Summarizing 2010 U.S. census data, Eric Adler reported, "In lieu of marriage, cohabitation—couples living together—has skyrocketed. About 7.5 million opposite-sex couples were cohabitating in 2010, up from 6.7 million the year before." Are these couples making a wise decision?
We've all heard the traditional arguments to the contrary. We've heard the statistic that couples who cohabited before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who lived apart before marriage. We've heard the religious term "living in sin" and know that living together is associated (and often rightly so) with premarital sex.
But if the statistics and religious teachings don't speak to you, I would argue that there are at least three practical reasons that moving in together before you've exchanged vows might not be the best move for your relationship.
It blurs the boundaries between marriage and a relationship.
I recently asked a newlywed friend how married life is treating her. She had lived with her boyfriend for several years before they were married and answered, "I don't really know any different." When you live with your boyfriend and then go on to marry him, what changes? You get a shiny new ring and a name change, but you still have the same established routine, get to wake up and go to bed together every day, and face the same household issues you did before marriage. Waiting to live together gives you something exciting and new to come home to after the honeymoon, rather than simply going back to the grind. It becomes the perfect visual representation of how two people became one in marriage.
It may lead couples to get married for the wrong reasons.
Researchers at the University of Denver postulated in a 2009 study that perhaps some couples who live together before even getting engaged end up getting married for the wrong reasons. Jeanna Bryer of LivingScience.com quoted lead researcher Galena Rhoades: "We think that some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabiting." Cohabiting couples might get married because it is the "next step," they don't see what the difference would be, or perhaps because they have a feeling that they need to legitimize their cohabitation. These circumstantial reasons for marriage cloud the logical evaluation of their relationship and choice of partner every couple should make before deciding to tie the knot.
It implies a false permanence.
When you live with your boyfriend, you suddenly find yourself sharing a lease, finances, household chores, and maybe even a pet. These connections to one another imply a sense of permanence that hasn't yet been solidified by a formal commitment in the relationship. It can be confusing for the heart and mind to act like you're married and not be. Moreover, being in a relationship before marriage should give you the opportunity to break up whenever you determine the relationship isn't "the one." When you live together, you are so entangled with one another that the breakup can become a lot more messy and difficult than it would be if you lived separately. Alternatively, living together could encourage you to overlook problems because you don't want to deal with the mess of a breakup.
If you are trying to decide whether cohabitation before marriage is right for you, you certainly have a big decision to make. Choosing to live apart might go against the grain and perhaps even hamper your financial situation. But in the end, it could ultimately lead to a happier, healthier marriage—and perhaps keep you from trying to make a marriage work with the wrong person.
Adler, Eric. Marriage ranks dwindle, but many couples still believe. MercuryNews.com
Bryner, Jeanna. Prenuptial cohabiting can spoil marriage. Livescience.com
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