Why the fuss about cohabiting?

AFTER cohabiting for three years, Judith Umubyeyi’s fiancé popped the question. “Would you marry me?”  This was something Umubyeyi least expected from her fiancé who seemed to have been more than comfortable with the cohabiting. 
Some people look at cohabiting as a western thing that the youth have picked up. net photo
Some people look at cohabiting as a western thing that the youth have picked up. net photo

AFTER cohabiting for three years, Judith Umubyeyi’s fiancé popped the question. “Would you marry me?”  This was something Umubyeyi least expected from her fiancé who seemed to have been more than comfortable with the cohabiting.

Cohabiting, a relationship where a man and woman live together as if married, usually without legal or religious sanction, is viewed as a taboo in the Rwandan culture. 


But despite the stereotypes young couples especially in the urban are embracing cohabiting. The stigma associated with cohabiting has forced many people to cohabit in hiding without the knowledge of their parents. Whereas in many parts of the world cohabiting is seen as something normal, many Rwandan families would not stand a daughter who packs her bags to go and live with a man before marriage.  


Umubyeyi’s story is one of the many young girls that have chosen the route of cohabiting for different reasons.  But this has come with scorn and ridicule from society. “I have constantly been labeled a prostitute for staying with my man before marriage.  I don’t know what is wrong with that. Society needs to understand that people have different ways of doing things and they shouldn’t be quick to judge,” Umubyeyi says. 


Cohabiting exists in Rwandan society but is mostly kept under wraps, hiding the truth from family members, but why can’t two adults stay together without minding what society will say? 

Hope Akaliza says that it’s against the Rwandan culture and tradition to cohabit, “What am I, his wife, girlfriend or his booty call? There’s no clear description of accepting cohabiting because a man can change any time, what legal right do you have to claim damages? Let’s say that we are cohabiting, will he actually go to my father for the Gusaba ceremony when he already lives with me?” she wonders.

It is an argument that stretches far beyond the realm of culture and tradition when it comes to arguments that are put forward by men. Dennis Mwihoreze says, “Marriage is a big commitment, there’s no doubt about it, so cohabitating is seen as a trial run at marriage. It is easier than going through getting the license and planning a wedding.”

Whereas men are more drawn to the idea of cohabiting, women are skeptical about the arrangement. “Men like it because they are assured of sex on a regular basis without having to go through a wedding. It is not about the financial situation because a man will afford a nice house, a nice car, have a well-paying job but will still want to cohabit. This shows lack of commitment,” Mwihoreze says.

Couples who want to or already live together must decide what works best for them. “As a couple, you need to think about who is responsible for the rent, the house needs like groceries, as well as who is in charge of cooking, throwing out the trash, and doing the laundry. Add to this, questions like whether you can put up with your lover’s peculiarities or does her method of brushing her teeth make you grind yours,” says Adam Kwesiga.

However Monica Murebwayire has a different view.  “People fear cohabiting because they fear hard work. After the wedding, the couple has binding documents that will protect their interests in case of divorce but cohabiting requires hard work to prove your worth because anytime one or the other is walking away. To make it work, many factors have to be at play than they would be in a marriage.”

Some women have chosen cohabiting over marriage simply because they feel it’s not yet their time to settle down. They don’t mind a little fun but it gives them a chance to move on to other things other than tying themselves down.  Some argue that it offers similar benefits to marriage without the potential pain of divorce. “If we’re just living together and no one decides to leave, I don’t see why we can’t leave like that but when it’s marriage, there’s always potential for divorce; maybe even an ugly divorce,” says Angel Kanzira. 

Alex Mutsinzi wonders why he has to toil alone only for the wife to come and find everything done. “If we cohabit it gives us the potential to work collectively towards the well-being of our family. We don’t have to give birth immediately but I prefer a woman who will understand that we are in hard times and we need to put our efforts together, that way we can even plan our wedding accordingly depending on our finances,” he says. 

Yvette Mugeni thinks that it is important to cohabit for good reasons. “This is the time you get to know each other deeply. His good, bad and ugly sides will be revealed, I will be able to tell if he wants a wedding, children and his ambitions faster than I would have known while dating.”  Yvette believes that this period will reveal a lot about a person’s family, the effect they have on the relationship and how they can be dealt with. 

It’s unethical  and goes against family and church values 

Pastor Maurice Rukimbira, a counselor at Saint Etienne Church says, “Co-habiting as Christians is very dangerous and not allowed. Church marriage consists of two important things; first, it brings God, man and woman together where they are accountable to one another and God as the main witness. This means that the long sustainability of their marriage which is granted by God is clear”. 

“Secondly, there is pre-marital counseling. Co-habiting rarely takes this into account. During pre-marital counseling, couples get to know each other and themselves.”

Pastor Maurice also advises couples not to rush into marriage because of external pressures like early pregnancy. “When a couple comes for counseling when the girl is already pregnant, we usually ask them ‘are you sure you want to get married?’ We use an example of, ‘let’s assume you are 30 years and you want to be married till 90, will still be happy in your marriage?’ Those are 60 years which might turn out to be miserable. So, it’s better to repent for the sin of fornication, raise your child and make a sober decision if you want to get married,” the pastor says.

Gakwerere James, a father of five says, “As a man, father and husband I would be setting a wrong example for my children. Besides, will I ask for dowry after some man has been living with my daughter for one or two years? It means that he contributed to her upbringing and that is despising my family. It is totally wrong and brings untold shame to the family.” 

Gakwerere adds, “Those are behaviours of children in the western world because their parents are liberal. If we embrace those norms we shall lose our identity as Africans and as Rwandans to be exact. If they want to get married, that is fine as long as they do it the normal way without just running off.” 

Esperance Nyiramigabo also holds the same school of thought. “Even back in the day when women had lesser opportunities, poverty was looming and people were uneducated but they didn’t co-habit. Why would girls today do it with everything they have at their disposal? They fail to understand that men will always be there but once a girl decides to go and cohabit, a man will treat her badly because she has no legal rights to defend herself and she can’t even face her family.”

“Cohabiting is an immoral behaviour that should not be allowed in our society because it endorses fornication as a normal thing to do which it is not and the Bible is against it too,” Nyiramigabo says. 

Either side has its pros and cons but if there is a ring on the finger and a wedding date set, living together is a reasonable way to establish a strong foundation for the relationship. If you decide to cohabit, make a clear distinction of what you want before time is wasted.

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