Recent research indicates
that premarriage cohabitation (living together) has little influence
on the subsequent success of a marriage for couples who move in
together for the first time as a clear step toward marriage.
In general, partners
who cohabit have a bit higher divorce rate, but it's those who cohabit
as an alternative to marriage who seem to account for most of the
risk in cohabitation studies. They move in together for reasons
other than a commitment to marriage, then may 'drift' into getting
engaged and marrying even though one may really prefer to simply
cohabit. These so-called 'serial' cohabitors--people who may have
cohabited with more than one previous partner and/or cohabit as
an alternative to marriage--drive up the risk for the cohabitation
group as a whole. So the biggest risk for couples who move in together
seems to be the risk that if their engagement does not work out,
they will join this serial cohabitation group that is a bit more
This risk has sometimes
been attributed to attitude differences associated with cohabitation,
e.g., willingness to ignore some traditional social conventions,
rather than to the effect of cohabitation itself. There is some
indication, though, in recent research that this 'unconventionality'
effect does not account for most of the risk.
A more recent theory
is that couples don't make the same explicit commitment to each
other when they 'drift' into marriage while living together. Indeed,
one partner may be marrying under duress to avoid disappointing
the other, in reaction to a break-up ultimatum, etc. While these
pressures may be active for couples who reside separately, the theory
is that the choice to marry (or not) is more constrained when the
couple is living together than it would be otherwise.
The really interesting
finding of all this cohabitation research, we think, is that living
together doesn't improve a couple's chance of a successful marriage.
In other words, contrary to what you might expect, those partners
who live together are not better prepared for marriage than those
who do not. Go figure.
Whatever you decide about living together before marriage, it's probably
not going to either help or detract from the success of your marriage,
so long as combining households is done as a conscious step toward marriage.
We speculate that whatever
advantage couples gain from knowing each other more initimately
as a result of cohabitation is perhaps offset by the loss of the
post-marriage bonding effect that some non-cohabitors may gain from
the excitement of moving together after the honeymoon. It may also
be that non-cohabitors are a bit more inclined to expect changes
in the emotional climate of their relationship after marriage that
may surprise long-time cohabitors.
Most couples don't
understand that a psychological shift can occur after marriage,
bringing up latent emotional issues even for couples who've already
lived together for years. Couples who have spent a lot of time together
and who know each other quite well, can still find themselves quite
unprepared for these feelings, both their own and those of their
here to learn more about some of the research (Teachman, 2003) on
which we base our views. Be sure to read past the introductory press
release to find the article which includes references to most of
the recent cohabitation studies.
that you're up-to-date on the latest about living together before
marriage, consider attending a Marriage Success Training seminar
with your partner. MST helps couples handle the increased stress
of the pre-wedding period in a much more healthy way, so that they
can use the pre-wedding experience to deepen their intimacy--not
stress their relationship-- during this special time. Click here
to learn about the benefits of MST.
2003-2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this
article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made
and this copyright notice, author credit and stayhitched.com source
citation are included.