Once upon a time, living with your significant other before getting married was extremely taboo. Nowadays, however, it seems that it’s taboo if a couple doesn’t live together before walking down the aisle. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, between 1965 and 1974, only 11 percent of women lived with their partner before their first marriage. Between 2010 and 2013, that number rose to 69 percent of women. For many people, shacking up is one way to find out if you and your partner can co-exist in a shared space and have a relationship that will last a lifetime.
First, you both have to examine your intentions and be on the same page about it. In other words, are you living together to see if you are compatible in the same house? Are you living together because one or both of you are avoiding (or putting off) marriage? If so, why are you doing this?
Ideally, you have to have a long and honest conversation about why one or both of you want to live together without being married. Perhaps, one of you assumes that the other wants to get married, and they don’t. Or one has a certain timeline in order to get married, and the other doesn’t. Or one thinks this is just a serious relationship and hasn’t really thought about marriage.
Having this conversation is crucial because if you are not in sync with your intentions, this will cause problems down the road. However, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume that both of you know that the end goal is marriage—not just any kind of marriage but, hopefully, one that is full of love and is happy and healthy.
The Pros of living together before marriage
1. Sharing Finances
This could be one of the most popular reasons for living together before marriage. Think about it, most serious couples are practically living together anyway. They keep clothes and other personal items at one person’s residence, and they might be there more than they are at their own home. So, in that case, it would make sense to stop paying two different rents or mortgages, two different utility and cable bills, and so much more.
While this is definitely a pro of living together, you have to make sure that you are wise with the money. It is very tempting to spend the extra money you save and not even know where you spent it. A better idea would be to save the money from the other household and invest it in your future together.
2. It’s Less Stressful When You Finally Get Married
Living with anyone can be stressful. It doesn’t matter if it’s your own parents, siblings, or children, everyone has the ability to get on your nerves when you live in the same space 24/7. It’s just a fact of life.
But when you are dating or in a serious romantic relationship, you have had a much shorter time to get to know someone’s habits. When you are first dating, you don’t see—or overlook—some of your partner’s annoying habits. You might even think it’s cute. But as time goes on, what you thought was alright just gets on your nerves sometimes.
So, imagine if you had never lived together before you get married, and then when you move in together, you had a crisis going on in your head. You might think, “this person drives me crazy because they never do the dishes!”
If you live together before marriage, you will go into it with your eyes wide open, and there will be a lot fewer surprises.
3. You Become Closer and Build a Stronger Bond
Intimacy is a very important thing in any relationship but more especially in marriages. But when I say “intimacy,” I don’t just mean physical/sexual or emotional intimacy. There are actually other different kinds of intimacy that are just as important, such as intellectual, spiritual, experiential, and volitional.
Let’s talk about volitional intimacy. This kind is about the commitments that two people make with each other. For example, if you decide to buy a house, a car, or a dog together, that means you are making a commitment to each other (regardless of whether you are married or not). And moving in together represents that kind of intimacy.
When a couple has all of these types of intimacy in sync, that is when the relationship is strong. So, living together will help you “test” and see whether or not you can create and sustain these intimacies before you get married. And if so, it will strengthen your bond and make you more confident in getting married.
The Cons of living together before marriage
1. Other People May Not Approve
Everyone has an opinion about everything. And most people love to let you know what it is, whether you ask for it or not. With that said, it can be very difficult to do something without your family or friends’ approval. Many times, religion gets in the way of your loved ones. There are many that look down on people who live together before marriage.
For example, many Catholics don’t approve of it. So, perhaps one or both of you grew up in a family that went to church all the time and followed the teachings of the church very closely. If you decide to stray from the spiritual guidelines, then your family could get very angry.
If both people’s family and friends are against moving in, well, that’s bad. However, even if one of you has a family that is not approving but the other one is, that can still cause a problem. The partner whose family is fine with it may not understand why the other person’s family isn’t.
In extreme circumstances, this can cause people to lose relationships with their family and/or friends. So, it’s something to seriously consider before you decide to move in together.
2. Lack of Support Could Weaken Your Relationship
Living together with your partner is a big decision, whether you are getting married or not. Heck, living with anyone else other than yourself is not always easy. Sure, having a roommate can make you less lonely, but lots of challenges might come along with it too.
So, if you don’t have the support of your social system, it will probably impact your relationship—and not for the better. There may be stress and resentment that lurks in the air between the two of you. It may be spoken or unspoken, and it might not even have anything to do with the two of you specifically, but the outside forces can cause you to have conflict anyway.
Living with anyone can be a struggle sometimes in and of itself. If you’ve had roommates before, then you know what I’m talking about. So, without a good support system in place, you can put your relationship at risk because it could create new difficulties that you and your partner have not dealt with yet.
3. You Will Save Money, But It Could Weaken Your Bond
When you are single or simply live alone, you are in complete control of your finances. No one can tell you what you can or can’t spend your money on. But when you move in with your significant other, that can change.
Sure, you might still have separate bank accounts, but you will be sharing expenses. Decisions like how will the rent/mortgage be paid or who will pay for the groceries and utilities will need to be dealt with, and you may have very different opinions about how it should be done.
