Does Cohabitation Work? March 7, 2011

Does Cohabitation Work?

As a guy who once lived with his girlfriend, I know I learned things about her (and vice-versa) that several more years of dating probably wouldn’t have brought to light. I say we were both better off because of that. Had we gotten married, I don’t think there would have been as many major “surprises” along the way. (We eventually broke up for personal reasons, but our living together had nothing to do with that.)

Cohabitation has historically been frowned upon in the Christian community, but the trend seems to be that younger Christians are increasingly ok with living with their significant others before marriage.

However, an article in the Christian magazine Relevant urges readers not to go forward with it:

For the increasing number of young, unwed couples who live together, there is good cause to worry. Although an expanding body of evidence shows that “shacking up” damages individuals, relationships and communities, acceptance of cohabitation is growing, even among young Christians.

As it turns out, cohabitation actually weakens relationships and promotes divorce. Cohabitors break up at a rate much higher (up to five times higher) than married couples. When their relationships unravel, cohabitors experience all the emotional turmoil and much of the economic fallout of a divorce. And, while transitioning from cohabitation to marriage stabilizes some relationships, studies show higher divorce rates for those who live together first.

So why doesn’t cohabitation deliver on its promise to better prepare couples for marriage? Research has found that unwed couples who choose to live together have less reverence for the institution of marriage and less confidence that it will last. Lower expectations weaken a couple’s resolve to stay together, even after they make the transition from cohabitation to marriage.

There are, of course, no citations for any of this research…

Meanwhile, a report that was put out last year by the National Center for Health Statistics said the complete opposite:

Couples who live together before marriage and those who don’t both have about the same chances of a successful union…

Sociologist Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor considers the data definitive. “On the basis of these numbers, there is not a negative effect of cohabitation on marriages, plain and simple,” she says.

So what are the reasons Relevant contributor Rob McNiff offers for why cohabitation is bad?

For those who marry first, the decision to give lifelong care and love to one’s partner comes before the pleasures of married life, including sexual intimacy. The couple promises, in effect, not to seek the gratification of their strongest desires from one another until they commit to a life of mutual service and faithfulness.

Sounds like bullshit to me. I know it’s only anecdotal, but living with my ex made sex a less relevant issue. It’s like that option was always there, so we were able to focus on other aspects of the relationship.

Research also shows that the high rate at which cohabitors break up reinforces the notion that intimate relationships are fragile and fleeting. Those who have already experienced the collapse of an intimate cohabiting relationship generally have less hope that their marriages will last and more quickly accept divorce as a way to address marital turmoil.

Not true. If anything, I learned more about what to expect in a relationship and how to make things better during rough patches. (And now, I *really* want to know where this “research” is coming from…)

McNiff is fixated on this idea that the only thing that binds cohabitators together is sex. If that’s the only reason people lived together — so they could sleep with each other every night — maybe there’d be something to what he’s saying. But the couples I know who lived together before marriage weren’t the sex-crazed-maniacs that McNiff makes them out to be. They were people committed to each other for reasons extending far beyond something physical. Many of them are married now. Is it possible that some of them could get divorced? Sure. But my hunch is that none of them would blame their living together beforehand as a reason things went downhill.

My favorite comment on that article comes from a Christian who agrees with McNiff:

I’ve been married for 12 years now, and we got married VERY young, but we meant it. We almost split up 3 or 4 times, and what kept us together was not love, it was our public alliance. We couldn’t just say “it doesn’t work out the way we thought it would” because of our friends and families.
After the storm (and some more may arise), I’m glad we stuck together. We wouldn’t have if we’d been “trying out” our relationship.

Ah, yes… the old “I-would’ve-gotten-divorced-but-that-would-have-been-embarrassing-and-that’s-why-we’re-still-together” line. So romantic.

Makes me yearn for the sweet contractual bonds of marriage…

I’d love to hear from anyone who lived with their significant other before marriage — looking back on it, was it a good or bad idea?

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Legally, I MUST live with my partner for at least 12 months if we want to get him a visa to enter my country as my de facto partner.
    It’s a bit hard because we had a long-distance relationship first.
    This living together thing is pretty awesome, though. I don’t think it would have mattered if we got married before we moved in together but it would have seemed a bit strange to jump from a long-distance relationship straight into marriage. This way, we’re testing out all the waters before we get married, even though we were already engaged and have been for years. I can’t wait to get married, but because we’re relocating and have no money it most likely won’t be until late next year.

