Volume 31 - Article 36 | Pages 1107–1136  

Free to stay, free to leave: Insights from Poland into the meaning of cohabitation

By Monika Mynarska, Anna Baranowska-Rataj, Anna Matysiak

This article is part of the Special Collection 17 "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"


Background: Previous studies have shown that in Poland cohabitation is most of all a transitory step or a testing period before marriage. Polish law does not recognize this living arrangement and it has been portrayed as uncommitted and short-lived. However, few studies have investigated what cohabitation means for relationships, especially with respect to freedom.

Objective: We explore how young people in Poland understand and evaluate freedom in cohabitation. We investigate how they view the role freedom plays in couple dynamics and in relationship development.

Methods: We analyze data from focus group interviews conducted in Warsaw with men and women aged 25-40. We identify passages in which opinions on cohabitation and marriage are discussed, and use bottom-up coding and the constant comparative method to reconstruct different perspectives on the issue of freedom in cohabitation.

Results: The respondents argued that cohabitation offers the partners freedom to leave a union at any time with few repercussions. On the negative side, the freedom related to cohabitation brings insecurity, especially for young mothers. On the positive side, it offers relaxed conditions for testing a relationship, grants partners independence, and encourages cohabitors to keep their relationship interesting, precisely because it is fragile and easy to dissolve.

Conclusions: The open nature of cohabitation offers benefits to partners, but does not provide secure conditions for childbearing. As long as the couple is not planning to have children, however, the benefits of cohabitation are likely to be seen as outweighing the disadvantages.

Author's Affiliation

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