Should You Live With Your Boyfriend Before You Get Married?

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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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Comments:

  1. 42
    Rebecca

    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
      JoeK

      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.
        
        

  2. 43
    MG

    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…

  3. 44
    Casey

    I think living together takes away the fun part of living together as a married couple! Living together is a mark of a new life together after getting married and I think living together before that takes away from the this new experience. Plus I want to know that the man I’m marrying is willing to work things out even when we might be compatible living together at first. That proves to me that our love is stronger than just compatibility and being able to live together in peace.  

  4. 45
    Becca

    I did it twice, over four years each time.   Never, ever again.   The fact is,   moving in together IS merging your lives. People who cohabit as a trial to spare the pain of divorce are fooling themselves. Yes,   you’re eliminating legal hassle and financial complications.   However,   the pain of mourning a dying relationship is still there.   Separating belongings is still there.   Having to relocate and start over is still there.   Living together allows the convenience of bypassing the official stuff if it doesn’t work out,   but it is by no means any less emotionally traumatic than divorce when it comes time to acknowledge that a split is inevitable.   And for what it’s worth,   I’ve found the old adage to be pretty accurate.   “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

  5. 46
    Riley

    Evan make have good insights and ideas but I disagree. I find it very extremely judgmental and close minded of him to  think that every couple needs to cohabit before marrying each other in order to have a successful marriage. I myself am in a committed relationship with my girlfriend of 4 years. I am 21 and and she is 20. According to these standards majority of America would think we are crazy to not be married at this point. The reason we are waiting to cohabit is because we believe as a Christian upbringing that it isn’t a good idea because it is essentially playing house. Also it would make a huge difference if we know what exactly what we already want in a spouse before cohabitation. That is what is missing from couples these days.

  6. 47
    flonie

    I’ve had this discussion with my ldr boyfriend.

     

    We’ve talked about our future and lately the discussion has been around marriage.   But here’s the conundrum.

    I want to have kids (I’m 38) he says I’m too old for kids and he doesn’t want kids.   He made that clear from the beginning.

    We live in different countries, the only way we could have a future is if we get married.   He’s ok with getting married, but he does not believe in the concept of marriage and what it represents.

    This is why:

    He says that when people get married, they stop trying.   They stop loving their partners and making the relationship work because you are now stuck with that person.   His reasoning is that when people live together, their relationships are more likely to succeed because two people “work” at the relationship to keep the other person.

    I respect his opinion but I disagree with it.   He claims that if you get married, then what happens if you fall out of love with the other person.   I said, then you get a divorce.   But he says I contradict myself because I think marriage permanent.   I said yes, as long as everyone works on it.

    Background story: His parents got divorced when he was a child and while they have a good relationship, it’s scarred him.

    I’m sure Evan if he reads this says I should run for the hills.   You’re probably right, but I still hold my viewpoint that marriage is the highest form of commitment and declaration.   If you don’t believe in it, that’s ok but I do.

    1. 47.1
      DeeGee

      flonie said: “he doesn’t want kids

      I think you will have to decide whether that is a deal-breaker, before you get married.   Being married isn’t going to make that difference between you two any easier or better.

      and said: “He’s ok with getting married, but he does not believe in the concept of marriage and what it represents.

      He’s contradicting himself.   In my opinion, he doesn’t want to get married, and is only saying he does to placate you.   This to me is a red-flag.

      and said: “He says that when people get married, they stop trying.

      Some might, that would be up to the individuals and what they thought a marriage certificate meant.   I don’t believe that it is the rule though.

       

      1. 47.1.1
        flonie

        DeeGee

        We have to get married if we are to have a future.   In order for him to become a permanent resident here, we’d have to get married there’s no two ways about it.

