Breaking up is easier when you are poor

An abandoned baby in Portugal has highlighted
why some cohabiting couples split up

The relationship between Mark Beddoes and
Katherine Penny, the couple who abandoned their three-month-old
baby in Portugal before flying back to Britain, appears to
encapsulate much of what critics of unmarried couples say is
corrosive of society, not least a fear of commitment.

Leaving aside the question of whether Penny
acted in the way that she did because she was emotionally unstable
after her birth or consciously indifferent to parenthood, the
couple’s emotional compact appears ill-defined and unsteady.
Beddoes has denied three times he is the father of the child.
Neither now have a job, money or accommodation.

Cohabiting couples, on average, stay together
26 months. They are between three to four times more likely to
break up than their married counterparts. However, there are
cohabitees who remain with one partner for life. What makes the
difference is not the presence or absence of matrimony but the
terms and conditions on which individuals enter into a

How to stop the casual drift into coupledom
and then parenthood is, of course, one of the main concerns of
social policy makers since it is often this type of union that
generates single parent families, poverty, and children who
experience multiple changes with all the potential for abuse that
that can bring.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? by
Adrienne Burgess, published this week, is an excellent dissection
of how and why some relationships last while others
don’t.1 Assets matter; in the main, those who are poor
in confidence and income are more likely to have rootless liaisons
than those who have qualifications and savings.

Burgess points out that researchers can
predict with 90 per cent accuracy, over a nine-year period, who
will stay together. Durability is more likely if the couple manage
change well, are supportive, have a knowledge of each other’s lives
and share a similar approach to dealing with conflict and

The problem, of course, is that for rich and
poor alike, love is irrational and blind. Nevertheless, just as we
are slowly learning better ways to manage divorce in the interest
of our children, so a greater understanding of the factors that
predicate disaster and success may not stop the drift into doomed
relationships, but it might encourage some of us to apply the
brakes more often.

1 Adrienne Burgess,
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Vermillion

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