Living Together: A Must Before Marriage?

WebMD Blog:

Living Together: A Must Before Marriage?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


The suggestion to live together as a “trial run” before marriage is common advice, but it is also misleading. Sure, you may learn more about each other by cohabitating, but it doesn’t ensure that your relationship – or marriage – will last. There are at least a couple of other arguably more important factors to consider.

One such factor is age. According to a 2014 study by the council on Contemporary Families, age is more important in determining whether couples divorce than whether they cohabitated before marriage. Younger people are less likely to choose a good partner for themselves. Or, if they do choose a suitable partner, the relationship might not last because the couple changes and grows apart as they mature. More specifically, the study showed couples that marry or move in together at eighteen years old had a sixty percent divorce rate while those who did so after age twenty-three had only a thirty percent divorce rate.

That said, common sense tells us that personal growth cannot be tied to any particular age. Individuals mature at different rates, and so it is important to consider whether you need to have more personal growth before you feel stable within yourself and are ready to commit to a relationship. Also, there are different times in life when people grow personally or need to attend more to themselves. In these situations, they would do best to wait on making a commitment. For example, after the loss of a spouse or breakup of a serious relationship, people often need time to grieve before they are ready to commit again. It’s also not uncommon for different life transitions – such as retirement – to prompt people to reassess themselves and what they want from their relationships.

Another key factor that affects the health of relationships is the commitment of both people to them. Whether you are going to cohabitate before marrying or not, the commitment you each have to the relationship affects the likelihood of remaining together. In addition, couples that live together with the intent to marry do well compared to other unmarried couples, including those who live together without the intent to have a long-term commitment.

There is no clear research that shows living together before marriage has either positive or negative effects on staying married. So it’s probably best to work with your partner to figure out the best route for yourselves. But as you think through this decision, consider your stage of life, whether you are settled enough in yourself to make a commitment, and whether you and your partner are ready to commit to each other. It’s not so much whether you cohabitate before marriage that improves the chances of your relationship surviving, but rather how and when you come to that decision.


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