Should I Move In With My Boyfriend Before We Get Married?

From the New York Times:

“Nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, ‘You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.’ About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.”

That’s a bit counterintuitive. Why would people who tested out the idea of marriage by living together be MORE likely to break up?”

Says the article, “Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage.”

Which is to say that it’s simple inertia between two people who have way too many sunk costs that is leading people to the altar – not the desire to be married.

This makes sense. After four years together and no proposal, many men relent to marriage, only to find out that their resistance should have been honored. Women stay in dead-end relationships for far too long because it’s too scary to leave. They think the ring will fix the problem, but it doesn’t.

“The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.”

As for me, I’m in favor of cohabiting, despite the statistics. I really think it’s a much more accurate reflection of married life than when you spend weeknights talking on the phone and weekends making love. Living together is reality.

What couples need to do now is realize that if you’re not happy living with someone, you shouldn’t lock it in. Which, apparently, is news to some people.

Read the New York times article here and share your thoughts. Have you lived with someone? Are you married to that person now?

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Keri C

    I lived with my ex of ten years. The last three years we lived together and things got worse. I’m not married to him now and I’m glad we never got married. I saw a different side to him when we lived together. His behavior was very disappointing. I made the right decision to break it off.

  2. 2
    Deannie

    I have yet to live with someone and it lead to long term commitment.

  3. 3
    Rudy37lee

    I’ve lived with 3 of my boyfriends. I can definitely say we learned a lot more about each other living together than we would have learned if we had lived seperately. I don’t regret it at all and I don’t think I would ever marry someone without living with them first. I started dating my fiance a little over a year ago, we moved in together after 3 months of dating and were engaged 5 months after that. It’s going well :o)

  4. 4
    Kate

    I don’t think I’d move in with someone without a ring on my finger. That’s just me though…

    Kate x

  5. 5
    Jane

    The NY Times author left out one important issue. Many long-term cohabiting couples intentionally or accidentally have a child along the way. I read about this phenomena in another article. What happens is the man sometimes decides he wants out of the “living together” relationship. The result is a woman left behind with a child, but without the benefits of child and spousal support, etc. that would come out of a divorce. A sad and sobering thought that was overlooked in the NY Times article.

  6. 6
    Jewel

    @Jane-surely if a mans name is on the birth certificate he would have a legal and financial responsibility to his own child. This may be how it works in the States, but elsewhere if you live together for 2 years you have the same rights as if you were married.

  7. 7
    Selena

    To determine a correlation to divorce rates among those who live together first and those who don’t, research would have to be able to follow all couples till death did they part. That is, if the current research is studying couples who’s marriages ended within 5 years, they are drawing conclusions based on people who are currently married, but may not be after 10, 15, 20 years or more. The longer someone was married, the less likely they are to attribute divorce to the factor they lived together/ didn’t live together first.

    A state license doesn’t make existing problems in a relationship go away. Those who live together on a day to day basis, may be more aware of such problems, than those who spend less time together. And decide to marry despite them.

    And then there comes a day when they decide,”I don’t want to do this anymore.” Because they’ve lived together longer, that day may come sooner opposed to those who didn’t start living together until their wedding night. And the couple who lived together prior to marriage may be more psychologically prepared to end a marriage, than those who didn’t. And this is without taking into account religious/moral values which may still factor heavily for those who don’t live together before marriage and who may view divorce as a stigma.

  8. 8
    soul

    @ Selena

    I think your comment is extremely smart

  9. 9
    Paul Mawdsley

    One thing is clear: neither cohabitation before marriage nor marriage before cohabitation is a guaranteed prevention for divorce.

    Divorce sucks! I’ve been there. I know it. The breakup of my marriage, and the insanely intense relationship that followed with someone else who was going through the same thing, was the most deeply painful, dramatic, vulnerable and traumatic time in my life. It is definitely something to fear. But, like with the supernova of a star, having your world explode can leave you with the pieces to rebuild in a healthier, stronger, new way. I found that embracing it paves the path to deep personal growth and healthier relationships.

    People should fear divorce. They should fear it more than their fear of opening up to their deepest, most vulnerable levels and allowing their lover all the way inside. The reality is that there is no guarantee of forever. And commitment is something we do, or don’t do, inside. Focussing on the outward signs of commitment like moving in together, getting joint bank accounts, getting a ring or getting married is focussing on an image without substance. It is delusion. It is reversing causality. Commitment starts inside and works its way outwards, not the other way around.