And then there’s the problem of outside and/or individual spending. Maybe one of you is a “spender” and one is a “saver.” The saver is going to be upset when the spender spends their money if they think it is irresponsible.
For example, maybe one of you thinks buying a $200 outfit for the fun of it is a good idea, and the other thinks it’s a stupid decision. Or maybe one wants to spend $300 to make a gourmet meal, and the other thinks it’s a waste of money. These kinds of differences in how you spend money can cause a lot of problems between couples.
Cohabitation’s Effect on Marriage Stability and Satisfaction
On an intuitive level, it would seem to make sense that couples who had already tried out the proposition of living together and intimately tested their compatibility, would be able to make a better-informed decision as to whether or not to get hitched, and would thus have a more solid and successful marriage.
Yet, almost a dozen studies conducted since the 1970s have shown the very opposite outcome — that cohabitation prior to marriage is linked to lower marital happiness and stability and a higher chance of divorce. This substantial body of research found that couples who lived together before getting married were in fact 33% more likely to split up than those who didn’t.
Researchers called this paradoxical finding “the cohabitation effect” and frequently surmised that it had more to do with who decided to cohabitate than with cohabitation itself. That is, because more “unconventional” types — folks who were less religious and less committed to the institution of marriage — were more likely to live together before marriage, they were also more likely to seek a divorce if the relationship went sour. The cohabitation effect was thus an issue of correlation, rather than causation.
While plenty of evidence exists to support this theory, most studies still found the cohabitation effect even when controlling for things like religion, politics, and education, leading researchers to conclude that cohabitation itself, rather than simply who practiced it, did have some influence on increasing the chance of divorce and lowering martial satisfaction.
Nonetheless, as cohabitation has become more common, and been picked up by a broader and more conventional swath of the population, its negative impact on divorce has indeed declined and even disappeared. A recent study that analyzed only those couples that had been married since 1996, found no link between cohabitation before marriage and instability afterward. A 2012 report from the CDC likewise posited “that the association between premarital cohabitation and marital instability for first marriages may have weakened over time because it is less apparent for more recent birth cohorts.”
What’s important to note here, however, is that while there may be emerging evidence that cohabitation isn’t harmful to marriage stability, there isn’t any evidence that it is helpful. It may not increase your chances of getting a divorce, but it doesn’t at all decrease them, either.
Further, even when couples who cohabited before marriage don’t actually split up, there’s evidence to suggest they’re less happy in their marriage than those who moved in after the wedding. Many older studies have found a link between prenuptial cohabitation and a decrease in martial satisfaction, while more recent research showed that, even when controlling for selection factors, married couples who had lived together before getting married (or engaged) “had more negative interactions, lower interpersonal commitment, lower relationship quality, and lower relationship confidence,” and were almost twice as likely to have at some point suggested divorce.
All of this is to say that while it’s popularly thought you would have to be crazy to marry someone you hadn’t lived with before, cohabitation in fact offers no protective value whatsoever, and no advantage over moving in together after walking down the aisle.
As one researcher sums it up: “no positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.”
What accounts for this counterintuitive conclusion?
It may be that cohabitation isn’t actually all that good as practice for marriage. In The Defining Decade, clinical psychologist Meg Jay, who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, observes that living with one’s significant other tends to be more like “an intersection between college roommate and sex partner than a lifelong commitment between two spouses.” She describes the experience of a typical cohabiting couple:
“They vaguely had the idea of testing their relationship, but they didn’t venture into areas that typically stress a marriage: They didn’t pay a mortgage, try to get pregnant, get up in the night with kids, spend holidays with in-laws when they didn’t want to, save for college and retirement, or see each other’s paychecks and credit-card bills.”
“Living with someone may have benefits,” Jay concludes, “but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.”
It may also be the case that the positive benefit of getting to know all of a partner’s lifestyle quirks during a period of non-martial cohabitation is balanced out by the negative relational habits picked up during that time.
Research has shown that “Spouses who cohabited before marriage demonstrated more negative and less positive problem solving and support behaviors compared to spouses who did not cohabit,” a finding that held even when “sociodemographic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal functioning variables” were controlled for. Researchers theorize that because living together before marriage is viewed as a potentially temporary “test drive,” partners are less motivated to really dig in and learn the conflict resolution skills that make for a healthy long-term relationship, and marriage. During the cohabitation period, a pattern of partial commitment, even if subconscious, becomes ingrained, and then is carried over into married life.
An even more significant factor in the decreased satisfaction of spouses who lived together before getting married, is that they may have “settled” for each other — having slid into marriage rather than making a more deliberate decision to get hitched.
At the end of the day, the choice of whether to move in together before marriage is ultimately between the two of you. As you can see, there is no clear right or wrong answer—it is just as unique of a decision as the couple itself.
So, whatever you decide, just make sure that you and your partner have important conversations about it, and you are both are very clear about the pros and the cons. Then, just do your best and trust that everything will work out how it’s supposed to.