As a nationally certified and licensed professional counselor, Janis helps her clients resolve relationship conflicts and trust issues.
Getting to Know Your Mate Before You Marry
It would seem that making the decision to live together before getting married makes a lot of sense. It gives potential life partners a chance to get to know each other at a level that reveals daily habits and household customs.
Retiring to bed each night and waking up with the same person each morning will eventually expose that person's true nature.
It appears smart for two people to acquire firsthand knowledge of whether they can live under the same roof. Despite differences in their living habits, couples want to make an informed decision before they move forward to marry without regrets.
From a practical standpoint, living together before making a lifetime commitment addresses the following concerns:
- Does my mate have a personal cleanliness or hygiene issue?
- Is my mate a chronic slob?
- Are there obsessive cleaning tendencies in my mate?
- Is my mate a secret hoarder?
- Does my mate snore excessively or have a sleeping disorder?
- Is my mate a good money manager or have debt problems?
- Will our aesthetics and decorating ideas clash?
- Does my mate have emotional issues that interfere with healthy communication, compromise, and negotiation skills?
- Are there any unforeseen substance abuse or addiction issues?
- Is there a hidden mental diagnosis causing problems with normal functioning, organization and daily living skills?
Your Experience with Living Together Before Marriage
Is Living Together a Guarantee for Success?
From a realistic standpoint, most individuals, to some degree, deal with the issues mentioned above which are quite common. It's just unnerving to think that you might have to deal with it when it's someone else's problem.
Is it realistic to think that we can sift out all of the ills of a less than perfect person as we anticipate what may interfere in our happiness and comfort? Will living together before we marry adequately address our concerns or make them go away? Probably not.
It's difficult to answer these questions when we are truly in love with that person and want to build a life together. The real question then becomes, "What adjustments, sacrifices, and concessions are we willing to make and live with, in the name of marriage, commitment, compromise, and love?"
But is living together before making the commitment to marry a guarantee to stay together even after we have knowledge of each other's foibles? This is a dilemma faced by many individuals who would like to get all the information they can before making the most important decision of their lives. However, according to research, living together before marriage is not a guarantee for a successful relationship and can eventually lead to divorce.
Moving In Doesn't Always Lead to Marriage
Live Together First? The Research Says No
In 2009, the Science Daily reported on the extensive studies out of the University of Denver where the researchers looked at couples who lived together before engagement and their reasons for deciding to live together in the first place. Researchers Galena Rhoades, Scott Stanley, and Howard Markman uncovered interesting results that do not bode well for couples who decide to live together first. They found that:
- Couples move in together in order to spend more time together
- Couples move in together out of convenience
- Couples move in together to test the relationship before making the decision to marry
- Couples who live together before they are engaged have a higher chance of getting divorced than those who wait until after marriage, or at least wait until they are engaged first
- Couples who live together first and then marry reported lower levels of satisfaction in their marriages.
The researches theorized that couples move in together without a clear commitment to the institution of marriage itself and end up going through with the nuptials because they are already engaged in cohabitation. In addition to getting married without much thought to the marital commitment, living together first as a test causes the couple to focus on the issues that present the most problems in the relationship. Therefore, they end up looking for and focusing on the most negative aspects of the relationship causing unhappiness and eventual separation.
Unfortunately, most research has supported the findings of the University of Denver studies showing that the odds are against those couples who choose to live together first before they get married, regardless of their intentions. [See video below with Scott Stanley speaking on the absence of commitment in cohabitation before marriage.]
Your Experience With Staying Married After Cohabitation
Researcher Scott Stanley Talks About the Downside of Living Together Before Marriage
Living Together Versus Commitment and Trust
The researchers may be on to something when they posit that the lack of commitment to marriage may be at the core of what goes wrong in cohabitation before marriage. After all, living together first to "test out the relationship" means you really haven't committed yet. It's almost like cheating on making the commitment so you can see what you don't like first and then renege.
It leaves nothing for the couple to negotiate or compromise about, support or assist each other on, or grow together in meeting each other halfway as the relationship matures into couplehood. The irony is that living together to secure a future backfires and prevents the couple from doing the real work needed to sustain a marriage.