         

         

  7. 48
    Jeannette

    Personally, I am in the middle. When I was dating my late husband, he was fully aware that I wouldn’t move in unless we were engaged to be married. Once we were engaged, we officially lived together for the 9 months of our engagement. Truthfully, we were already spending most of our nights together. It gives you the opportunity to work out the kinks and breakup if needed before “I do” if you are uncompatible. I’ve seen way too many people live together for long periods of time and unhappy because one is always awaiting the ring. And as an older dater that owns property and is hopefully dating someone with their own place the financial stakes of living together became greater.

  8. 49
    Colleen

    Oh….Please marry me!!! I’ll move in with you beforehand so you can feel “sure” of your love for me…whatever you need, I’ll be there to please, Sans the ring, morning, noon, and night, who cares what my friends, parents, co-workers, or God thinks…it’s Only *You my darling and I am here to please and willing to leave my childhood romantic   “fantasies” at the door and you should leave your chivalry there too. It’s a great idea Afterall, let’s save Nothing for marriage, I’m here to put all my silly romantic notions far behind me so that you can feel “sure” of me. You know what F that, if you can’t be sure if your love and trust for me 2 years after dating then I’m unsure of You. I wouldn’t waste this much time personally anyway, but there are Plenty of women who will and do – why are you telling us to waste more time cohabiting first. Well…guess what doing so will actually result in girls?!: he will Still want you to live with him without all the benefits of marriage after he sees you without your make-up on, but You will want to run for the hills Forever after spending a bit of time as his maid, cook, social planner, and viewing his ummm less than romantic personal moments, and neuroticisms abs habits. TV in bed, anyone? Marry a Prince!!! Or save yourself the heartache and skip it altogether!…a Prince presents you with The Ring vs the Shackup. Nuff said. Poor advice on this one, Evan. How desperate do you think we should be again????

  9. 50
    Grounded and Happy

    I’m in my mid-50’s. I met my fiance, who is a year older than I am, 4 months ago and soon after that, he moved in with me. We are very compatible and, most important, both of us are willing to self-reflect, compromise, and engage in dialog when problems arise between us. This kind of behavior was never typical for him but I insisted that he learn how to do it or leave. As a result of his willingness to evolve, the major problems that could have ended our relationship have been resolved. I was always attracted to him but because of the profound inner changes he chose to make at my request, I can see us being together for the long haul.

    He tells me all the time that I make him a better man, the kind of man he always wanted to be. For my part, he makes me a more loving and generous partner because I try to show him everyday how much I appreciate all the things he does for me.

    Almost from the start, he wanted to marry me. But I always said wait. I wanted my 17 year old daughter, who lives with my ex husband, to graduate from high school. I also didn’t want to make that kind of commitment without knowing if he would adapt to my deal breakers. He has and then some.

    But my decision to change my stance and marry him after knowing him for just a few months wasn’t based on love or chemistry. It was, however based on compatibility. But even that wasn’t enough to make me change my mind about waiting 18 months at least. What did? Money. And I told him so. Neither one of us are wealthy but we do okay. I am satisfied with what I have and he is too.

    But I began to think about my future. I am on disability, which will likely end in a few months and drastically effect my income for the worse. I will be returning to college for a second degree to potentially increase my earning ability. But even that is no guarantee. In the event of my fiance’s death, because we’re not married, I would be entitled to nothing he owns, which is very little anyway.   However, if we were married, I’d be entitled to most or all of the social security benefit he’s accrued over 35 years of steadily working.

    So, after him asking me to marry him about a hundred times and me always saying “wait,” I finally said I’d marry him and I told him exactly why. He didn’t care that I made my decision based on finances and practicality. He just wanted me to say “yes.”

    I’ve felt kind of like I was using him. But I don’t anymore. The fact is I love him deeply and we fit each other’s personalities and goals so well and effortlessly it’s remarkable to me because I’ve never had this type of relationship.

    Still, the couple of times when I felt like I was using him, and told him so, he firmly reiterated how happy I make him. He asked me do I love him (Yes) and he said all that matters to him is that he has my love and that I’ve agreed to be his wife. Since I’ve agreed to marry him, he’s re-proposed a couple of times as a romantic gesture–once he even got down on one knee to do it. That wasn’t the first time he’d done that. It was just the first time I agreed to marry him now instead of later.

