Whether you chose to live with your partner before you were married or not, you likely know a lot of people who did. While it used to be extremely taboo or even not allowed, now many couples choose to move in together before making the commitment to tie the knot. Oftentimes, they say that it's because they want to suss out whether their relationship will work when they're living under one roof. If you do choose to live together, you might want to know the surprising ways living together before marriage affects you later in life.
As of 2014, 70 percent of women ages 30 to 34 had lived with a male partner, which, as researcher Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D., noted in a paper published by the Council on Contemporary Families, is up by approximately 900 percent from 50 years ago. People are no longer as opposed to couples living together as they once were — though, of course, some still think couples should wait to live together until after they are married. The conversation itself, which used to spark uproar and controversy, is similarly basically a non-issue. But what does science say about the pros and cons of living together before marriage?
Though it sometimes doesn't seem like it, the relationship decisions you make when you're younger can impact you for a long time, maybe for the rest of your life. Knowing how the fallout from these important decisions might linger can help you either make the decision or know what might be coming down the road.
Formerly, it seemed as though the evidence said that couples who lived together before marriage were destined for divorce — the opposite of what many couples are hoping for when they decide to move in together. However, when Kuperberg and others looked at cohabitation, they found that it wasn't simply that the couple lived together before marriage, as she noted in her previously mentioned paper. Living together before marriage isn't necessarily the indicator of divorce that some researchers previously thought.
When you're dating and living together, you might argue more than your friends who are married and living together. A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2009 found that couples who are dating and living together fight more and have more "volatile" relationships than couples who are married.
While you might not think it's a huge deal, the reason why you decide to move in together in the first place really does matter. For some people, it's the next step in their relationship, for others it's the allure of a smaller rent payment, and for still others it's a matter of convenience. You were always at each other's places anyway, so why not move in? In an op-ed she wrote for The New York Times in 2012, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now, wrote that she has had clients who've come to her saying that there wasn't ever a conscious decision to move in together, it just sort of happened, and now they're realizing they're unhappy.
If you're moving in just because you think it'll make things easier, it might take a toll on your relationship and your happiness.
You might expect that living together could make problem-solving more challenging regardless of the circumstances of your relationship, but that's not exactly the case. The same aforementioned 2009 study found that couples who are dating and living together often have more difficulties resolving conflicts than their married counterparts.
Kuperberg found that the age that couples decided to get married or move in together mattered more than that they chose to live together before getting married. In her research, she found that couples that moved in together before the age of 23 had a greater likelihood of divorce.
One of the benefits of moving in together before you get married is that you'll get to see, up close and personal, how each of you lives, which isn't really something you can see before living together, regardless of how much time you spend together. Jane Greer, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, told Brides that living together before you get married allows you to get a glimpse of their daily routines and lifestyle habits, from bedtime to tidying up.
While you can absolutely still feel lonely from time to time, even when surrounded by people, chances are, if you're living with a partner, you won't be as lonely as if you were living on your own. Researchers at Brigham Young University published a paper in 2015 in which they concluded that loneliness and social isolation put people at risk for early death. Living with your partner before marriage might not actually keep you from death, but having someone supportive around might help you feel like there are people in your corner.
Just like premarital cohabitation might not indicate that you'll likely get divorced, it also won't necessarily indicate that wedding bells will be ringing anytime soon (or, maybe, ever). Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Vital Statistics found that, between 2006 and 2010, only 40 percent of women living with their first partner had gotten married within three years. The remaining women were either still living with their partners and dating or were no longer living together. So while living with your partner can, of course, be a step in your relationship before marriage, it doesn't necessarily mean that the two of you will end up marrying each other.
Moving in together takes effort. You have to combine your belongings, perhaps buy new furniture, split bills, and more. Not only that, but some couples who've lived together choose to get pets together and the like, which intertwines your lives even more. In her aforementioned op-ed for The New York Times, Jay wrote, "Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. " Once your lives become increasingly shared, it can not only be difficult to leave if nothing is obviously wrong, but some couples also just choose to get married. Again, it kind of just... happens. Researchers call this the "inertia effect."
You'll also get a chance to divide up responsibilities and generally see how your day-to-day life might be if you were to ever get married (or if you live together long-term). "Many couples don’t realize that the day-to-day of such a long-term commitment is fairly mundane," relationship expert and advice columnist April Masini told Brides in the previously mentioned article. You'll spend time together doing things far more practical and routine than the cuddlier or more adventurous and exciting things you did when you dated and lived apart.
A 2013 study from the U.K.-based Centre for Diet and Activity Research found that widowed or single older adults ate far fewer fruits and vegetables than those who were married or dating and living together. While the study focused on older adults, you might find that these benefits make a difference when you're younger, too.
In the aforementioned paper, researchers from the CDC's Division of Vital Statistics found that 20 percent of women experienced a pregnancy within the first year of cohabitation. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, told The Atlantic that these unplanned pregnancies "...can pose real problems to their relationship and to their future odds of successfully marrying." While some couples who live together and then have a baby can figure it all out, others feel pushed into marriage, which ultimately can put a lot of strain on the relationship.
Before you live with someone, you really can only know so much about how they spend their money, but after you live with them — and share bills — sometimes things can become more clear. Of course, that doesn't mean that you'll know everything, but you can have a better idea of what's going on. As Masini told Brides in the previously-mentioned article, knowing how your financial habits and beliefs align — or don't — before you get married can be a very good thing and one that can have long-term repercussions.
For those who seemingly just end up married after living together for awhile (but who didn't move in together knowing that they'd get married), dedication can sometimes be an issue. Researchers at the University of Denver found that men who live with their future partners before marriage are less dedicated to the relationship than men who don't. Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but there is some evidence for it.
Additionally, a different 2009 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that couples who lived together before getting engaged were less likely to report that they were confident in their relationship. For couples who aren't yet engaged or planning on getting married, living together doesn't necessarily feel as secure or committed as you might think.
If you and your partner didn't plan or talk much about marriage or your future before moving in together, it's possible that you weren't on the same page. In Jay's op-ed for The New York Times, she wrote that women are more likely to see cohabitation as the next logical step in their relationship, while men are more likely to see it as a compromise (it's less of a commitment than marriage) or think that they can use it to test the relationship and see if it can last. If you're thinking you're getting closer to marriage while your partner is thinking they don't have to really commit like that yet, things might not turn out the way you were hoping.
In her op-ed for The New York Times, Jay also noted that both men and women say that their standards for a spouse are higher than their standards for a partner they're willing to live with. When you factor that into the "inertia effect," it's easier to understand how some marriages that come about after a couple has lived together might not be as successful as they'd like them to be. If they just sort of ended up married to a person who doesn't fit all of their qualifications for what they actually want their spouse to be, that likely won't bode well.
Self-help expert and relationship coach John McGrail told More that when you move in with a partner, you often find out that some of your other relationships can be affected as well. If you host weekly dinners or brunches, for example, those regular plans might change, which can, over time, put a strain on some of those relationships.
Jonathan Alpert, the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, told More in the aforementioned article that you'll likely lose some of your privacy, routines, and individual activities that you were used to before you were living with your partner. While that might not seem like a big deal, it's still important to take time for yourself, so if you don't occasionally make your needs a priority, that could take a toll on you and on your relationship.
Just as living together before marriage won't necessarily predict if you'll ever get married or if you'll end up divorced, it also won't guarantee that your marriage will last, regardless of how much couples wish it would. Ultimately, there aren't any guarantees and "testing out" married life before you make the commitment won't ensure a happy marriage, either.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.