In his book on commitment, Lewis B. Smedes, former professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, summarizes personal commitment in a relationship as:
" . . . one of life's high risk adventures. When we commit ourselves to people, we look into a future that is not going to be quite like the present, and we promise that we will be there, truly present, consistently and caringly, with people who may not be able to give us all we had expected from them. And the way we will make our commitment work is not by contract, not by force, but by the risky personal gift of trust." [Quoted from: "Learning to Live the Love We Promise" 2001]
In all his wisdom, Smedes addresses the issue behind our avoidance to commit which is trust. It is very difficult to have blind trust for someone you plan to make emotional and financial investments with for the rest of your life but feel you don't know completely. So it's no wonder the rates for couples living together before marriage continue to rise significantly as they try to figure it all out by living together first.
According to the 2013 results of The National Survey of Family Growth, reported by the Centers for Disease Control, those rates are indeed rising and continue to support the odds against cohabitation and marriage. In a survey on premarital cohabitation in the United States for women between the ages of 15 and 44, the findings revealed that 48% of women cohabited between 2006 and 2010 compared with 43% in 2002 and 35% in 1995. Regarding marriage after cohabitation, 42% of the women transitioned to marriage by 3 years, 32% remained intact, and 27% dissolved.
Moving In Together Before Marriage: 5 Points to Consider
Marriage is one of the biggest steps a couple can take which will impact the rest of their lives from the wedding day forward. It is important to take time in making a decision about your potential spouse.
It is equally important to know yourself and what issues you bring to the union. Living together may not necessarily answer all of the questions and concerns, nor ease the fears you have about taking that step. We now know the research indicates otherwise. But there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success at committing to cohabitation or marriage.
Here are some points to consider before making the decision to live together before getting married:
- Be clear about your reasons for moving into together; is it about convenience, dependency, financial or personal gain or to alleviate a crisis; or is it about obligation or gratitude. Your initial motives may determine success or failure.
- Be certain that both of you are on the same page with your intent to marry; an empty promise or a statement made on a whim or in the heat of the moment can lead to painful misunderstandings.
- Consider pre-marital counseling to work through pre-existing issues that may go unresolved into the living situation and eventually into the marriage; explore goals and dreams as individuals and as a couple.
- Explore differences and similarities between your values and religious beliefs regarding marriage; seek understanding of each other's role expectations as partners.
- Establish a sense of your own independence and identity before "living as married" or sharing space with anyone; having a sense of who you are as two people will probably make you stronger as individuals, and thus, more successful in your capacities to have more insight, compassion, and unconditional love for each other's differences.
A Closing Note of Hope for Some Couples
Although the research findings conclude that living together before marriage is not a good idea, there are some couples who do find success after living together and staying married. Even if these couples are in the minority, their stories are worth mentioning in giving hope against all odds for the survival and endurance of marriage.
I posted the following question to my writing colleagues:
"How did living together before marriage work out for you? Were you successful or not?"
The responses I received were surprisingly positive in revealing that most of the couples who lived together first are still married today! Some shared about the wisdom gained and lessons learned through the pain of their choices while others told of the many years of marriage which lasted decades after initially moving in together.
Special thanks to authors: FatFreddysCat, Heather Says, CraftytotheCore, Pamela N Red, Billie Kelpin, and Bishop55 for sharing your personal stories and giving me more insight into the other side of this coin.
The revelations shared by these writers sends a hopeful message of committed, long-lasting love to couples who are contemplating moving in together and maybe getting married. It goes without saying that you don't have to become a statistic based on your choices. Just make sure your choices are informed and well thought out before making a decision that could ultimately change the quality and course of your life forever.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans
Thank you for reading and offering feedback.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on February 17, 2020:
Yes, living together before marriage has its benefits. Thanks for reading and for your comment.
Abdul Hasib on February 16, 2020:
I like that living relationship before marriage,because it's very nicely for couples knowing both habits and trust and importance things in commitment..
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 30, 2016:
Hi Jennifer, appreciate your comments. I'm glad you liked it. So true about expectations between partners. Thanks for stopping by.
Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on March 30, 2016:
Great Hub, and a lot of wisdom has been shared in the comments as well.
I do appreciate your point that relationships succeed or fail for reasons that are complex, so it cannot be simplified as "living together first makes your marriage more likely to fail."
