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?
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.
Your Experience with Living Together Before Marriage
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.
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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.]
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.
Your Experience With Staying Married After Cohabitation
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