    The underlying story here is one of anxiety. “Men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment” because they fear opening up and getting hurt and need evidence that they can trust opening up. “Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage” because they need a guarantee that they can trust opening up without getting hurt. There will never be enough evidence and there are no guarantees.

    Opening up takes trust in oneself to deal with whatever feelings we might experience, wonderful or painful, and to trust ourselves not to lose our autonomous existence in the relationship. Without this self-trust, without the courage to open up all the way down, there is no chance at forever and any relationship will have a due date built in. With self-trust we are open to connect deeply and create a mutually shared safe space and shared life. Without self-trust we are driven to reduce anxiety through controlling our outsides; our relationships and our world. Controlling behaviour between lovers destroys the feeling of a safe space that creates mutual trust. Our desire for healthy drives us towards divorce when we find ourselves in this destructive context of control.

    In my mind, marriage is a social statement, not a commitment. Commitment happens in the heart. If you don’t feel it, don’t do it.

    1. 9.1
      Olga Medina

      Well written Paul. I agree

  10. 10
    Stacy

    I have always been opposed to “open ended” living together situations. If a woman sees living together as a step towards marriage, she should also have a clear timeline in her head as to when the proposal should happen, and if it’s not happening by that date she should be fully prepared to walk out of that relaitonship, and plan her life accordingly, i.e. have a place to go, money to move etc. I also think it would be a good idea to discuss it with the guy beforehand so that this timeline doesn’t come as a complete surprise to him.

  11. 11
    Daphne

    @Evan, when cohabiting, what is the incentive for getting married ?
    @Stacy, refusing to move in together before marriage makes that timeline *very* clear, and makes that conversation unnecessary.

    1. 11.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Daphne “The incentive for getting married?” How about “getting married”?

      If either a man or a woman WANTS to get married, just living together is not enough. Why would you think a man needs to be incentivized to get married?

  12. 12
    AnnaMae

    I think that yes you should co-habit before marriage, if I had married my ex prior to moving in, it would have been a sorry state of affairs. Luckily it never came to that and we both came away with cleanish slates. At least with living with the person initially, you get to truly know them, warts and all, and it gives you a clearer picture and a better base for the marriage to work and last

  13. 13
    kdr

    Those who would not live together before marriage are also more likely to have very strong religious or other personal reasons to view divorce as “not an option”. They may be far more reluctant to divorce than those who would consider cohabitation without marriage. I believe that may skew the statistics.

  14. 14
    Henriette

    Meh. I think inertia too often sets in once a couple “shacks up.” It’s cozy, it’s half-way done, it’s easier to get married than to split up and divide all the furniture and find two new apartments… People generally don’t think of moving in together as a serious commitment so do it when they’re still in the heat of new love, and moving in then leads to a slipperly slope of “sliding into” marriage. I think it works better to be in all the way (married) or not in at all (not living together). I value my own space too much to give it up unless I’m sure I’m totally changing my whole paradigm.

  15. 15
    Erin

    Articles like this one annoy me because they are often taken as something etched in stone and definitive. Many couples who live together have very long lasting marriages; many do not. Likewise, many people who did not cohabitate have wonderful marriages, and many do not. There is not one magic ‘thing’ that guarantees happiness in marriage; that is determined by the couple and how much they work on their own relationship. Assuredly, there are factors that can help a couple: taking their time, lots of discussion about goals and values ahead of time, etc. But for every couple who took their time and did it ‘right’ there is a couple who jumped right in and are thriving in their marriages and there is also a couple who took its time and still fell flat on its face.

    There are so many variables that figure in when determining which couples make it and which don’t. As an un married woman, I don’t know for sure what the secret is, but my parents have been married for 40 years, and I have been witness to 30 years of it. Their marriage was not always perfect; in fact they are going through an extremely rough spot right now. But it has always been clear to me that the marriages that work are the ones where both people are ready to be and want to be married, and once they are married, they work very hard to stay married. For my parents, even when they didn’t like each other very much, they still wanted to be married to each other; divorce simply wasn’t an option.

    Nothing’s going to determine yea or nay on the fate of your relationship–not cohabitation, age, education, wealth, your sun sign, the color of your hair or if you were born in the year of the dragon. It all boils down to the people themselves.

