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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 at risk.


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 partner.


Click 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.



Now 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.


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Copyright 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 source citation are included.




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