Should You Live With Your Boyfriend Before You Get Married?

I got into a thing with a reader on Facebook a few weeks ago. I was saying some version of what I’ve been saying for 10 years – that while it’s nice to feel that you “just know” when it’s right and rush to the altar, science reveals that it’s usually a bad idea.

This upset her terribly, because I was suggesting that she was “wrong” and nobody likes it when someone makes them wrong. But there are certain issues where it’s not about opinions or feelings; it’s about facts and figures. And since we have data on what works and what doesn’t, I think we’d be remiss to ignore the data.

Believe me, I understand her contention: she has a friend who met her husband at a bar, got married in two months and they’re still together thirty years later. That’s lovely, but it’s not a compelling argument, especially when studies show us that people who get married within the first year are more likely to get divorced. My reader wanted her feelings to be true, because it would justify her decisions to dive into passionate relationships. It was much harder to hear that her methodology for choosing partners (“being in love”) is not always the best way.

Living together doesn’t guarantee a great marriage, but it is a smart precursor for people to figure out if they can live together in peace.

A similar argument takes place around cohabitation. For years, people have said that living together was a bad idea and that people did so were more likely to get divorced. Those are old numbers, according to this study reported in The Atlantic.

Moving in together without a diamond ring involved didn’t, on its own, lead to divorce. Instead…the longer couples waited to make that first serious commitment, the better their chances for marital success…Individuals who committed to cohabitation or marriage at the age of 18 saw a 60 percent rate of divorce. Whereas individuals who waited until 23 to commit saw a divorce rate that hovered more around 30 percent.

“For so long, the link between cohabitation and divorce was one of these great mysteries in research,” Kuperberg says. “What I found was that it was the age you settled down with someone, not whether you had a marriage license, that was the biggest indicator of a relationship’s future success.”

Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900 percent over the last 50 years. More and more, couples are testing the waters before diving into marriage. Census data from 2012 shows that 7.8 million couples are living together without walking down the aisle, compared to 2.9 million in 1996. And two-thirds of couples married in 2012 shared a home together for more than two years  before they ever waltzed down an aisle.

Living together doesn’t guarantee a great marriage, but it is a smart precursor for people to figure out if they can live together in peace. The dangers of living together are mostly about inertia: couples stay in relationships longer than they should because once they live with someone, it can be harder to find the escape hatch.

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.


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  1. 31

    Re;”So girls should act like 1950′s ladies instead of slutting around but also move in with people…?”
    I have never slept with a man that I was not married too (I am 38) and have only now found
    the man I would dearly love to spend the rest of my life with.(Hes divorced, one child)
    We do other things in bed (Non intercourse) Because I love him and want to show my love,
    but wish to know if he will be mine before I relinquish said virginity.
    I do not want 25% of a man I want 100%…I am happy to give my all and I expect the same back.
    I was brought up old school and I am trying not to dishonour my parents –  It has not been easy!!

    1. 31.1

      And now I see the perspective much more clearly! I would say, good on you for that.  Consistent principles and an upright character are probably the most attractive things for long term relationships.  My only comment, if you would live with him, how in the world could you control yourself to not overstep your boundaries? Takes an insanely strong person to do that… I would certainly never be capable :P As my partner said, mija when we are married and live together sex 4 times a day is normal! Maybe once the babies come, once a day.  My face was a sight after that little revelation :D

  2. 32

    I know this is a touchy subject and I think we all need to take a step back. Mostly, because I think this post has descended into an insecurity-fest. Just because it worked or didn’t/doesn’t work for you; doesn’t mean it will or will not for someone else.
    Have I cohabitated? Yes. Did it work out? No. However, it wouldn’t have worked out regardless of living together or not. At 29 years old I have seen cohabitating relationships work and fail for all sorts of reasons. Often times because of relationship inertia. It is real! And it is often exacerbated by cohabitation. People get married, and DON’T get married over it.
    I don’t agree solidly that people should or should not cohabitate. I generally lean towards NOT cohabitating, but that is because the majority of people I talk to (queue the anecdotal evidence) are cohabiting out of convenience and inertia. I would definitely support that couple who is cohabiting as a stepping stone to marriage. What needs to be looked at is people’s reasons. If cohabitating makes you personally more secure in your choice than go ahead and do it. Conversely, the same is true for those who choose not to cohabitate. If being married first makes you more secure than do that. After all, isn’t this debate truly about feeling secure in one’s choice of partner?