I also agree with your point that cohabiting first is not necessarily the anti-divorce panacea that it would seem to be.
My two cents: because cohabiting is not the same thing as marriage, people do not (in all respects) behave the same way when cohabiting as they would in marriage. They may have expectations of a wife or husband that they would not have of a live-in.
It breaks my heart that so many in our generation have been so scarred by their parents' bad marriages or divorces. I realize there are a lot of reasons for this, but many of them have to do with the lies about men, women, families, sex, and kids that were spread during the so-called sexual revolution.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on December 18, 2013:
Thanks, Gail, it is surprising but sadly true. Thanks for stopping by for this hub.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on December 18, 2013:
This is informative, well written and provides food for thoughts. It is interesting that the divorce rate actually increases for couples who live together prior to marriage. I have heard that before even though off the top of your head one would think it might be the other way around. Voted up!
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on November 08, 2013:
Excellent points, Rebecca. Thank you for taking the time to read this hub. I appreciate your comments.
Rebecca Furtado from Anderson, Indiana on November 08, 2013:
I think premarital counseling would not give couples the same answers that living together does on personal habits, but having conversations on lifestyle differences can help. My main question would be if you can not love a person past leaving his socks and underwear on the floor, then maybe they are not the person you were meant to marry? Great hub.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on November 01, 2013:
Great insights, Marisa. Regarding your comment on a survey, the University of Denver research did include that, finding that couples reported being unhappy afterwards. Your points are well taken about some groups who conduct this type of research only to promote their agendas and those couples staying together for cultural/religious reasons. Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate your visit.
Kate Swanson from Sydney on November 01, 2013:
I think some of the research is flawed, because it's often sponsored by religious or cultural groups which have a bias against cohabiting before marriage. There are other factors to consider - for instance, couples who don't live together are more likely to be from religious or cultural groups which also disapprove of divorce, so those couples will stick together even if they loathe each other. A more accurate picture might be got from surveying whether couples who lived together before marriage were happier or unhappier afterwards.
It's well known that the "starry eyed" phase love lasts about two years. If you get married to someone during that period, you are basing your decision on an idealised image of that person, not on reality. If couples feel they can't live together then they're more likely to make a marriage commitment early, during that "danger period", which is potentially a recipe for misery.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 26, 2013:
Excellent points, Ms. Dora. I appreciate your coming by and reading this hub.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 26, 2013:
Jan, you raise some good points for consideration. While those who move in together before marriage may have good intentions, it does not guarantee a healthy marriage, or marriage of any kind. As a Bible believer, I choose to promote the principle of delaying the move until after the marriage commitment. Whatever happens after the marriage, commitment helps the couple work through it together.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 26, 2013:
Great comments, Astra Nomik, you've explained a lot on how people think nowadays. I appreciate you sharing your perspectives on this topic. I'm glad you liked this hub. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read it.
Cathy Nerujen from Edge of Reality and Known Space on October 26, 2013:
What a fascinating hub and a great topic. Lots of thoughts and arguments to ponder. Some will try the pre-marriage living together thing before actual living together in case it does not work out. There is the "If you want to know me, come live with me" philosophy.
Then there are people who say that is wrong, that marriage is sacred and not for the faint-hearted.
I now lots of friends of mine who laugh at the second idea. They are put off by marriage as a "contract" and just a thing to trip people up later on.
I think less people want commitment now. More want a convenient relationship. Some even want one where they can easily walk away from one if it does not work out.
It all depends on the person. People are more aware of some things now, like freedoms that they felt were not open to them before. There is a lot to a stable relationship, such as trust, good communications, respect, honest caring about your partners feelings and position... oh so many things...
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 20, 2013:
Yes, Faith, I hear you. Just as I said and agree, it's like cheating on the commitment itself. Thanks again for coming by, liking this one, and sharing my work. You're a gem and a great supporter.
Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 19, 2013:
Another important and well-written article. No, it is not a good idea at all, is what I think about living together before marriage. I could not answer the polls for I have been married since a very young age. This is just my opinion, and I am glad to know of those who are still happily married who did live together before marriage. It just seems to me to be too convenient when something is not just perfect to just say, well, I can leave because we are not married and were never truly committed to each other anyway. Again, not judging, just my opinion.
