SIKESTON -- Romantic relationships have greatly changed over the past 30 years. People have talked about such things as divorce rates, premarital sex and interracial couples. Today, another change is beginning to turn heads; a large number of couples are moving in together before marriage, nearly 50 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 1970, half a million cohabitants or unmarried couples shared a residence in the U.S. By 2005, there were well over five million couples, and the numbers are growing.
The majority of these couples live on the West Coast, but in the Midwest area and even Sikeston, it is becoming hard to find a young adult who has not, at some point, been in a cohabitating relationship.
For some, this change is a sign of moral breakdown in today's society. For others, it is not a controversial topic.
Amanda Powell said her decision to buy a house with her boyfriend of six years "wasn't really that big of a deal."
"It is no different from being married, all that we are missing is the rings," said Powell. "You have to know if you can live with someone first and we discovered we can. We are more confident about the future of our relationship now that we have lived together. We just wanted a home before we got married so we didn't have to rent or live with one of our parents."
Other couples do not find cohabitation necessary.
"We dated for eight years and we didn't feel like it was necessary to move in with one another before we got married," said Andy McGill, who has been married four years now. "It was just the way we were raised; the religious and cultural values we were taught."
Ron Steinmetz, executive director of the Bootheel Counseling Services, pointed out that cultural and religious values are a determining factor in the rise in cohabiting couples.
"Today, many young couples see divorce and do not want to go through the pain they experienced or saw," said Steinmetz, "so they choose to live with someone first to avoid being hurt."
Steinmetz pointed out that this idea is not always correct.
"Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than marriage not preceded by cohabitation," said Steinmetz.
"Although it may seem like a successful tool for judging relationships, cohabitation is not a perfect predictor of the future of a relationship," said Steinmetz. "Most marriages don't end within the first six months or year, which is how long the average couple lives together before marriage. The problems normally arise three to five years into the relationship, which is something cohabitation cannot help a couple with."
Steinmetz said the main difference between marriage and cohabitation is a sense of understanding.
"It is dangerous when one partner takes cohabitation more seriously than the other," said Steinmetz. "When you get married, you know where the relationship stands. There is sometimes an ambiguity in cohabiting relationships that can lead to problems."
Steinmetz proposed premarital counseling and compatibility tests as an effective alternate to cohabitation.