  3. 33

    Yes with friends who have cohabited first aprox 70% have gone on to pick up the pieces when
    it did not lead to marriage and 30% have married…..Not great odds…
    Re;” if you would live with him, how in the world could you control yourself to not overstep your boundaries”
    Well he respects me, as I so far have no bad history etc…and he takes me more seriously than
    previous GF’s who have had many sexual partners. he says I am special because of it etc
    and he knows I will give it up to him long before any honeymoon….
    I have gotten old because couldn’t find a good match and also due to 24/7 Caring duties for a loved one which curtailed my life for decade plus etc)
    He has said, Unless I am able to commit to you,I do not want to get sexual with you.
    He does not pressure me, He jokes,”It’s like dating a Muslim” lol….
    Also he is open and honest (this is sooo hard to find) He has had a lot of sexual partners.
    So I feel I have done my best to be a decent lady and if I move in at some point, and it does
    not work out,I will only have one sexual partner on the slate,not to bad all things considered.
    He says “He never knows if a r/ship will last until hes lived with the woman for two years
    (Prob is I do not really like this I wish to marry and then work very hard of my marriage not be thinking we will “see how it goes” …I do wish he could be more like me…..well will see how it goes!…..   

  4. 34

    Coitus 4 times a day??..
    There would not be much time too do anything else!…
    *Regains Consciousness* ;-)
    I agree during first year of marriage will be a lot!… I will try my hardest (no matter how tired or unwell I may be feeling I will be generous to my man! (but I hope a pattern will settle down,
    max 3 times a week!)

  5. 35

    Ok, I’ll chime in. I haven’t read all comments because there are a lot of them but I’m getting the feeling a lot of women think they shouldn’t live together before marriage. I felt the same way after my last failed cohabiting agreement didn’t lead to marriage. (Thank god it didn’t!)
    However I’ve been in a relationship for about 8 months now that has totally changed my mind. Mr. Perfect and I openly discuss our goals of marriage and family planning. He gets credit for that because he’s shown me what open, honest communication really is and ladies! It’s amazing!
    Will I live with him before the ring? Most likely yes. That’s what discussions are leading to but am I worried I’ll never get a ring? Nope, not one tiny bit because we are totally on the same page. If anything he was more marriage minded than I was when we met.
    Is there a chance I’ll be blindsided? Sure, anything can happen but I trust this man without a doubt and I know any deal breakers would be a shock to him as well.
    So I think that what Evans saying is completely logical. By the time you move in with someone you should be at that point, the point where there is no wondering or fears because that’s all been discussed and worked out. It’s really not a test but getting all the living adjustments out of the way before starting the adjustment of being married is probably a real good idea. I’ve never been married and I know it’s going to be a culture shock for me because I’m so independent so anything the ease that transition is welcomed. 

    1. 35.1

      Jen, I am totally in the some boat. Some might think we are naive, I think we are going in with clear heads and without pressuring commitment before its time. Cheers!

      1. 35.1.1
        Karmic Equation

        Hmmm…I don’t think you’re in the same boat as Jen. It appears you moved in with your bf without discussing marriage. You’re not living together to “get all the living adjustments out of the way before starting the adjustment of being married”. In Jen’s scenario, she’s confident she’s heading towards marriage after 8 months of dating and she HASN’T YET moved in with him.
        I hope it all works out for you Julia. The only caveat is that if you’re “hoping” that living together will lead to marriage you could be in for a disappointment. If you “know” that he plans to marry you (because you have already discussed marriage and he is seriously considering marrying you) — that’s living together first is wise.
        Anything else, while no pressure for him, also provides no reassurance to you, who is looking for marriage because you want kids…other than that he loves you enough to live with you and commit to working on a relationship with you. And you’ve taken yourself off the market during some of your most eligible years.