  • arallyn

    My parents did. They also lived apart for a significant period after marriage because my mom was teaching 2 1/2 hours away from where my dad was finishing school. They’ve been together for 25 years this year. There have definitely been more than a few issues, mostly regarding child-rearing, but these days with both kids gone, they genuinely seem happy together.

    Both of them also lived with other significant others before they got married, too. So it’s not like leaving that kind of co-habiting relationship ending “prepared them for divorce” or whatever.

    I currently live with my significant other of 6 years. The past 2 years have been the antithesis of focused on sex…living together both allows us to see each other while we finish the last hectic semester of school/teaching in this area, and at least for me, has taught how to cope with annoying habits in a peaceful and amicable way while living in a cramped environment. While living together to begin with would have been a bad idea (we fought like cats and dogs for a while), we were quite stable when we moved in together, and are even better together now.

  • FIngon Celebrindal

    What exactly is the difference between a marriage and an extended hookup, from the atheist point of view ?

  • Dalilonna

    We moved in together after dating two years. We got engaged a year later, and married after another 15 months of wedding plans. We’ve now been married for 16 years. Godless the whole way. Other than the silly notion I had of making him sleep on the couch of his best man the night before our wedding, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • In 11 days time I will have been cohabiting with my partner for 19 years. No plans to marry (who wants the expense). Of course, this is merely anecdote and not evidence but I thought I’d chip in anyway.

    Assuming that this: “Cohabitors break up at a rate much higher (up to five times higher) than married couples” is true then a possible reason might be that cohabiting couples might be tempted to marry to solve their problems. Somehow they buy into the idea that “married = better relationship” and so see marriage as a way to shore up failures that they have as a couple.

    Of course what a proper study would show is the length of relationships for married and unmarried couples including the length of time that they were dating and cohabiting prior to marriage and the reason for their split (if any). Then a correlation between marriage and relationship stability could be shown. A correlation still isn’t evidence of a cause though.

  • arallyn

    “What exactly is the difference between a marriage and an extended hookup, from the atheist point of view ?”

    Well, from one atheist, aside from not using the fairly demeaning vernacular of “extended hookup”, tax and benefit purposes. The historical significance of marriage as institution has very little bearing on me, either good or bad. I don’t avoid it because of negative connotations or try to move towards it because of good ones.

    But I can’t get health insurance from my s.o.’s school district until we’re married, and as someone with tens of thousands of dollars of prescription and medical bills a year, we know that we’ll have to get married soon. As far as commitment goes, we’re already listed together as lesees, probably would buy a house together, and are both the emergency contact for our cat (…don’t judge). So there won’t be much change.

  • Nicole

    My ex-husband and I lived together for five years before we got married. I, in no way blame our living together prior to marriage for our eventual divorce. Things didn’t work out and we certainly weren’t going to stay together at the bequest of family and friends.

    Fingon…for us, the difference in marriage and an extended hook-up was monetary. I was married in my early 20s and, at that time, there were no domestic partner laws. As boyfriend/girlfriend, we weren’t able to share insurance(s), there was no security should one of us get in an accident and/or die, etc.

    Never say never, but chances are I would not marry someone that I didn’t live with first. People put on a good face when they’re dating, when you live together, the face has to come off from time to time. That’s when you really get to know who you’re with.

    Is his leaving the toilet seat up going to make me homicidal? Are my occasional rock-outs to Brittney Spears while cleaning going to make him run screaming? These are things, in my opinion, that should be dealt with before marriage. 😉

  • Margaret

    My bond with my partner has gotten stronger over the years we have been living together. I have always been committment-phobic and so we started things off slowly, each owning our own places, but he ended up spending most of his time at my place. Over the years I have come to love him more and more. I have serious doubts that we would still be together if we had gotten married earlier on — the paralysis of knowing my life was “set in stone” would likely have surfaced and broken things apart. Now after 7 years together we realize we will stay together. We talked about marriage, but when I brought it up with my parents, whom I always thought would be happy about it, they were rather distraught and basically said “Why ruin a perfectly good relationship with marriage?” Thanks, Mom and Dad! So basically, there’s just no need for marriage and we’re perfectly happy the way things are.

