that’s security – that sense of this is a part of our families are coming together, we’ll consider having children under these circumstances.  You know the religious institutions certainly support that so in a way even though it’s a trend, there’s still sort of - young couples particularly were still living outside the norm to some degree socially even though it has become more acceptable.  Would you agree with that or –

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I agree and I would say that is why cohabitation agreements are so important.  There is an answer for what’s happening today.  You can experience a connection with someone that you love and care about.  You can live together, but because of society and its changes, the answer is to protect each person through an agreement.  This is different.  The reason for cohabiting in this set of circumstances I feel is different than cohabiting just because I want to try out a marriage.  This is saying I may be committed to you and we want to spend our lives together, but we’ve got to get some ducks in a row first, and that’s exactly where your agreement – the contract would come in to play – the cohabitation contract.

CINDY HIDE         And to your point, it does require a certain level of maturity and commitment even under those circumstances because it is a contract and you are bound by the terms that you agreed to and to sit down and go through all that you can very quickly understand exactly what’s going on.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           I think the interesting point is the data we have is on people that cohabit.  What I would like to see is the results of people that have a cohabitation agreement.  I’d be willing to bet that if they go through that they probably would stay together longer.  I don’t know what the data is, but it would seem like the intent, and the focus, and the commitment on signing off on something like that might change those odds just a bit.

CINDY HIDE         We’ll probably need to come back in like 10 or 20 years to take a look because this is really the beginning of a trend to formalize the relationship under these circumstances more concretely and that has not been the case in the past.  Tobie, thank you so much for having the chat today.

TOBIE OIDTMANN           Thank you for having me.  I loved it.

CINDY HIDE         I appreciate all of your insights.  If you’d like more information about marriage or divorce, go to and you’ll find more about videos, podcasts, webinars and seminars.  Thank you for joining me today.  I’m Cindy Hide.