        1. Julia

          Hmmm…I don’t think you’re in the same boat as Jen. It appears you moved in with your bf without discussing marriage. You’re not living together to “get all the living adjustments out of the way before starting the adjustment of being married”

           The conversation I had with him 10 days into dating is that I need to date a man who wants to get married and have children, he told me he knows what I want and is a longterm oriented man. When we began looking for places we discussed our housing needs, one of the agreed needs is 3 bedrooms. One for us, one for his office and one for a future child. We routinely tell one another that we are very sure that we found the one to spend the rest of our lives with. Did I tell him point blank “I will only move in with you if you agree to get engaged after X amount of time” No, I think that is pushy. Does everything we do together point towards us continuing on a path together? yes it absolutely does. I took myself off the market because he has proven himself a man worthy of taking me off the market. I am trusting in his commitment to me, he’s proven worthy of it. Now let’s see how it works out.

        2. Jenn

          I just wanted to give my perspective. I’ve never lived with a man but I know people who have lived together. I can say with confidence that it does sound to me like these situations are based on a lot of promises rather than actual commitment. Guys will say lots of things when relationships are new and exciting, but he may feel differently about the relationship after a while. Then you’d feel like you’re stuck because it will have been ages and still there’s no ring or wedding date on the table. If I could give any piece of advice that I think is important, it would be to not listen to what a man says, but watch what he does. Saying that he’s “long-term oriented” isn’t a true indication that he’s going to propose. Choosing a three-bedroom apartment because of the possibility that it could be turned into a child’s bedroom, isn’t a clear-cut sign that he definitely wants you to be the mother of his kids (that room could just as easily stay as a workout room/media room/den/etc.). Having discussions about marriage isn’t the same as him actually asking you to marry him. I just want women to understand that discussions are fine. But don’t just hang all your hopes on living together as a surefire step toward marriage, especially if there’s no ring or set wedding date. I agree that you should never give a man any timetable as to when he should propose, but it is smart to keep it in the back of your own mind. That way, if he’s not proposing and you have been together for a year or longer, you will not continue to waste your precious time on a guy who will waste your best years while he continues to drag his feet.

        3. Julia

          Interesting this post was brought up again. For the record, we got engaged at 9 months, without any ultimatums or timelines set by me.

          Anything else, while no pressure for him, also provides no reassurance to you, who is looking for marriage because you want kids…other than that he loves you enough to live with you and commit to working on a relationship with you. And you’ve taken yourself off the market during some of your most eligible years.

          And he took me off the market permanently.

        4. Henriette

          Julia!  I had no idea that you got engaged.  Congratulations, you adorable red panda, you.  I hope you’ll continue to frequent this site even after you’re married

        5. twinkle

          I think in theory, living together before marriage is a good idea, because it lets u know if living together will be, u know, a living HELL. Lol. Or not. Better to find out before marriage!

          I have always been shy and so I haven’t ever shared a room, even with my girlfriends, except on a few occasions back when we were kids on school trips. I got used to this and thus have deliberately avoided holidaying with friends/bfs, so I don’t have to share a room. The problem is, I’ve gotten so used to my personal space that I truly dread this part of being married–the ‘sharing a room’ part. Darn.

          Oh that’s a red panda? I thought it was a raccoon–no wonder it looked a bit different from the raccoons I’ve seen. It is flipping adorable. 

      2. 35.1.2

        Julia: I’m not looking to burst your bubble but honestly, when we do move in I will have no problem discussing timelines either. I won’t feel like it’s pressuring him…and if he thought I was sitting around wondering “when will he propose?!” he would be upset that I didn’t just ask or tell him what I want. That’s the point where you’re truly communicating and caring about each other. 

