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Should You Make a Habit of Cohabitation?

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Can living together before marriage serve as a successful test-drive for a relationship and help couples avoid divorce? Research suggests otherwise.

We all know the reasons to move in with your significant other before marriage.  For a man, his home suddenly smells wonderful, like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, white sandy beaches and fields of wild dandelions. Clean underwear magically appears, the toilet paper holder is always full and bed linens are soft enough to frost cakes with. For a woman, her home is suddenly transformed into a technologically hooked up, smart house, a wired masterpiece and things miraculously find their way to the walls. The shelves are finally mounted, the cable box somehow starts to function and the internet stops going in and out. Many couples just opt to cohabitate out of financial convenience, to test out the waters, or because of a “we’re already here, so why not?” mentality.

As such, many couples take the plunge before they say, “I do”. And cohabitation before marriage has simply become part of our normal, typical life course. This is especially common for younger people. In fact, thirty or forty years ago, cohabitation was relatively rare before marriage. In 1970 only about 500,000 couples lived together in un-wedded bliss. Now, nearly 5 million opposite-sex couples in the United States live together outside of marriage and more than 50 percent of couples who marry today have lived together beforehand. Yes, these numbers are staggering. These days, many couples think it would be idiotic not to live with someone before marriage. They don’t want to end up the way their parents or older relatives did, which is divorced. They conclude that living together, finding out if you can actually can, will help to minimize the risk of divorce in the future.

Despite all of the reasons to move in together before marriage, there are many reasons not to. A revealing recent study shows, in fact, that couples that live together before marriage have a higher likelihood of divorce.

Just The Facts

In 2009, a study was conducted by the Journal of Family Psychology of more than 1,000 married men and women between the ages of 18 and 34, who had been married 10 years or less. Of those studied, about 40 percent of participants reported they didn’t live together before marriage, 43 percent did so before engagement, and about 16 percent cohabited only after getting engaged.

Overall, the study discovered the following:

1. Couples living together before marriage have a higher chance of getting divorced than those who wait until they were engaged or married.

2. Upwards of 70 percent of U.S. couples are cohabiting these days before marrying. This means a large number of couples are setting themselves up for divorce.

3. About 19 percent of those who cohabited before getting engaged had ever suggested divorce compared with just 12 percent of those who only moved in together after getting engaged and 10 percent of participants who did not cohabit prior to the wedding bells.

Those are the facts. Despite conventional wisdom that living together before marriage will screen out poor matches and therefore improve subsequent marital stability, empirical evidence demonstrates that premarital cohabitation is in fact associated with lowered marital stability. Despite the findings, more couples than ever before are living together before marriage. Should you reserve that U-Haul truck? Unpack your bags? Be armed with the facts, but in the final analysis, the choice is yours.

Marriage is going to be a complicated, confusing, exciting adventure regardless of whether you live with your mate before saying, “I do.” You increase your chances of failure through all sorts of ways. Marrying outside your faith, for example. Getting married at a young age. At the end of the day, marriage is two people full of doubts, shortcomings, and love, holding hands and jumping together. You make the best, most informed decision you can, you commit and you don’t look back. It’s a risk, fraught with the potential to fail, and that makes it beautiful. The two people hop, stumble, get back up, and maybe hit a stride until they fall again.

Marriage is different to each person and every couple. The path to getting there is as well.  You can’t argue with the facts, though. Maybe the study is right after all. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you should put off 500 thread count linens and a functioning cable box for a higher chance at a successful marriage.

One Response to Should You Make a Habit of Cohabitation?

  1. vmanlow says:

    Where are these guys who will mount shelves and turn the apartment into a technological dream world?! This is a very interesting article. The types of people who don’t cohabitate have a very different logic: for instance the very religious and those more traditionally committed to marriage as an institution. It is not the living together that will diminish the chances but the approach toward marriage that those who cohabitate tend to have. In many European countries where cohabitation is even more common people tend to enter into cohabitation in a very serious way (often with a domestic partnership). Therefore the outcome is very different. In the US many people enter into cohabitation quite casually, as a test run. Some feel then end up marrying people by default, falling into something that they wouldn’t have gotten into had they taken the time to think about it more rationally.

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