Two people living together, sharing the same household for a sustained period of time, having a sexual relationship, without being married are known as to be cohabiting couples. The more popular term for cohabitation is live-in relationships.
In many ways live-in relationships are similar to marital relationships. Like marital relationships, live-in couples share a household with an intimate partner who is a confidant, caretaker, and have intimate interactions, which have a positive affect on their wellbeing.
Despite these similarities, earlier research on live-in relationships shows it in a negative light, when compared to marital relationships. These researches suggest that live-in relationships involve lower levels of commitment and have lesser relationship quality as compared to marital relationships. Live-in couples have also been found to have lower levels of happiness compared to people who are married.
These findings have led to the belief of live-in relationships, perhaps, not being a proper relationship. It is always seen as something for people who are not looking for any kind of commitment and responsibility in a relationship. It is seen as temporary and a bad alternative to marriage. In some places, especially in a country like India, it is seen as objectionable and a taboo.
In recent times, researchers, however, have suggested to look upon such findings with caution. Two of the biggest flaws in the aforementioned findings are that live-in relationships have only been seen in comparison with marital relationships and that all live-in relationships are assumed to be the same and considered to be having the same characteristics.
In the past couple of decades there has been a decline in marriages and a rise in live-in relationships. Live-in relationships have become an important part of the society. They are now seen as a separate family structure. This rise in live-in relationships shows that it should be examined as a separate, discrete unit and not just in comparison with marital relationships.
Considering live-in relationships as a separate entity enables to give a much deeper look into it and gives a different perspective of it. It has been found that in many ways live-in relationships contribute to a better overall wellbeing of the individuals involved in it.
People involved in live-in relationships have been found to be generally less traditional and more individualistic in nature. They also have lower childbearing expectations, give greater emphasis to leisure time, and are less religious. The biggest advantage in live-in relationships that has been found is that people in such relationships have a more egalitarian attitude about sex roles and have an equal division in household labor.
These characteristics and aspects of live-in relationships contribute majorly to an enhanced level of individual wellbeing. It also leads to a more egalitarian relationship among the partners, which tends to be highly rewarding and causes greater happiness and satisfaction.
The assumption that all live-in relationships are homogeneous is the prime cause for the many misconceptions that are associated with live-in relationships. All live-in relationships cannot be said to be the same. They differ in many ways.
Live-in relationships may serve different purposes for different people involved in it. People may have different meanings of it and may derive benefits from in it in their own ways. Motives to be in a live-in relationship may differ in terms of emotional, economic, as well as pragmatic reasons. Depending on this, the levels of commitment, permanence, and satisfaction may differ among different types of couples.
For instance, a lot of research has been done on the age of live-in couples. The age of live-in couples has been found to be an important factor in determining the relationship quality and stability of the relationship. Empirical evidences suggest that older live-in couples are happier and have a more stable relationship as compared to younger live-in couples. Studies also suggest that older couples see live-in relationships as an alternative to marriage, whereas younger couples mostly see it as a prelude to marriage.
Corresponding to the heterogeneity of live-in relationships, recent research suggests that there are four different types of live-in relationships – casual, cautious, committed, and alternative. Casual live-in relationships are those in which couples are already involved in a sexual relationship and then just move in together without thinking much about it. They may move in together for convenience or financial reasons and do not think much about the future of their relationship. Cautious live-in relationships are those in which couples are more serious about the future of their relationship as compared to that of casual live-in relationships. They get into a live-in relationship seeing it as a prelude to marriage, but are not yet fully committed. They often see their relationship as a test for marriage and feel that living together will help them to decide whether or not they would like to be together in the future.
Committed live-in relationships are those in which couples have decided to stay together for as long as possible. They have thought of getting married, some time in the future, but have not done so yet for various reasons. Alternative live-in relationships are those in which couples do not at all think in terms of marriage. They do not believe in the concept of marriage and see it as something that is outdated. They are often very committed and believe that to stay together they do not need to be formally married. They feel that getting married is not going make any difference to their relationship.
Live-in relationships may also differ on the basis of the country in which the couples are residing. The life styles of some countries largely affect how live-in relationships are looked upon. Depending on the family system of a country, some countries have a high prevalence of live-in relationships, whereas some countries have a low prevalence.
The Scandinavian countries can be seen as an apotheosis for this consideration. In the Scandinavian countries live-in relationships are seen as almost identical to marriage. Such relationships have been found to be far less common in Southern and Eastern Europe. Looking specifically at many of the Western countries, research shows that the family formation of live-in couples in Sweden is indistinguishable from those who are married. On the other hand, in countries like Italy, Spain, and Poland, live-in relationships are found to be a marginal phenomenon.
Live-in relationships in the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway and Sweden, have been found to be highly common and widespread compared to many other countries all over the world. In these countries live-in relationships are seen as equal to marriage in terms of being socially acceptable.
In Norway and Sweden, a typical characteristic of live-in relationships is a high proportion of child births to live-in couples. It has been found that almost half of the first births are born to live-in couples. In countries like Sweden and Norway, live-in relationships are widely accepted as a way of living together, even when there are children in the relationship.
Psychologists, to understand the role of live-in relationships in family formation, have recently proposed a typology of six ideal types of live-in relationships; ranging from a marginal position associated with clearly negative public attitudes to one where it is common and largely identical to marriage.
Sweden has reached the end-point of this typology. Live-in relationships, in Sweden, have evolved into a family-building institution to such an extent where it has become almost indistinguishable to marriage. Like Sweden, in Norway live-in relationships have been widespread since several decades. Both these countries would clearly fit into the common and largely identical to marriage category. A country like the United States of America would fit somewhere in the mid-point of the aforementioned typology, which is of course lower than Sweden and Norway.
Asian countries would be much lower in the typology. A country like India, where premarital sex is seen as somewhat objectionable, would clearly fit into the category of marginal position associated with clearly negative public attitudes, which is right at the beginning of the typology.
In the past decade, live-in relationships have been on the rise in India. This rise has been clearly noticeable as it is now supported by the Indian law of family system. In India the law of domestic violence is applicable to live-in couples also. The female partner, after spending a good enough time in the relationship has the rights to the property of her partner. Even the child of a live-in couple has the right to inherit the property of his/her biological father.
Despite the law being supportive of live-in relationships, it is still seen as something that is not very socially acceptable in India. Due to this live-in couples in India live together largely in a secretive manner and only revealing their relationship status to their close associates. They are not very comfortable to talk about it openly. Things are slightly different in big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, but that difference is not very noticeable.
Compared to India, live-in relationships are in a better position in other Asian countries like China and Japan. However, this is nowhere near to how it is seen in Western countries, and it is of course not at all seen as identical to marriage.
The typology of live-in relationships, mentioned above, further add to the variability of live-in relationships. It shows that live-in relationships may differ depending on the country where the live-in couple is residing in. It also shows that live-in relationships can very well play a role in family formation.
The large differences within live-in relationships clearly show that seeing it as a unity and as harmonized is highly erroneous. Live-in relationships have become a part of the existing family system. They should obviously be seen as a discrete unit that has a lot of disparity.
Live-in relationships involve inconsistencies and complexities. They at best can be termed as fuzzy, indefinite, and heterogeneous. They certainly cannot be seen as something that is a uniform phenomenon.