  • Meg

    DH and I lived together for over a year before getting married. On our anniversary this summer we will have been married 22 years. Oh, and most of that year we weren’t ‘engaged.’

    Did that year help or hurt out marriage? We got to know each other better and that is only a good thing.

    As for why does an atheist get married? Tax and benefits are part of it. Raising out children is another. And lastly it’s the public statement of commitment.

  • Mike

    This kind of things is so specific to each individual involved that I think almost every conclusion one makes is anecdotal. In my case, I was in my 20’s the first time I co-habitated with someone. That relationship ended after 2 1/2 years. And I think the things which we both learned about each other during that time made us both realize that, while we cared very deeply for one another, that getting married would be a mistake. My wife and I co-habitated for over a year before we decided to get married. All told, we were together for two years before we married. The fact that we were both in our thirties and had a bit more life and relationship experience and were more emotionally mature had much more to do with how we viewed our relationship than the whole idea of co-habitation. I think that living together was really a net plus for both of us and I am glad that we did it. We have now been married for 19 years. And looking in my rear view mirror, I wouldn’t do anything any differently that I have done. It has been great.

  • I’m living with my girlfriend and will be until we get married. We’re currently living in a studio apartment whilst studying for postgraduate courses, and if a couple can live in such a confined space then they can live in a house together as a married couple.

    We do have arguments but they are always over little things or miscommunications. Because of our lack living space we’ve had to learn to diffuse situations very quickly, so if anything we’ve grown stronger by learning to listen to each other. She’s an atheist training to be a teacher of religious education and we have very different opinions on a wide variety of topics so we’ve also learned to debate without coming across as aggressive 🙂

    One thing we are discovering is that the government tends to favour married couples living together.

  • Meredith

    As for why does an atheist get married? Tax and benefits are part of it. Raising out children is another.

    Yep, that’s it. We aren’t married for any other reason than to be recognized by the government as such. Didn’t have a wedding, ran off to Vegas after living together for 4 years. We’re still good, 10 years and 2 kids later.

    I think its all crap. How many of this generations parents have split BECAUSE they married so young because they could NOT live together before marriage?

  • Iason Ouabache

    There are, of course, no citations for any of this research…

    They have been passing around statistics like this since at least the 90s. I assume that it is one of those numbers that has been passed around from one Christian group to another, getting slightly exaggerated over time. The original source has been lost to the sands of time.

    At any rate, I cohabitated with someone else before marrying my lovely wife. I don’t see any major difference other than the fact that a lease is a lot easier to get out of than a marriage. And as arallyn said, the legal and health benefits are pretty nice to have.

  • Gail

    “What exactly is the difference between a marriage and an extended hookup, from the atheist point of view?”

    Marriage didn’t start out as a religious institution. Ask an anthropologist. It now has legal benefits, but it was originally a way to band together, possibly to raise children, a kind of form of societal and sometimes physical protection. In this manner, a lot of couples who aren’t legally married are actually anthropologically married. If you don’t want the legal benefits of marriage, then it might not matter to you whether or not you are legally married or socially married.

    For example, in the 19th century Romany/gypsy culture, you would be considered “married” within that society simply by holding hands, eating together, the woman cooking for the man. By their standards, cohabiting couples would be married. It just depends on whether you are talking legally or anthropologically.

  • Meg

    My husband and I lived together 20 months before marrying after a three-day engagement, 15 years ago, come June. I had lived with a previous partner for about the same span, and decided not to marry him, despite being explicitly but indefinitely “engaged” for some months.

    Living together has sometimes been the hardest part of being married. Too many obligations come with legal marriage to enter into it without some idea of basic compatibility as roommates. For me, anyway.

  • JD

    I wonder if the “research” actually exists. If they don’t name the a researcher or the researcer’s institution, I assume it’s BS.

    What exactly is the difference between a marriage and an extended hookup, from the atheist point of view ?

    Probably not that much is practically different from a theist’s view. But theists seem to think that religion is the reason marriage exists. In past eras, religion seemed to treat marriage as almost a “necessary evil” rather than a holy institution. Take Apostle Paul, he said it’s better to not marry if you can stand it, but if your urges are too great, then you may as well get married.

  • “Ah, yes… the old “I-would’ve-gotten-divorced-but-that-would-have-been-embarrassing-and-that’s-why-we’re-still-together” line. So romantic.