        I’m not saying the 2 of you don’t have what it takes or will never get to that point but if marriage is not an easily discussed topic then you’re just not there yet.  

  6. 36

    Julia, I am genuinely ecstatic that you have found someone who makes you happy and am pulling for you.  As a sensible woman, I am sure you will probably be fine.  But for the less experienced women out there who are contemplating doing what you have done after reading your post (that is, living together with a man after 5 months of dating) I would have to agree with Karmic, Jenn, and Jen and sound a note of caution for the less experienced daters.  First, I don’t think it is a good idea to make this kind of decision in the throes of romantic love.  One is much more clear-headed after this has turned into companionate love and your love has withstood the test of time.  Why the rush to move in?  If he is truly the one, then he is not going anywhere and you have time to go slow.  Second, in a mature relationship such as Jen describes, having a clear discussion about marriage is not pressuring the guy, because if he is as into you as you claim, then he should be just as eager to marry you as you think he should be.  Pressure only occurs when one is trying to convince the other party to do something that they don’t want, so if one feels like one is pressuring the guy only by talking about marriage, maybe this guy’s intentions aren’t as clear cut as he represents.
    One of the best pieces of advice Evan ever gave me when other women kept advising me to beat around the bush, read tea leaves, look for signs that he wanted to marry ME (not just the vague get married someday) was to just plain have a conversation.  A straightforward, logical, unemotional conversation.  Honey, if things continue to go well, I would like for us to get married in the next 2 years.  What do you think about that?  His response, “So that means we should be engaged in the next 1-1.5 years?”  Yes.  His response, “Okay, I can do that.”  Really, ,the most anti-climactic conversation I’ve ever had, after which we both knew where things stood exactly.  And given a concrete goal to work towards, he pretty much stuck to this timeline.  He told me later that it was actually helpful I told him this because otherwise it wouldn’t have occurred to him that I wanted to get married that soon and it would have taken him another extra year or two to propose out of inertia.  But after giving it some thought he realized I was right and stepped it up.
    A trial living together arrangement is all well and good, as long as the parties are clear what that “trial” is.  If one person thinks it’s a trial towards something else, and the other party thinks it’s the default arrangement, that’s when trouble starts.

  7. 37

    Here is something that I would have missed had I not co-habitated, at least on a part-time basis, with my boyfriend.
    His elderly mother, who lives with him, would bully me at his house (mostly only when he was not in the room). I came out of an abusive marriage (I think I might have PTSD), and her abuse triggered all the memories of my bad marriage, and I was miserable. When I would get upset from her mistreatment of me, instead of hugging me and thanking me for putting up with her for his sake, he would yell at me.
    She is in excellent health, and I realized it was not ever going to get better, and I didn’t need all that negative energy in my life. Even though I loved him, and he had many great qualities, I still ended the relationship.
    And, yes, it was so much easier to end the relationship without having attorneys involved. Still very painful, but I was so happy that I kept my home that I own. I will ALWAYS keep my own home. Even though I am low income, I own my home outright. I remember too well selling the family home and worrying about where I would live. I don’t ever want that worry again. A home is very important to a woman.

    1. 37.1

      Lily, did this behavior start right after you moved in with him? I just wanted to ask because it seems to me that if she were truly that horrible to live with (and he as well), there would maybe have been some signs of that prior to your moving in. Were you ever alone with her before you lived with him? How did she treat you then? If you did get some sense of a disagreeable attitude from her before you shared the same address, and you brought it up to your boyfriend, what was his reaction?

  8. 38

    I think it’s a good idea because then you know what he’s like. If he’s messy or clean, etc.

  9. 39

    I mostly agree with Evan regarding living together. However, as a divorced mother of 2 small children (7 and 5 years old) who spend nights with me it is not good for them to see some man moving in with mommy and then leaving after a few months shall things not work out. There has to be some skin in the game for me to live together with a man, an engagement will work. Only then both parties will work hard to make the relationship succeed. I lived together with my prior husband before getting married while being engaged. We were together for 10 years.