  16. 16
    Selena

    Re: #15 Erin:
    “There are so many variables that figure in when determining which couples make it and which don’t. ”

    That and:
    There are so many different reasons couples divorce that have absolutely no correlation to whether the couple lived together or not. I wonder if these statistical compilations include the reason for divorce and how that data is analyzed. Do they include how long a couple was married before divorcing? It’s one thing to infer there is a relationship between co-habitation and divorce in couples married a scant few years. Co-habitation prior to marriage becomes irrelevant the longer the marriage lasts. Example: a couple lives together 2 yrs., marry, divorce after 20 because they feel they’ve grown apart. Living together before marriage obviously has no bearing on why they divorced. Would still be part of the statistical compilation though.

    It’s not the stats that are the problem, it’s the interpretation of them and what variables are obscured, or left out entirely.

  17. 17
    Heather

    Evan,

    I strongly disagree. I lived with my ex husband before we married, and that marriage was such a disaster. He never took our marriage seriously, and always had one foot out the door.

    I refuse to live with a man pre-engagement, ever again. My guy has broached the topic with me and I made it crystal clear that a ring has to be on my hand and a wedding date set, before I’ll move in with a man I’m in a relationship with, ever again. I don’t want to be that invested financially, emotionally, logistically, unless it’s someone I’m marrying. No thanks. Been there, done that, and have the broken heart to prove it……

  18. 18
    Selena

    @Heather #18

    Do you think your marriage wouldn’t have been “such a disaster” if you hadn’t lived together first? What would have been different? How can you be sure the factors that made it a disaster wouldn’t have manifested anyway?

  19. 19
    Karl R

    Daphne asked: (#11)
    “when cohabiting, what is the incentive for getting married?”

    I agree with Evan (#16). If a man wants to get married, he’ll get married. He won’t be interested in just cohabitating.

    Heather said: (#18)
    “I strongly disagree. I lived with my ex husband before we married, and that marriage was such a disaster. He never took our marriage seriously, and always had one foot out the door.”

    1. He never took your marriage seriously.
    2. He always had one foot out the door.

    It sounds like your marriage was going to be a disaster regardless of cohabitation. Do you think it would have worked out better if you hadn’t lived together first? Or are you saying that you wouldn’t have married him if you weren’t already living together?

  20. 20
    Heather

    @ Karl:

    I don’t know, since this was many years ago, and when I moved in with him, I had very poor self esteem so I never saw all the huge warning signs that this guy was an abusive ass.

    Also, I don’t want to spend all my time, day and night, with a guy before I get married. There’ll be time enough for that after marriage. I am over at my boyfriend’s often enough to know that we are different in terms of housekeeping and other things, and that it would have to be worked out between us. But that doesn’t mean I want to move in and figure that out right away.

    If cohabiting works for other couples and they end up having a great marriage, good for them. But it didn’t work for me and I’m not going to be the living definition of insanity, which is to keep doing the same thing over and over, yet expect different results.

  21. 21
    Kurt

    I personally wouldn’t live with a woman unless I was already engaged to her.

  22. 22
    Fusee

    Stats are interesting to assess trends but they can not be the predictor of any individual situation. They blend everything together, and illustrates what happens when people do not think. Most people do not think.

    Every couple is different and will need to make their decisions together based on their specifics. The problem as usual is the lack of self-knowledge, communication, and understanding on how life works.

    To me the most interesting parts of the article are:
    1. “She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.” *** No matter how tempting it is, sliding must be avoided when facing important life decisions. Each ignificant step has to be discussed and decisions have to be made together with the understanding of one another’s goals and expectations. We must refrain from taking the path of least resistance, and this often involves giving up instant gratification.

    2. “Cohabitation is here to stay, and there are things young adults can do to protect their relationships from the cohabitation effect. It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step toward, rather than a convenient test for, marriage or partnership.” *** Sliding from first date to sex, from sex to cohabitation, and from cohabitation to marriage is the illustration of a lack of open and clear communication and therefore of understanding of the meaning that each partner places on each of these steps. That’s why so many people end up in long-term cohabitations that never progress to marriage. And that’s why so many ladies fearing to involve themselves with someone who will not marry them need to figure this question at the first date, which is obviously unreasonnable. It’s very easy to get stuck on the step where one of the partner gets what they want (including “figuring themselves out” if this is where they are at in life) while the other is in emotional debt, giving a bit more that is truly comfortable, waiting for more progression.

