Why Cohabitating, Non-Married Couples Benefit From Counseling, Too

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Not all committed couples are married. This may seem obvious to most of us. If it is so blatantly obvious, however, then why does so much web content focus solely on marriage-related advice? Is cohabiting taken less seriously?

Yes, we know how high the divorce rate is. And we know it’s even higher for second marriages. But when was the last time you read any statistics pertaining to cohabiting, non-married couples?

Cohabitation: By The Numbers

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of cohabiting U.S. adults has risen 29 percent in the last decade. Some numbers:

  • 14 million adults were cohabiting in 2007. That number is over 18 million today.
  • About half of cohabiting couples are under the age of 35.
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  • The fastest growing segment of Americans now cohabiting is in the over-50 age group. That number has risen by 75 percent since 2007 and now represents about one-quarter of the total of cohabiting couples.

Meanwhile, cohabiting couples remain more likely to break up. And those couples that eventually marry get divorced at a higher rate than those who did not live together before marriage.

Even a broad overview like this demonstrates why couples who live together should consider couples counseling. They have relationship concerns like any couple does. But the “not married” part carries with it a unique set of issues that cannot be ignored.

5 Reasons Why Cohabiting Couples Need Counseling, Too

1. To improve communication

Let’s face facts. This might be the primary reason for any couple to seek help. You may not be married. You may never plan to get married. But if you are more than roommates, you are probably committed to each other. Hence, the health of your communication will mirror the health of your relationship.

You may think that better communication just comes with spending more years together.  As you learn to understand each other, you will communicate better.  That may be true in some cases, but it is not the norm. Lack of communication or unhealthy communication patterns only get more ingrained as time passes.

2. To assess and address a potential lack of stability

Across the board, the statistics show that cohabiting couples split up at a much higher rate than married couples. It would be a huge mistake to ignore this reality.

What causes these higher rates of break-up?  Is it an essential lack of commitment?  Is one partner more committed than the other?  Is it about non-negotiable differences?  A thorough assessment of the stability of your relationship with a professional can keep you on the right track.

3. To settle financial, family, and other differences

Do you have a joint bank account and split all the bills? Or do you have a different arrangement?  Is it equitable and acceptable to both of you, or does one of you feel the arrangement is unfair?  

What do your families think about your cohabiting arrangement? Some families will support your decision.  Some might not consider your partner a real member of the family if you aren't married.

 Are there other factors—religion, age, etc.—with the potential to cause disruptions? These are just a few of the smart questions we must ask ourselves and our partners.

4. To determine whether you want to start a family   

Some couples are sure about having children while others are ambivalent. It is a big decision for any couple to make. Because cohabiting couples face worse odds of having a lasting relationship, it is even more important for them to be on solid ground when considering a family.

The transition to parenthood is a joyful but challenging time.  Even couples with the most stable relationships can find themselves struggling through the highs and lows. Be sure you and your partner are ready for that big step.

5. To discuss motivation, long-term goals, plans, and backup plans

In some cases, moving in together may have been a whim. It may have been a practical or financial choice. What motivates you now to continue living together? Your answers to that questions address some crucial issues. For example:

  • Making plans and setting long-term couple goals. Whether we like it or not, we may subconsciously take living together less seriously than marriage. One way to find out is to have a talk about your future.
  • Backup plans. This is the elephant-in-the-room question. If you don’t see yourselves getting married, do you imagine living together for the long haul? For countless reasons, this question must be answered honestly.

The Value of Couples Counseling

Finally, they call it “couples counseling.” There’s no asterisk. It doesn’t specify married couples or straight or any particular age, nationality, class, or ethnicity. Two adult humans—committed together—are capable of immense love and adventure. Yet, of course, there is a flip side. No relationship is a smooth ride all the time.

There are common road bumps. There are specific obstacles for specific types of couples. Couples counseling is a fluid, flexible process designed to run the gamut of relationship possibilities. That time spent together in search of a better connection will be some of the most important shared experiences of your life.