In the past, it was highly honourable for the Ghanaian woman to stay with her relatives and have a man ask for her hand in marriage.
Family members and well-wishers would accompany the new bride to her husband’s home.
There was merriment with a lot to eat and drink.
That was in the past.
Today, the marriage institution is fast eroding.
People are attempting to replace marriage with schemes that allow them to enjoy everything in marriage without marrying.
Some argue that if you can get free milk you shouldn’t buy a cow and worry about taking care of it.
Now it has become common for two sexual partners who are not married to share a household.
This arrangement is called cohabitation.
Cohabitation is now an increasing trend in Ghana and globally.
For example, 30 years ago, it was an offence for unmarried heterosexual partners to live together in the USA.
However, the 2005 US census indicated that over five million couples are cohabitating, an increase of over 1,000 per cent over the 1,760 figure.
It is also known that about 80 per cent of couples in USA today admit living together before marriage.
The figure is said to be about 35 per cent in Ghana.
Cohabitation is not likely to go away.
In fact, it is increasing dramatically while compared to marriage.
Studies also show that most young people say cohabitation is good and will embrace it later in life.
The fear is that cohabitation has the potential to replace marriage.
Marriage has become extremely risky.
Only one in five marriages work.
We see pain, frustration, violence, abuse, depression and even death in marriages.
Human nature seeks the path of least resistance.
Cohabitation has become a popular alternative lifestyle to marriage.
In terms of demography, it is seen that Ghanaians are having sex at earlier ages but marrying late.
Cohabitation favours the extra period of sexually active single life, especially in our sexual revolution where premarital sex and trial marriages are almost accepted.
Socially, we see a cultural shift.
In the past years, marriage was very honourable to our culture and tradition.
Today, people advocate freedom of choice and self-fulfilment first.
It is also known that in Ghana many women are very poor.
Many can’t afford rent, bills and basic needs.
Many women cohabit to have their needs.
Men cohabit to have services such as sex and domestic care.
Advantages of cohabitation
Cohabitation is cheaper as partners share resources.
Partners lean on each other under real marriage conditions to test their compatibility.
It is also known that many partners have the desire to marry but financial constraints delay them.
They cohabit to establish some financial security for future marriage.
Cohabitation is easy to establish and dissolve without legal or religions constraints.
There are also others who argue it is better to cohabit than be promiscuous.
Cohabitation restricts you from marrying somebody you may otherwise not have.
Studies also indicate that cohabitation is detrimental to the stability of a long-term relationship.
Partners have a lower level of commitment which generates into poor attitude to marriage.
Cohabitation, therefore, increases the risk of a break-up after marriage.
Statistics indicate that more than half of cohabiters who marry divorce within two years.
Marriage experts also assert that compared to marriage, partners in cohabitation have a lower level of satisfaction and sexual exclusivity.
They are prone to acrimony, have a higher level of abuse in the relationship and are vulnerable to physical and mental health.
Depression is also a risk especially in women.
Children in cohabitation are also prone to a higher level of behavioural problems and a higher risk of break-up if they marry.
It is also known that in Ghana, partners cohabiting have diminished religious participation which may cause emotional stress.
Some marriage experts concede that cohabitation has come to stay and since it damages our social set-up, we must set up social and legal systems to contain it.
Gone are the days when cohabitation was seen as unethical, immoral and the woman thought to be a fool.
Today, there is a growing trend of its acceptability.
It is also known that in the past, women in cohabitation were sent away empty handed in the event of separation or the death of a partner.
Today, it appears our courts in Ghana have begun to rule that cohabiters do have certain rights and benefits based on such concepts as equitable principles.
This means that if a man stays with a woman for at least six months and they put themselves up as a couple, then legally, they are seen as married and the woman has some rights to the man’s estate if he passes on.
Other marriage experts believe that since marriage is the cornerstone of a successful society we must discourage cohabitation to minimise the damage to the marriage institution.
This can be done through proper education to revitalise the marriage institution, encourage cheaper marriage rites and institute incentives to married couples.
Can cohabitation replace marriage?
Marriage is the nerve centre of a stable society.
Anything that threatens marriage threatens the stability of societies.
In marriage, we have the privilege of developing a bond that can never be found outside it but positively influences everything outside it.
It is our Maker’s greatest idea to bless us.
Cohabitation can never replace marriage.
In fact, nothing can.
Let us preserve the sanctity and sanity of marriage.
Let us make it beautiful and honourable.
It is the only foundation of a decent society.