    So I wrote all this to say, there are varying reasons why people choose to get married. Our marriage is happening before we got to know one another over a long period of time. But arranged marriages happen like that every day and many of them are happy and last, while, of course, some fail. When you talk to people from countries where arranged marriages are common and in which love may not even be on the list of why couples marry but compatibility and financial security definitely are, some say this type of marriage is the only way to go.

    In a sense, since I found my fiance online and I’ve agreed to marry him–because I took a hard look at the bottom line financially, we have a high degree of compatibility as well as a real friendship and partnership in which we laugh and problem solve   together everyday (and dance together often) and a phenomenal sex life–I feel our union is more like an arranged marriage. And I’m glad that’s the case.

    For us, living together was the perfect intermediate step. It helped me see if I could live with him and vice versa. Actually, before we met, although I wanted a long term relationship, as someone whose 20-year marriage ended a little more than a year ago, by my choice, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to remarry. But, based on everything I wrote here and more that I haven’t mentioned, I am willing to now.

    1. 50.1
      Grounded and Happy

      This doesn’t really matter as far as the point I meant to make goes, but I intended to say my disability benefit might end in a few years. What I want to clarify is that my planning as it relates to marrying soon after meeting my fiance was for the near future but no so near that my personal finances are going south in the coming months.

  10. 51
    yazara

    I have lived with loads of guys at least 5, I never wanted to marry any of them and I knew it , now I’m 43 and I have met the guy I want to marry, he’s 42 and has a job not loads of money I have more than him.

     

    what I will say is I have had 2 wealthy boyfriends millionaires one was a professional footballer and the other in real estate, 3 have asked me to marry them and I was never interested , but I lived with them.

    no I’m 43 and have met a guy that keeps me on my toes and financially not that stable I don’t care I love him without a penny as I feel rich he is in my life, will I live with him no way, not before the wedding, he stays round 3 times a week I’m myself, I don’t pretend we both have one child each and yes I have said if I don’t get a ring by the end of the year I’m out, I’ve been with him 19 months this I believe is plenty of time for a 42 year old man to know.

    it will be 2.5 years by the end of the year if he needs more time then sorry I’m with the wrong guy, I also know my worth. There has too be a cut off period and living together is only good if you don’t want to marry someone.

    Also so if I leave and he comes back with a ring I will refuse him am not into forcing anyone to marry, he knows my thoughts and he is showing signs he is happy with my decision. He has stepped up his game and is going out of his way to be more committed, high value woman don’t live together unless a date is set and a ring given. Me I prefer to wait till after I’m 43 and older means you can see any red flags much earlier than at 23.

  11. 52
    yazara

    When more women make themselves sexually available, the pool of marriageable men diminishes. “In a world where women do not say no, the man is never forced to settle down and make serious choices,” writes George Gilder, author of “Men and Marriage.”

     

  12. 53
    Girl0

    I personally want to live with my boyfriend over the summer (or longer) to see how we’ll get along over an extended period of time, and also if he’s really a man I want to marry. But, I would stay with him while continuing to pay for my current apartment. That way, if it doesn’t work out, I can just come back to my place. If he wants to *officially* live together, and I give up my apartment, I want to be married first. I worked to hard to get this apartment and my independence. I’m not gonna put myself in a position where I can be kicked out or forced to search for a new apartment.

  13. 54
    Lisa

    I think it is a must do.   If you are someone who is concerned that if you do a man won’t committ or it will delay marriage or possibly about familial judgment do this get engaged and move in together six months before the wedding.   A very close friend of mine, smart highly educated mid 30s dated a man for two years.   He was divorced with a child but they all got along well.   Her family was religious but they were okay with them moving in.   He was opposed because at the time he was caring for an ailing parent and living in the home (red flag) and his father was a minister. He did not live with his first wife before marriage either but they were much younger.   Sure they saw each other a ton, spent nights and holidays and so on but he always had that space.   You see he was a binge drinking alcoholic who also did drugs but he was readily able to hide it.   Had they lived together this would have been next to impossible.   So they married and after a while year of hell involving physical abuse on his part they divorced.   Living together would have prevented thus.