    Makes me yearn for the sweet contractual bonds of marriage…”

    Do you really not see the romance in committing to one’s word despite the foibles of your spouse? Sure. The motivation was bad (peer pressure often is) – but the root cause of the embarrassment isn’t such a bad thing. There’s shame in packing something in because it’s too hard. And all marriages are hard.

    I don’t think you should be knocking that kind of commitment until you’ve tried it. Keeping marriage vows like the guy in your examples has is an honourable thing. And I’d say there’s an overlap between honour and romance. And there’s romance in making sacrifices to stay with a person you have committed to as you become more aware of their faults.

  • Flawedprefect

    I. Co-habited. That’s how we learned about each other and that we were willing to commit. The wedding was the icing on the cake. To get married and THEN find out about each other seems like putting the cart before the horse from my perspective.

  • writzer

    Living together worked for us. My wife and I met in 1970, lived together for two years (and learned a lot about each other), then married in 1972. We’ve raised two kids, both atheist BTW, and are now closing in on 40 years of marriage. I think that, more important to the success of our marriage than the two years we lived together, was the fact that we waited ten years before we decided to have children. I was 21 and my wife was 20 when we wed. If we had had children right away I don’t believe we’d have lasted long together.

  • Chantay

    It makes no difference, and if it does for some people then it’s all in their head. I Cohabit now with no intentions of marriage, but if we did what difference would a piece of paper make when you have lived with someone some odd number of years. It’s all in their head. Living together is simply convenient for some people, it’s nothing wrong with it.

  • Lena915

    I always found the idea that people should not live together before they get married really strange. I have had roommates before, some I could live with, some unbearable. I also lived with my ex for two years. We did not work well together in that setting. If I had not lived with my ex prior to an engagement, we would probably be married, and living in a bad situation for both of us.

    I am now engaged, and living with my fiance. We have been living together for almost one and a half years. Things are working out great because we are able to understand all aspects of living together before we sign the legal papers.

    Personally, I would not jump into a situation in which a long-term committment is involved with another person, until I’ve had a chance to really get to know the other person, and how I interact with them on a regular basis.

  • My wife and I lived together for two years before marriage. We are now at almost 28 years of marriage. When we were young we wanted to be together for sure. I was just a bit worried about marriage. I wasn’t sure I was ready to make a life long commitment. Heck… I was only 19 years old. My brother had gone through a bad divorce and he was really hurt.

    I needed a bit of time to make sure I was making a strong lifelong commitment. My girlfriend (now wife) was patient with me and told me to take my time. We treated each other like partners even before we were married.

    I asked her to marry me once I was sure I was solid in my commitment. It was also great to get her on my health insurance. Not very romantic really.

    Our lives didn’t really change one bit after marriage. I guess we felt we had a stronger commitment if we wanted kids etc., but this was pretty trivial stuff for us. We were already pretty dedicated.

    It’s funny, but I thought my wife would be less insecure about our relationship after marriage. She sometimes worried that we would not stay together. I thought being married would help her feel safer. It didn’t really make any difference one way or another. Hmmmmm. I wonder what that is all about.

  • Evan

    I cohabited before marriage and thought we were better for it. Our divorce seven years later didn’t have anything to do with that time period. My sister, being very religious, wasn’t happy with our premarital arrangement, but it wasn’t any of her business anyway. She didn’t move out of our parent’s home until the day she got married. And she’s still happily married. I don’t believe her anti-cohabitation stance has anything to do with that either.

  • Aside from the financial benefits society grants to married couples, marriage is really just a “state of mind”. Different people have different needs for ceremony and ritual. Personally I don’t need ritual and ceremony as much as the average person. We simply had a secular marriage ceremony 16 years ago to mark the occasion with friends and family. There are probably some who don’t really consider us married because we didn’t intertwine all the God-talk and religion pledges within the ceremony. In my opinion, the important thing is what you do together after you “get married”. The ceremony or piece of paper is really irrelevant.

  • Do you really not see the romance in committing to one’s word despite the foibles of your spouse? Sure. The motivation was bad (peer pressure often is) – but the root cause of the embarrassment isn’t such a bad thing.