    My motto is: if you can’t talk about it, do not do it! My second motto is: do not do “this” to get “that”, or if you have to take that risk, make sure the “that” is really an option and agree on the conditions to get there before giving the “this”.

    In my relationship, each next step has been a good place to pause and have an enriching discussion on the meaning we attach to it. Physical touch is the first step where before it happens I can share my desire of keeping the physical involvement to exclusive relationships and evaluate whether my need will be accepted or rejected. Sex is the second step where I can first assess the potential for marriage, if everything works out down the line of course, and decide whether it is worth a more intimate involvment on my part. Cohabitation is a major step where much more has to be discussed beforehand, such as goals, what we need to work on to solidify the relationship, ideal timeline, what ifs, etc.

    Personally I refuse to make any significant life change for someone I am not yet married with, such as moving in with that person. I would therefore never agree to a open-ended and up-in-the-air cohabitation. Not emotionally comfortable for me and a pretty sure way to weaken the relationship instead of bringing it to the next level. But I’m willing to be flexible depending on the specifics. Being in a long-distance situation where only monthly visits are possible, my boyfriend and I decided to cohabit at my place for three months to make sure we do function well together. It would indeed be rather unreasonnable to make such a big decision without this step since we do not have the opportunity to spend much time at each other’s homes. But we are self-revealing, truthful communicators, and very clear about what we need to work on and what our common goals are. After three months, we’ll make a decision about marriage.

    At the end of the day, cohabiting before marriage does not matter as much as all the conversations that should happen we the relationship is becoming serious. But what happens usually is that people who first cohabit do not have these necessary conversations. They somehow hope to get a deal and avoid them. They bypass a crucial step that could save them much heartache, or that could really bring the relationship to the next level.

  23. 23
    Karl R

    Heather said: (#21)
    “I’m not going to be the living definition of insanity, which is to keep doing the same thing over and over, yet expect different results.”

    The first time I tried to do a headstand, I broke a finger.

    Following your “logic”, I should expect to continue breaking fingers if I continue attempting headstands.

    I’ve done at least 100 headstands. I learned how to do them correctly (without breaking any more fingers).

    In order to succeed in life, you have to be capable of trying again after you fail. Even if you catastrophically fail on your first attempt. The key is to learn something from each failure, so your next attempt is not exactly the same. (I believe my first 60 attempts at handstands were failures. I did it over and over until I got it right.)

    I don’t care whether you cohabitate. That’s a personal decision. But you’re using a really poor excuse.

  24. 24
    AnnieC

    @9

    That was wonderfully put and I agree with almost all of it.

    I don’t think of marriage as “commitment” per se given today’s standards.

    The problem today, is people have no reference point. They change the word marrriage, and now it is called commitment. They are one and the same thing conceptually, just using different words.

    It’s why I want to get married. Because I know what it is that I’m commiting to, and it IS self-trust, and it IS the ability to be open with another for the long haul.

    I think due to divorce being so easy to obtain, marriage has changed it’s meaning and therefore we look for this very hazy concept called “commitment” instead of marriage. Marriage is seen more and more like an expensive farce, It’s about the “special day” the “wedding” the etc etc nonsense.

    It’s a shame, because marriage used to mean, what you say when you talk about commitment. It wasn’t just a piece of paper and everyone “knew” what it really meant.

    It still means that to me.

  25. 25
    SJZ

    First of all divorce is NOT easy. I have been there. Legally it is expensive and emotionally it is devastating. That being said, maybe if we made getting married as hard as it is legally to get divorced, more couples would really think about what a lifetime commitment would mean. As for having children, being married is very important. If neither person wants to make the commitment to marriage, don’t add children to the equation.

  26. 26
    Saint Stephen

    Karl R, i disagree that heather’s excuse is a poor one. And i also realize that you seem to be making heather’s point, perhaps the difference is the diction being employed.

    Heather isn’t given up on Marriage in it’s entirety – though her first one ended up a disaster. Rather she’s applying your logic by her using a different approach in making her next attempt , which signifies that she’s learnt something useful and tangible from her past mistakes. Success is not all about persistence, sometimes methods and approach matters a lot.

    Thomas Edison tried 9,000 different methods before he could eventually succeed in inventing the light bulb. He didn’t try one method 9,000 times. Now that would have been the practical definition of insanity.