  14. 55
    a grown woman

    I can’t believe I read all these comments.   *momentary regret*

    Simple:   Have standards, keep standards while dating. Move in together WITH ESTABLISHED STANDARDS/BOUNDARIES. (grow a spine ladies, see Fusee’s post)………..Get married or GET OUT.”

    Stop your stupid commitment whining.   Stop feeding the paranoid little girl inside your mind  who  feels destroyed if  your man is talking to a hot girl, and for the love of god, please start loving yourself first  and setting boundaries.

     

  15. 56
    Katrina

    I think it depends. If you have a lot to lose, e.g. career, family obligations, etc., definitely don’t move in before there is a formal commitment. That can be engagement or marriage, and that depends on you. Do you know what keeps a lot of married couples together? They want to work it out because of shared assets and liabilities, social commitments, shared burden of child rearing, etc. If you are merely cohabitating, the stakes aren’t as high, even if you may function in similar ways. There is a reason why marriage has legal protections in place. This is a cynical look at the institution, but if you think about man’s natural predilections, it’s smart to take advantage of the protections in place. I would argue that a man who wants to cohabitate before a formal commitment is cynical as well.

    Hold off for the man who shares the same view as you regarding cohabitation. They definitely exist.

    1. 56.1
      Fromkin

      Vehemently disagree. I moved in with a girlfriend, 26, with whom I was in agreement about almost nothing. We both wanted to give it a try; that was it. We simply talked it out as we went along.   It was a fantastic opportunity.

  16. 57
    Mary

    Searched the blog for this one. I’m not sure what to think after reading so many different opinions and experiences about moving in together. For me, the reason I searched is I currently do live with my boyfriend and there are issues popping up that are making me want to run.   It’s been six months. We’re both 50 and both divorced with grown children. Marriage wasn’t the goal, a happy life together was. It isn’t that we don’t love each other can’t compromise when we disagree.   No… it’s that he drives me nuts. I’m retired military,, he works 7 days a week and sleeps so much that if I wasn’t living here I would rarely see him. I’ve become a stay at home fake wife to cook, clean, and be his secretary, accountant, and occasional sex partner.   Mind you, this man does tell me he loves me, appreciates me, and shows that through his actions. But as much as he works, all he does is complain every single day how much he hates working and he’s financially irresponsible.    He complians the entire time he’s awake about his bad back and knees.   Honestly, I got it. 70 hours a week in a steel mill is HARD. He resents me being retired and it shows.   It doesn’t matter that I work hard at home to give us a comfortable happy place, or that I constantly show and tell him I appreciate everything he does and let him know I love him.   It’s not my fault that he is unhappy. I’m being dragged down by his attitude and feel sad too, all the time.    Our communication skills basically suck now, out of pure resentment.    If we had chosen not to live together I would not have figured this out, it would have been me that disappeared because he really wouldn’t have made enough time for us in the first place. Now the “exit plan” seems like a real option but I’m so confused.   The good parts are what is keeping me here. The bad parts are things I’m wondering if we can work out if we could get past the crap communication issue.   It’s enough to make me feel like I really screwed up. Am I missing something? Is my boyfriend unhappy with our relationship or just can’t deal with me being retired…. either way… it’s probably time to go. The two years it takes to really know a person happened a lot faster than I expected.   8 months.   If we do end this… would I move in with someone again? At my age probably not. I’d be asking more very direct questions and pay much better attention to not just words, but reactions and actions.   We’ll see. I’m not ending this without trying to communicate my fears and concerns properly in a way that won’t make him shut down.   Mansplaining is hard to learn!!!

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