    Nope, no romance there. Staying married out of embassasment is not commitment, it’s the easy way out. Buckling to peer pressure instead ofwhat you think is right is cowardice. If you want to be married, great. If you find the marriage isn’t working, and the only reason you stay togather is embarrassment, then you’re a moron. Staying together because you need health benefits is a tragedy. Staying together “for the children” is fraught with peril, and in many cases doesn’t end well.

    When I perform a wedding ceremony, the most important part to my mind is the commitment being entered freely by both parties. Since I’m an atheist I have no use for the whole notion of “marriage is a sacrement” that was rammed down my throat when I was a kid. When I perform marriages I want the couple to be happy, wanting to marry each other, understanding that marriage is hard, and finally that not all marriages survive.

    My wife and I lived togather for 4 years before we got married and have been married for 11 years. In that time we’ve had only one serious disagreement, and otherwise have found that we get along togather nicely.

    The folks who say that people cohabitate for sex are incredibly naïve. Living arrangements are rarely an impediment to having sex, rather they may be a motivator for creativity.

  • I agree – I think their stats are bogus. The only downside is that if you co-habitate long enough and then break up you have no legal protections for what is essentially an extra legal divorce.

    Just looking at it’s impact on my friends, I think break ups may be harder after co-habitating, but again, thats not that big a deal and it’s just an impression I have from watching my friends go through it.

    I’ve never lived with someone I was dating. My husband and I didn’t live together before getting married, we were both against it – call us old fashioned, we don’t care. I don’t have good reasons for my personal preference though – it was just a feeling that if I wasn’t committed enough to get married I wasn’t committed enough to share my finances with a guy. Plus – I always sort of felt that I needed to be self-sufficient and not dependent on someone if I was merely dating them. Again, just a personal preference and it has nothing to do with whether it is good for a relationship or not. It was right for me and that’s all that matters to me.

  • My husband and I lived together for about a year before we got married. For us, it was probably the best idea we ever had. Even looking back almost 22 years later.

    Honestly, if it wasn’t for K’s mother, we never would have gotten married. I think our outcome as a couple would have been the same. My parents and K’s father always treated us like we were married from the time we moved in together, so that weren’t an issue.

  • Kaye

    • The odds of divorce among women who married their only cohabiting partner were 28% lower than among women who never cohabited before marriage, according to sociologist Daniel Lichter of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
    •”We showed women who only cohabited with their husband had lower rates of divorce than women who didn’t cohabit and went straight to marriage,” Lichter says. “There seems to be less risk than if you cohabit many times or if you don’t cohabit at all.”

  • Matt H.

    I lived with an ex for several months before we split because we didn’t get along. I’m glad we found out before we got married.

    Breaking up with a girlfriend is a LOT easier and less messy than a divorce. That’s probably atleast one reason cohabitators might break up more than married couples. It’s easier. You just say adios and can move on. Married couples are probably more likely to try to endure a miserable relationship to avoid everything that goes with divorce. My brothers divorce, for instance, was brutal and expensive.

  • cat

    I object to the idea that a relationship that differs from a monogamous, permanent, legally recognized, hetero marriage is inferior or a failure. Relationships do not have to last forever to be meaningful and beautiful. Relationships do not have to result in marriage to be wonderful. I object to the standard in and of itself.

  • allison

    We did co-habit before marriage – not as my first choice, but my husband wanted the big ceremony and such, and that took a while to plan. I offered to go before a justice of the peace in a small, quick ceremony and then have the bigger party later because I’m just not that into pomp and circumstance.

    I do think it was possibly a bit helpful as a test drive because as others had been doing, we’d been in a long-distance relationship prior to moving in together. I don’t think the initial phase of getting used to sharing our space on a long-term basis would’ve been particularly different either way.

    Anyway, I don’t think it hurt anything for us. We’ve been married for 15 years now, and if we ever do split up (certainly not something I’m planning to do!) I rather doubt that our having cohabited before marriage will have anything to do with it.

  • Lizzy

    My husband and I lived together for two years before we were married, and we were only engaged for the last 6 months or so. I have to say that in reality very little changed once we were official. I doubt that if we ever split up it will have anything to do with living together first. I have no idea how legitimate their stats are, but I have heard some people float the idea that people who are willing to live together before marriage are almost less likely to cling to the idea that marriage is a creation of god. As such they’re more willing to throw in the towel if they’re not happy. I would have to agree. I certainly don’t take my commitment to husband lightly, but I also accept that if in the future we both realize that we’re unhappy I’m certainly not going to stay married because I think that divorce is a sin.

