To cohabitate or not to cohabitate, that is the question. Until recently, research, articles, and many family members alike could agree that living with a significant other before marriage was not a good idea. When I considered living with my first serious boyfriend, my mother conveniently sent me an article highlighting these findings. It is true that past studies have shown that living with a partner before marriage was associated with increased rates of divorce, marital dissatisfaction, and generally less commitment between partners. However, more recently, little to no difference in divorce rates has been found between couples who choose to live together before or after tying the knot.
However, it is important that couples still answer some often complex questions before unpacking their boxes. If you and your partner are considering moving in together, the following are some important questions to ask each other before you do:
Do we really know ourselves yet? Studies show that individuals who are younger than 23 are more likely to see their marriage dissolved whether or not they live together before making that committment. Living with a partner can have major implications for an individual’s development and future plans. Feelings of confidence at the time when making this important decision can change as one grows into more mature adulthood, when aspects of life such as values, goals, and career trajectory often become much stronger. This is not to say that couples who chose to live together in their early twenties are doomed to fail. However, it is important to consider one’s potential future plans, prospects, and attitudes seriously when making this decision. Consider if you have a sense of where you want to be in 10 years. Does your partner feel the same? Take some time to respond to one another with openness and curiosity.
Are we consciously coupling? Many couples who choose to live together do so because of economic pressures. It can feel very convenient to shack up with your lover, your best friend, than try to find another roommate, live with your parents, or live on your own and pay the whole rent. It could also feel easier not to have to commute to see your partner after a busy day. Gone would be the evenings spent packing your overnight bag, putting extra food in your kitty’s bowl, or just generally stepping away from all of your creature comforts in order to spend a night with your special someone. However, much of the past research warns against sliding into living with your partner because of convenience alone. Recent findings support the claim that more individuals are likely to slide into marrying someone who is not quite a good fit because it is convenient and because they already live together. Deciding to spend your foreseeable future with someone is obviously a big decision, so couples who casually drift into greater commitment might not be setting themselves up for success after all.
Is moving in together culturally normative for us? About half of couples at present have reported living together before marriage. Participating in a culturally normative ritual can reduce the amount of pressure a couple experiences from others in their respective communities. Individuals who are strongly embedded in more collective and traditional communities, religious, ethnic, racial, or otherwise, may feel added pressure to follow more traditional coupling sequences (first comes love, then comes marriage..) than couples in more secular and individualistic branches of society. This added pressure can have added implications in regard to the stress that a couple experiences as a result of their decision to move in together prior to ceremonially committing to one another through marriage. Additionally, the attitudes of your generational cohort can have a significant effect on the success of your decision, with older individuals having a much lower incidence of divorce when married prior to cohabitation. This may help to explain why grandma, and maybe even your mom or dad, have trouble warming to this idea. However, this trend has changed tremendously in the recent past even for couples married as far back as three decades ago. Cohabitation before marriage is now much more common in the general population than ever before. Just show your family members this article to help get your point across.
Regardless of your decision to live with your partner before marriage, or not, the research and general public opinion is clearly changing its course and living with a partner prior to marriage is no longer the taboo and feared divorce sentence it once was. Still it seems important for couples to ask themselves important questions before sharing a living space. The research is consistent in its message, the more a couple is committed to each other, and the more each individual is aware of and stays true to the couples' shared goals and values the more likely they are to succeed when moving in together.