Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Separations, Reconciliations, and Living Apart in Cohabiting and Marital Unions

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Separations, Reconciliations, and Living Apart in Cohabiting and Marital Unions

Article excerpt

Using data from a panel study of White young adults containing complete marital and cohabiting union histories from age 15 through 31, our goal is to track and compare the paths along which young adults arrange and time the entries and exits from marital and cohabiting unions. We focus on the incidence, duration, and outcomes of 2 dimensions that embrace residential separation: (a) separations that relate to discord in the relationship and (b) living apart from the partner or spouse for reasons other than discord. Our results show that union trajectories are dynamic and involve a heterogeneous and multidirectional array of transitions. We also find consistent differences supporting the idea that marital unions are more stable and durable than cohabiting unions.

Key Words: cohabitation, living apart, marriage, reconciliation, separation, union transitions.

This article is motivated by an understanding of union dissolution as a complex and multidirectional process than frequently can involve multiple transitions. Although the complexity of the process is often recognized, conceptual and data limitations have prevented empirical research on the dissolution of marital and cohabiting unions from fully examining the dynamic and multidirectional nature of these transitions. The result is that these limitations have restricted efforts to expand our knowledge of the many transitions into and out of cohabiting and marital relationships.

We describe marital and cohabitation trajectories by tracking the paths along which young adults arrange and time the entries and exits from their unions. We first focus on the nature of the transitions that mark the dissolution of a union, either temporarily or permanently, and how these transitions vary across individuals. We ask to what degree separation due to discord during marital or cohabiting relationships constitutes the dissolution of a relationship and the extent to which separation is a temporary phenomenon followed by reconciliation.

In examining the trajectory of cohabiting and marital unions, we also investigate living apart from the partner for reasons other than discord as another dimension of residential separation. School, work, family, and other circumstances may lead or force many couples to live temporarily apart from one another without breaking up the relationship. We ask how frequently these periods of living apart occur, how long they last, and what is the outcome of this experience, that is, whether individuals resume the relationship or whether they later break up the relationship.

The second goal of the article is to compare the paths toward dissolution between marital and cohabiting unions. Following earlier studies, we compare the incidence of union separation between married and cohabiting young adults. In addition, we go beyond earlier analyses and consider the outcomes of separations due to discord to evaluate whether there is a differential incidence of reconciliations after separation according to the legal status of the union. We also examine whether it is more common to live apart from the partner for reasons other than discord and the outcomes of such experiences during marital compared with cohabiting unions. Finally, we ask whether the extent of living apart, separations and reconciliations, and the formation of a new union differ among marriages, depending on whether they are preceded by premarital cohabitation.

Through examination of these transitions into and out of coresidential unions, our final goal is to contribute to the understanding of what events and circumstances can best be seen as defining the dissolution of a marital and a cohabiting union. At what point in the relationship is it possible to say that the relationship is probably permanently dissolved; is it at separation due to discord, residential separation for reasons other than discord, divorce, or entrance into a new relationship?

This study uses data from a panel study of White young adults that contains complete marital and cohabiting union histories from age 15 through 31. …

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