  • I know my parents lived together before they got married. Thirty plus years later, they still seem to be doing just fine. I got married last year; before that, my husband and I had lived together for five years. Things are the same now as they were before we got married.

    For us, marriage was a public statement of our love for each other and our commitment to that love. It was also a way to get the wonderful bucketful of legal rights that are reserved just for married people. That’s why we did it in spite of the incredibly creepy baggage that many groups have piled on to the act of getting married.

    A side benefit is I’m now able to say things like, “I’m married and I support the right of my gay friends to get married as well,” and “I want weird asshole Christians to stop claiming that they’re defending my marriage.” So there’s that too. I think while we don’t view ourselves or our relationship at all differently now that we’re legally married, society does, so we might as well use that how we can.

  • John Small Berries

    My wife and I lived together for three years before we got married. If anything, it strengthened our relationship. We got all of the “surprises” out of the way first (so there was no “Oh no, what have I done? Now I’m trapped with this person!” moment for either of us).

    Our decision to get married was not based on hope (or faith) that we would work well together as a couple, but the knowledge that we did, and a desire to continue that for the rest of our lives.

    For those who marry first, the decision to give lifelong care and love to one’s partner comes before the pleasures of married life, including sexual intimacy. The couple promises, in effect, not to seek the gratification of their strongest desires from one another until they commit to a life of mutual service and faithfulness.

    Ah, that explains why such relationships are never troubled by extramarital affairs (with televangelists especially being paragons of marital virtue).

  • Lauren

    why is being co-habitated and then breaking up so bad? I’m in a position where that will probably happen. we like each other, but I don’t know if I can see this being. so ending our cohabitation will be by design.

    when deciding to move in I considered, is this person trustworthy? that is different than do i want to spend the rest of my life.

    and I don’t think it is the pentultimate commitment to marriage. we don’t share a bank account, we don’t have kids etc. so it won’t be like getting a divorce if we do end up splitting.

  • A Portlander

    Re: sources of data cited only as “research”, I dug through the comments on that article; McNiff refers readers to this paper by David Popenoe with the National Marriage Project:,+Marriage+and+Child+Wellbeing&hl=en&as_sdt=0,38&as_vis=1

    The relevant studies seem to be those cited in the footnotes on page 14 (Popenoe’s pages, not Google’s).

    I haven’t dug up those studies, but the NMP paper did not impress me — moral panicking about increases in unwed motherhood since the 1950s, yawn.

  • In our case, as my husband told my oldest son, we ‘had’ to get married.

    No pregnancy…he was in this country on a fiance petition and if we hadn’t married, he’d have been deported. So that was another benefit of marriage. (That was also 37 years ago) We didn’t particularly want to get married so we just look at it as ‘legal living together’.

  • ozymandias

    I dated my girlfriend for 4 years before she moved in for 3 years — and then we got married. Best decision of our lives. We were already committed to each other — that is why she moved in. We got to learn how to get along with each other 24×7, and we learned how to manage a shared budget in a way that worked for us.

    As for the statement that a breakup would be the same as a divorce, that’s not true, especially if you cohabitate intelligently. My (now) wife and I each contributed the same amount to a joint checking account each month, and then we used that joint card to buy anything we intended to share (food), or any bills we agreed to split (utilities, rent, and later mortgage). This means if we ever did split we each owned half of anything we bought. We would each have half equity on the house, etc — making any legal ramifications much simpler to deal with.

  • Dave

    We started dating in 1986.
    We got engaged in 1988.
    We moved in together in 1990.
    We married in 1993.
    We are still happily married in 2011.

    The plural of anecdote is not data, I know. But I simply cannot fathom how living together, and learning the things one can only learn because you are living together, can be anything but a GOOD thing for the survivability of the relationship?

  • JB Tait

    One problem with cohabiting is that one partner might be seriously committed to the relationship, putting in effort to make it work, and counting on growing old together, while the other partner is secretly just going along with it for the benefits until something better comes along.

    In my experience, the difference in expectations is gender biased, but from an evolutionary perspective this shouldn’t be surprising in view of the biology of childbearing vs age, which determines the strategy that benefits each sex.

