By Joan Salmon
In times past, marriage was held in high regard. Cohabitation was either avoided as much as possible or resolved quickly and the couple married off. However, today, cohabitation is pretty much the order of the day and many refer to it as a preamble to marriage (the new courtship) while others doing it have no plans for marriage at all.
Simon Kambaza a barber says while women want marriage because it gives them a sense of security, a man can still leave even after tying the knot. He also says you need to get someone you are willing to be with for life because someone may love a person yet are not willing to be with them for one reason or another.
The father of three is not yet married but says he is not against marriage. “I love my wife but I had to first study her and see if she is in for the long haul or not. 10 years and more down the road, I now better understand her but it has taken some time trying to make her understand that I am here and will always be unless she chooses to walk,” he shares.
But there are those who believe differently. William Serwada says he prefers marriage. “Cohabitation is tricky because if you get problems, her side can say they do not know you. But when you are married, chances of them coming in to help are high. While I am not yet married, I look forward to finalising my wedding arrangements,” he says.
Why people choose cohabitation
Beatrice Balitenda Kakembo, a counsellor at Inspirations Centre for Counselling and Parenting Services says people choose to cohabit instead of marry because of the commitment that comes with tying the knot.
In the past, people looked at marriage as the cherry on the cake after all the other achievements. “Increasingly, more people are saying marriage is not the only defining factor of character, success and achievement. With more young people getting more education and exposure than ever before, most are looking at their individual future hence taking more steps back before they choose to say ‘I do’” Kakembo says. As such, they choose to move in together as a stage of testing the waters. “They do it to see if living together will factor in all their other concerns such as career, personal development, and personal space. The moment they sense any strangling of ‘self’, they shelf any thoughts of marriage. They are thus silently scared of the prospects of marriage,” she explains.
The number of separation cases is on the rise as well as divorce. Kakembo says one may just fear the possibility of failure of the marriage and so chooses the softer landing of cohabiting as a test to their relationship. “The individuals in this set up wish to see what marriage will be like. For example, the spending habits of their partner, the sharing of chores and responsibilities, and the inner insights into each other’s sexual appetites.” Therefore, one may choose to cohabit since it does not have legal ties to it or formal requirements. Even when they choose to call it quits, they believe it is easier than if marriage was in the equation. Also, in the event of a separation, one will not be labelled as a ‘divorcee’,” Kakembo says. However, she notes that the emotional costs in both arrangements may be the same.
Some would love to get married but weddings today are proving to be very expensive ventures, especially with peer pressure and the desire to conform. “So, when two people like each other, they may choose to stay together as they put funds together for a marriage ceremony. Unfortunately, this may end up becoming their norm, forgetting about marriage, especially when children come into the picture,” Kakembo elaborates.
Some may suggest cohabiting if their partner takes forever to commit in the hope that this may result in a marriage. “This is quite common with women and they use cohabiting as a stepping stone to the actual marriage,” she adds.
Kakembo also points out that in case one’s spouse passes on, they may choose not to go through the whole process of marriage in case they find another partner. “They will prefer to cohabit as a way of circumventing the emotions associated with getting married.”
What cohabitation will not offer you
Evelyn C Kharono, a counselling psychologist, says although many marriages are miserable, the rule of thumb would be better for a total commitment than just staying together. “Out of experience in counseling both those married and those cohabiting, married couples report more satisfaction achieved through marriage than cohabitation,” she reports.
Kharono reiterates that marriage involves commitment. “Marriage creates avenues for accountability by the couple to the community, church or mosque and even to the state and thus encouragement to commit to one another. On the other hand, with cohabitation, the relationship majorly depends on the maturity of the couple and how far they are willing to stay in such an arrangement without proper commitment,” she says.
Married couples report more relationship stability than those in cohabitation.
“Depending on what the couple wants, marriage offers a healthy space for raising emotionally stable children than cohabiting,” Kharono shares. She adds that while it is true that married people experience frequent problems in their marriage, they also invest a lot of time in trying to solve conflicts and so their marriage gets stronger. “Cohabiting couples usually dodge such conflicts and in the long run out of the relationship,” she elaborates.
Even when those who consider cohabitation say that marriage is just a piece of paper, Kharono says it is much deeper. “That said, choosing the right thing to do will depend on your values, background, faith, age, your goal and plans and the kind of family identity you prefer for yourself and your children.”
Where can couples thrive best?
Fr Martin Ochola, From Masaka Diocese, says there are several reasons why marriage serves as an ideal environment for spouses to thrive.
The very first consideration is that man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God of and for love, he says quoting Genesis 2: 18, from the Bible. “The expression of love is accomplished within the context of marriage as man and woman give themselves to one another both sexually and physically.
He also adds that marriage is where God intended for procreation to happen and that spouses and children need a stable environment. “That way, children will have mentors and a model to learn from in order to have stable social, psychological, spiritual and emotional formation.”
With marriage, the Father elaborates, couples do away with a sense of independence from each other and use of undue authority over the other as well as promote some of the good parts of our African culture.
“In our African setting, we have fatherhood, motherhood, children, aunties, uncles, grandchildren, and the clan. Marriage secures the growth of this while cohabiting couples may not necessarily win the respect of all these relations as spouses may be viewed as outsiders and not yet members, fully integrated into this familial circle,” he explains.
Legal benefits of marriage
In addition to emotional and psychological benefits, Counsel Eve Nabitaka, a practicing lawyer, says one of the benefits of a marriage is that it affords legal rights that cohabitation does not, especially in relation to property rights in registered land.
“The Land Act Cap.227 accords a spouse the right to enjoy, access and use and live on family land (Section 38). The law emphasizes the fact that this security of occupancy applies to spouses who are in a subsisting marriage. Furthermore, Section 39 provides for protection of family land by imposing restrictions on the transfer of registered land by subjecting it to spousal consent,” she says. Nabitaka says the spouse here is seen in the context of marriage under any of the legally acceptable forms of marriage in Uganda. “This leaves people that are living together or cohabiting on fragile ground as far as security of occupancy is concerned.”
When it comes to succession, she says the law affords a spouse of a deceased person who did not leave a will, the automatic right to apply to administer their estate, if the marriage was still existing at the time spouse passed away. “The law of succession does not afford the same automatic right to apply for letters of administration to a deceased person’s partner even when they have cohabited for years. Such a person would need a certificate of no objection from the Administrator General,” Nabitaka explains. This leaves a bereaved unmarried person at the mercy of the deceased’s relatives, with no right to benefit from the deceased’s estate.
While the Domestic Relations Bill, and Marriage and Divorce Bill, are in the process of amendment, she says marriage in Uganda affords a measure of security that cohabitation does not. “Nonetheless, these are general positions of the law that are subject to various circumstances,” she emphasizes.
When all is said and done, Kakembo says the decision for either marriage or cohabitation should be given considerate and objective thought. “It is important to weigh the long-term pros and cons of any decision made. Either decision has its own challenges and perks.”
Kharono adds that one ought to marry for the right reasons. “Do not just settle for cohabitation if you are looking for a more stable relationship. Decide consciously what is right for you.”