Up and more and sharing
God bless, Faith Reaper
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 17, 2013:
savvydating, you hit on some very important points, especially about communicating needs instead of easily given up and "out." I love your spot on observations and comments. I'm so pleased you liked this hub and found it useful. Thank you so much for your visit.
Yves on October 17, 2013:
You've laid it all out there-- and quite well, I might add. Frankly, I've always been wary of the living together scenario. But as you mentioned, it sometimes depends upon the reasons why a couple decides to move in together in the first place which may then determines whether a subsequent marriage may have a chance of succeeding later.
My observation is that if people live together first merely to "see if it can work," then they are already approaching the union as a source of potential failure rather than as a commitment to be worked out by using our communication skills, rather than our preferences or biases for deciding what is important and what isn't. In other words, if your boyfriend/girlfriend does something that bugs you-- it would be so much easier to say, "Well, I can't live with this, rather than saying, "How can I communicate my needs in a way that will ultimately bring us closer together." In marriage, we pretty much have to develop the finesse to communicate and compromise, thus enhancing the level of intimacy between a couple. In living together, not so much.
Voting Up & useful. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 16, 2013:
You are so right, Bill, about the level of commitment and it not being taken as seriously. I believe that it does contribute to the divorce rate. Thanks so much for you comments, glad you approve of the work. Thanks for your visit.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 16, 2013:
Well researched and well-written. This is an interesting topic in light of today's divorce rate. I'm not sure I have a definitive answer. I know the commitment for a lifelong partnership is a huge one and I'm not sure it is taken as seriously as it once was. It is too easy to discard a marriage....and moving in without marrying does not say much about a commitment.....but that's just my random thought on it. Well done, Jan!
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 16, 2013:
Thanks for sharing your experience, Heather. This is very helpful and informative, bringing some reality to the hub. You are so spot on about making the decision to "work on" the issues which turns out to be a win-win for the couple. You are both very blessed to have each other. Sounds like mature love. I'm so grateful for your visit and these comments. Glad you liked the hub. Thanks again for participating in the Q&A.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 16, 2013:
Excellent points, idigwebsites. You make a lot of sense. I tend to agree with you. Good point about moving in shortly before the marriage probably working out for the better. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading this hub. Your comments are very much appreciated.
Heather from Arizona on October 16, 2013:
This came out so great! I love your choice of poll questions too. Reading your article made me think of a few things. My husband and I were such messy people before we knew each other and also when we lived together but magically became neat freaks once we got married. We can't figure it out. We both knew what we were getting into and were worried that two messy people would create such chaos. We agreed we would both try our best to "work on" not being so messy but neither of us expected the miracle that happened. Marriage can definitely change you.
Your article also reminded me of our pre-marriage counseling. We are an interfaith couple (as was our ceremony) so our counseling was with our Rabbi and Priest. When they asked us questions like, "Have you discussed chore division etc and are you prepared for better and worse etc..." I felt like a seasoned pro thinking, "We go this." We had already lived together so that household dynamic had already taken shape during the 3 years we lived together. I also figured that everything that happened with my health, my diseases, almost dying, multiple hospitalizations, etc... I figured we've already done the sickness part, so "We got this." I figured, how could it possibly get any worse than this? I was right on the money about the chores but now in hindsight I feel like a fool for thinking the way I did about the latter part.
While my husband and I are still happily married after living together before being married, I'd like to point out to couples that are naïve or overly-confident that living together will prepare you for some similar life, world, and marriage obstacles, but not all of them.
For anyone wondering: we dated for 4 years (starting in college), became engaged, lived together for 3 years, and were married during year 8 together. We've now been married two years.
idigwebsites from United States on October 16, 2013:
I think it's not a good idea, except that if they're going to live in shortly before marrying for sure.
But if they're going to be live-in partners for years, there's a chance that they're going to separate even before they get married. There's too much intimacy already, and the woman would always be at the losing end. Couples would argue and have the same everyday problems (the household, the kids if there are any) like married people. But without the legal matrimonial bond there's a bigger chance to just walk away from it if they can't stand each other anymore and don't want to work on their differences.
I may be conservative but I think this is how I view "live-in's". Thanks for posting your hub. Very interesting.