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

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?

Join our conversation (57 Comments).
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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.

    1. 5.1
      Kate

      It is sad, but women are still entitled to child support regardless of whether they married the father.

  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

    2. 9.2
      Amanda

      Perfectly said!

    3. 9.3
      Eve

       
      Commitment definitely happens with your head not your heart, the heart is very fickle and life brings hardships, so there is no guarantee that you will always without a doubt feel like staying married that’s where your vows come in. 

  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……

    1. 17.1
      jessica

      I agree with you heather!  I used to live with my ex fiance and never took our “pretending we were married ” I did all the wifey things and more he didn’t! He never brought our wedding date, he got comfortable in the relationship that he said I see you as my wife so why do we need papers stating were married  so never again I will move in before getting married 

  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.

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