  10. 40

    @ Fusee #16.  Thanks for such a clear, even-handed response.  It was a treat to read your opinion on this very fascinating topic.  By the end of the day, a couple has to find what works for them, and that requires communication, communication, communication. 

  11. 42

    My boyfriend of 3 years and I are moving in together in a few weeks. We did not make this decision lightly and had discussed it a few times during our relationship and had decided we weren’t ready to make that kind of huge commitment before now. I’ve always had the opinion that I would never get engaged before living with someone, but that I also would never live with someone without first discussing with them that I feel living together before marriage is a sort of trial-run and I expect an engagement if we end up being happy living together. I don’t have a set timeline (“I need an engagement 6,8,12 months after unpacking or I’m done.”), but it’s an understanding. I had this talk with my boyfriend and he agreed wholeheartedly and feels exactly the same about cohabitation as I do. He’s actually the one that told me he feels that moving in together is a way to determine if we’re ready to be married, and if all goes well, he would love to get married and start the next chapter of our lives together. I can’t even imagine marrying someone before living together. I don’t believe you can truly know someone and know if you work well together until you’ve lived with them for a while. Then again, my parents didn’t live together before marriage and they’re going on 38 years. This is just a feeling I have personally. It’s personal for everyone and that’s the point. there’s no right answer.

    1. 42.1

      Sounds like you’re both taking a very intentional approach to living together, which I think is what Evan is talking about.
      The problem with living together first seems to come from how a couple arrives at living together – whether it was a planned, conscious, intentional decision or did they just kind of slide into it?
      Your case sounds very intentional and planned – I’d be more concerned about the cases where the couple decides “let’s live together, it’ll cut our rent costs in half”. The impetus to cohabitate should come from a desire to commingle lives.
      That said, I decided long ago to never cohabitate (I’ve done it twice) – if I can’t decide I want to marry someone, I have no reason living with her.

  12. 43

    Many of the guys that have commented on this post seem to be speaking from an emotional and defensive place, including @Evan. Evan may be biased on this subject, considering the fact that he is 1. a MAN, 2. a MARRIED MAN and 3. also lived with his wife prior to marriage and experienced a positive outcome. These facts seem to have made it impossible for him to view things objectively OR from a Woman’s perspective. I disagree with co-habitation. For one, I am not religious but I do believe in God. After years of dating and frustration, I can see the benefits of a more respectful and traditional courtship. As one woman mentioned above, theres just too much sex and shacking up with less weddings. Back in the day, men were expected to marry….because most women of stature were not just “giving it up”…the women that did give it up were “loose women”, “concubines” “harlots”, not wives. Fast forward through the Women’s Lib movement and you have women out earning and out sexing men LOL yet, women are still called whores to this day? LOL a double standard still exist when it comes to the expectations of both sexes . At the end of the day, I believe in courtship and marriage before living together. Why? because these things, in my opinion, protect you from the shame, embarassment or frustration of sharing your body, time, money and life with someone that does not seek to present you as his respected and cherished wife. I don’t care what a man has to say on this point. Any man worthy of your respect will respect you by honoring your religious/spiritual/traditional values and seal the damn deal. Period. Anything else is just “Playing House”. I’m dating a guy right now that wants us to live together yet is unsure about marriage. It’s not an attractive deal to me. Two exes lived with me years ago and it was a nightmare both times. Why? because you begin to act like a wife when you’re not ; doing laundry, cooking, asking when hes coming home etc. without the rewards of a committed marriage. Not for me. My guy is not sure if it wants marriage or to marry me so what is living together going to solve? At the end of the day, love requires trust, work and commitment. If both people want each other enough, they will be saying “I DO”. Anything else is BS. I’m not moving in nor signing a wack ass prenup. How about whats yours is yours and whats mine is mine and if you want that to change, put a effin 20 carat ring on it and let me decide…

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