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Why Did the Synod Fail to Seriously Address the Issue of Cohabitation?

Couple napping

MR Hayata

Rick Fitzgibbons, MD - published on 11/17/14

John Paul II and Benedict XVI recognized cohabitation as an urgent problem.

In earlier articles, we looked at the harmful consequences of cohabitation for adults and for children. In light of the many negative outcomes, it was disappointing to many that the bishops taking part in the Extraordinary Synod last month failed to turn to Pope St. John Paul II for guidance on this issue. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, John Paul addressed cohabitation (nos. 80 and 81), explaining why it is gravely immoral and how pastors should approach cohabiting couples and encourage them to marry. John Paul also noted that –

It will be very useful to investigate the causes of this phenomenon, including its psychological and sociological aspect, in order to find the proper remedy (no. 80).

What have decades of clinical experience shown to be the major factors contributing to the rise in cohabitation?

1. selfishness on the part of one or both cohabiting partners
the contraceptive mentality and the sexual revolution it fueled
3. permissive parenting that indulged children and failed to teach the values of self-discipline and sacrifice
4. the failure of both parents and Catholic educators to witness to Christian marriage as a complete gift of oneself to a spouse and God
5. parental divorce, leading to a fear of divorce in their children and the belief that a lifelong commitment is impossible
6. the weakening of masculinity in the culture
7. economic fears and general insecurity about entrusting one’s life to another
8. rejection of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and marriage, which are wrongly seen as restrictions on freedom
9. rejection of the traditional view of marriage (as an exclusive and lifelong union in which the couple is open to the gift of children) in favor of a living arrangement that should last only as long as the partner is making one happy
10. the view that a father is not obligated to protect, and provide a stable home for, his children and their mother if he had not consented in advance to the pregnancy and marriage.   

These clinical observations are supported by the ever-growing body of research on marriage and family. The National Marriage Project, located at the University of Virginia and headed by W. Bradford Wilcox, publishes reports on “The State of Our Unions,” as well as topic specific reports and summaries of research, such as “Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences” (2011).

Wilcox reports, for example, that the contraceptive and divorce revolutions have undercut the younger generation’s faith in marriage. Children of divorce are more likely to cohabit and about 37% of young adults say “marriage has not worked out for most people they know” (Wilcox 2010). Yet, levels of divorce in the United States have recently stabilized

to pre-Divorce Revolution levels. Specifically, about 23% of children whose parents married in the early 1960s divorced by the time the children turned 10. More recently, slightly more than 23% of children whose parents married in 1997 divorced by the time the kids turned 10.

That’s the "good news." The bad news is that cohabitation has replaced divorce as the main cause of family instability. Nearly half of women 15-44 cohabited between 2006 and 2010.  “Why Marriage Matters” notes that one of the primary reasons for getting married, i.e., starting a family, is increasingly viewed as a relic of the past. The institution of marriage, and even the presence of two parents, are seen as nice but not necessary for raising children. Thus, even when a baby is coming, many young adults see no need to rush to the altar. In addition, many young adults in romantic relationships greatly overestimate the chances that they have already met their future spouse, which makes them vulnerable to sliding into 

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MarriageSynod on the Family
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