Cohabitation Before Marriage: Is It a Good Idea?

Written by on June 13, 2012 in Relationships - 1 Comment | Print this page


You don’t really know someone until you have lived with them.  Over the course of 50 years, cohabitation before marriage has increased by over 16-fold.  Young adults see it as a cheaper and more convenient option since you end up sleeping over each other’s place all the time anyway, right?

Several multivariate, longitudinal studies have been conducted and they assert that there is a “Cohabitation Effect,” which is the idea that couples who cohabit before marriage have greater marital instability than couples who do not live together before marriage.  A study compared the survival rate of direct marriages (with a legal document) versus indirect marriages (cohabitation) after 5, 10,15, 20 years.  Direct marriages had a higher survival rate in that study (De Vaus et. al, 2003).

How is this possible?  One explanation is the self-selection explanation.  This explanation says that people who tend to cohabit before marriage are also less conventional than those who don’t.  “There is ample evidence that characteristics such as values, education, age, ethnicity, parental marital history, and having premarital children are linked to marital stability” (Smock 2000).

A second explanation goes on to say that cohabitation alters partners’ values and lowers the threshold for leaving a relationship.  It is much harder to leave a relationship when you are living with someone.  There is also the possibility of different agendas.  Women were more likely to say that they saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage while men were more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment.

It is like the never-ending audition to be a suitable wife if the man just sees it as a test.  There isn’t a need to take the next big step of marriage when you two are practically living like husband and wife without the official title.  Why bother with such a big commitment as marriage when you are already getting everything that you need?  There is less pressure as well.  Both men and women agreed in a published questionnaire that their standards for this “indirect marriage” were lower than they are for a spouse.

In the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers found that premarital cohabitation was related to poorer marital communication (Cohan 2002).  Couples with single and multiple cohabitation experiences displayed poorer communication skills compared to couples with no premarital cohabitation experiences.  Real dates that involve conversation have dwindled down to “spending time with each other” in front of the television, watching the game, and eating dinner.

All these studies do not overwhelmingly prove that if you decide to live together before marriage, your marriage will be doomed.  Correlation does not mean causation.  One published data admitted to using only Caucasian couples.   A 2010 survey by Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.  Isn’t that positive?

What are the intentions?  Is it just a convenient test or is this an intentional step toward a higher level of commitment? Discuss your motivations and commitment levels before packing the moving van together.  We all know that communication is key.



About the Author

M. Yu

M. Yu is a single, working professional who lives in New York City. She has eclectic interests, ranging from cancer research (her day job) to traveling to writing for the Relationship Category on QLR. She has an active dating life and views every life experience as a learning lesson. View all posts about healthy relationships.