  27. 27
    Karl R

    Stephen said: (#27)
    “Rather she’s applying your logic by her using a different approach in making her next attempt , which signifies that she’s learnt something useful and tangible from her past mistakes.”

    If Heather wants to use a different approach (and have better results), then she needs to address the issues that caused the relationship to fail (and she’s identified about five of those).

    1. Heather had low self esteem
    2. Her husband never took the marriage seriously.
    3. Her husband always had one foot out the door.
    4. Her husband was an abusive ass.
    5. Heather ignored the warning signs.

    How does Heather’s decision to avoid cohabitating fix any of those issues? If Heather gets into another relationship that has most (or all) of those issues, that new relationship is going to fail too … even if they don’t cohabitate.

    Making a change (if it’s an irrelevant change) does not signify that a person has learned something useful and tangible from their mistakes.

  28. 28
    Saint Stephen

    Karl R,
    Nice dissent but i’m still not sold. You seem to be implying that there’s no correlation between 1-5 of the outlined cause of her failed marriage. Is really possible that Heather ignored the warning signs because her self-esteem wasn’t sufficient enough to leave and it’s also possible that her self-esteem couldn’t get any higher because her living-boyfriend… well, very much made sure of that. Besides, cohabitation which happens to be a semi-form of marriage makes break-up seem pretty harder b/c each other’s personal belongings has gotten conflated already, hence, any party who perceives any form of negativity will far more likely stick it out, which is very much unlikely if they were living apart.

    Heather has already identified the cause of her failed marriage, so I’m in support of whatever floats her next boat.

  29. 29
    Ellen

    I lived with my first husband for 2 years before we got married in 1975. What bothered me was he gave me this huge bum’s rush prior to moving in together- gave me a ring, promises….

    then nothing- for two years. The subject of marriage never came up (he didn’t initiate it). So along about August 1975 I told him if we didn’t marry before year’s end, I was “out of here, etc”. So I gave him an ultimatum (which, I learned as an older adult, never work really).

    So we married in December of 1975 but were too young- both of us. But getting married in your early- to- mid 20’s was fairly routine then, so we thought nothing of it. People matured faster back then and didn’t spend decades just having fun like they do now, postponing adulthood nearly indefinitely.

    Then we were married for about 7 years when he cheated on me and I caught him. All told I think he probably cheated on me several times, but the last relationship broke us up.

    But I digress…..For many years that hurt lingered and I told myself I would never live with a man again without marriage.

    The second time I got married it was principally probably to have kids, but I didn’t cohabit with him. That marriage lasted 25 years….

    Now at age 59 I have NO desire to marry again and if I found myself in a situation where I would want to live with a man indefinitely I would insist on a pre-nup. Standard pre-nups are now being written for each state’s laws specifically (even for just co-habiting couples, not married).

    The only problem with the above is the difficulty in bringing up these topics: money, what to do in an emergency, who pays what, etc. I JUST can’t see myself asking the man I LOVE and respect to sign one, esp. if he is at a disadvantage financially. I am comfortable financially, frugal for the most part, so all of this would be extremely difficult for me to navigate emotionally I think. The guy I’m dating is the first in three years I COULD see living with though so this problem may rear its ugly head before too much longer.

    But just in general I think living together is seldom advantageous for the female and so to be avoided at all costs. Or, if you must “test the waters” live together for 2-3 months, tops to see if you are compatible that way. Then quickly marry….

  30. 30
    Karl R

    Stephen said: (#29)
    “it’s also possible that her self-esteem couldn’t get any higher because her living-boyfriend… well, very much made sure of that.”

    That (hypothetical) problem is caused by the boyfriend, not the living arrangement.

    Stephen said: (#29)
    “cohabitation which happens to be a semi-form of marriage makes break-up seem pretty harder b/c each other’s personal belongings has gotten conflated already, hence, any party who perceives any form of negativity will far more likely stick it out, which is very much unlikely if they were living apart.”

    Before my fiancée got married (the first time), she realized that it was probably a mistake. But the parents (on both sides) were planning a big wedding, so she felt she couldn’t back out. (In particular, her mother put a lot of pressure on her to go through with it.)

    They weren’t living together, but it seemed harder to break up at that point than to just go through with it.

    The problem you describe is not caused by cohabitation. It’s caused by the perception that breaking up now is hard, the failure to realize that breaking up later will be harder, and the foolish hope that the problem will somehow resolve itself if they just ignore it.

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