You’ve been dating for a while now, and are feeling like it might be time to move on to the next phase. Or, maybe someone’s lease is up for renewal and both of you are tired of driving from one apartment to another. Perhaps you’ve just gotten engaged, and want to cut back on living expenses to save for the wedding. Whatever the situation, the question has come up: Should we move in together?
This type of living situation used to be unusual, but times have changed. In fact, almost 70% of marriages initiated in the late 1990s and early 2000s started off as “live-in” relationships. But as this situation has become more common, people who study relationships and families have sounded some alarms. Although many people think of moving in together as a helpful “test run” for marriage, research has tended to show that couples who live together before marriage actually run a higher risk of divorce than those who do not.
As time has passed, these findings have evolved. However, there are still some important factors to consider before moving in with your partner. Based on what we know today, if you are concerned about future divorce risk and relationship satisfaction, here are some questions to ask yourself before moving in with your partner.
Is it 1) for convenience, 2) to “test out” the relationship, or 3) out of a genuine desire to spend more time together? The best reason, according to science, is #3. Cohabiters who move in together for this reason tend to end up happier in the long run.
The potential risk of divorce from cohabitation seems to decrease or even disappear when the couple is engaged or seriously considering marriage before moving in together.
Once a couple moves in together, the chance that they will experience an unplanned pregnancy increases quite a bit. Giving birth while cohabiting also increases the chance that your relationship will break up. (Consider your potential child’s future, too. Growing up in a stable household with two parents is statistically best for children.)
The “latest and greatest” research seems to suggest that it may not be moving in together that’s the issue, but the early age at which people now tend to do it. We know that getting married too young is risky, so it would make sense that cohabiting too young has similar pitfalls. One study suggests that holding off until 23 or later may be best.
If so, and you eventually marry, the marriage will be at higher risk of divorce.
If one or both cohabitors already has a child, the relationship is more likely to break up—with potentially negative effects on that child, such as poverty and stress. And unfortunately, children who live with an adult male to whom they are not biologically related run an increased risk of being physically or sexually abused.
Various studies and researchers have cautioned against “sliding” into cohabiting without giving it careful thought. Making sure that our decisions are consistent with our values and beliefs is an important consideration for achieving and maintaining self-respect and healthy relationships.
It can become hard to extract ourselves from the life we create by moving in with someone--acquiring shared belongings, shared pets, maybe even a shared house. Some call this the “inertia effect.” Before you move in, consider that you are making a major decision to become significantly more involved with this person.
According to current research, living together can be a positive, relationship-enhancing option, but just as with marriage, it’s important to take the decision seriously and think about its pros and cons. Being aware of these findings can help you make the best choice for you and your relationship.
Looking for ways to connect and get closer with your partner? Considering marriage but want to make sure you're as prepared as possible? The SMART Couples project is offering ELEVATE, a fun, FREE, research-backed relationship enhancement class for couples, and Before You Tie the Knot, a fun, FREE, research-backed premarital preparation class, in Florida counties across the state. Sign up today!
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
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Popenoe, D., & Whitehead, B. D. (2002). Should we live together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage. Retrieved from http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/ShouldWeLiveTogether.pdf
Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding vs. deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations, 55, 499–509.
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