    So when he leaves, the wife is left shocked, often destitute, and frequently bitter for having wasted her youth and beauty on something she didn’t realize was temporary.

    This doesn’t mean that insisting on a contractual marriage will prevent the problem if he doesn’t volunteer. The same evolutionary pressure would account for the midlife crisis in which the husband decides it is time to trade in his 50 on two 25s.

  • Michelle

    My only argument against co-habitation would be a practical one and my advice would be not to do it unless you are able to live alone first.
    I have co-habitated with someone other than my husband and known many people who have as well, including him, and often times these relationships mimic a marriage without the legal benefits. It is more than just tax breaks, what about things bought for the household, sharing a car and furniture and all the other things that go along with it? What about credit and the name on all of the utilities? It may sound petty, but it can turn into a financial nightmare if things go wrong, especially if there is not a good social network in place and one or both of you is not in a place to be financially stable alone when the break-up occurs. It is hard to find situations where these matters can be settled fairly and equitably like a divorce (yes, I know those are rarely completely fair and equitable, but there are rules and there is recourse).
    Marriage is like parenting; the ones who know how to do it best are the ones who have never done it. After nine years of marriage and living together after we got engaged for a year, there have been some close calls. My response is that we have a legally binding contract – I made a commitment and will keep it provided that contract is not otherwise breached (like my husband getting an additional significant other or something) It may not sound romantic, but it works well for us.

  • Tristan Lawksley

    My wife and I cohabited…

    After dating/cohabiting for a year, I proposed. In our case, it was something that I had told my wife I was going to do. I wanted us to be together an entire year before we considered marriage. It wasn’t because I didn’t love her, or that I didn’t think the relationship would last. It was simply due to the fact that I had been through a horrible and destructive relationship where I stayed for four years. I wanted to make sure that my wife and I *would* be able to live together and deal with our problems maturely and reasonably without either of us repeating old patterns and behaviors.

    Close to six months after I proposed we were married Our total time together? Eleven years now and counting. We of course have our issues and problems but we are and have always been committed to one another, and we’re committed to working things out no matter what.

    Did cohabitation make a difference? Possibly. Would we have as strong of a marriage had we not cohabited? Possibly. I don’t know either way, but I’d like to believe that we were committed enough to each other from day one that it wouldn’t have mattered.

    My opinion is that cohabitation isn’t as important as commitment. I’d be interested in studies on it regardless.

  • JB Tait

    We started dating in 1978.
    We moved in together in 1979.
    We moved to another country far from family and friends in 1984.
    We married in 1985.
    He said “Nice marriage, goodbye,” and headed west in 1994.
    It seemed to me to be a good relationship, but apparently he was always dissatisfied and had never bothered to tell me what he wanted to improve.

    The plural of anecdote is not data, I know. But I simply cannot fathom how living together, and learning the things one can only learn because you are living together, can be predictive of the survivability of the relationship.

  • Laur

    I agree with cat: “Relationships do not have to result in marriage to be wonderful.”

    I know much of society, both religious and non, may not agree with me, but I don’t see marriage as a step up for a relationship, ESPECIALLY if that relationship will never produce children. People sometimes ask me why I’m living with the mister before we get married. I reply “oh, are we getting married?”

    Frankly, I’d rather get a root canal than get married, and I’m tired of even open-minded atheists perpetuating the belief that marriage, even as “a piece of paper,” is a more-valid state of affairs than, say, any loving and committed relationship.

    And it really bugs me when people beg the question by assuming marriage is the inevitable end state of any loving relationship!

    That said, I know people will want to marry each other and that everyone should have that right. Just stop belittling me and mine and our very happy non-marriage 🙂

  • Monica

    My husband and I lived together for about a year before we got married, but after we were engaged. We were already planning on moving in before I proposed to him.

    We’ve been married only a bit less than a year, but I think it was in general a positive thing. It gave us a chance to learn things about each other that we wouldn’t have if we’d lived apart. Things like our various annoying habits and tendencies. Who gets up earlier and who goes to bed earlier. Who leaves socks on the floor and who insists on straightening the shower curtain immediately after stepping out. What kind of grocery budget suited the two of us.

    I don’t know that any of these things are so significant as to say that our marriage would have suffered if we had NOT lived together, but it was nice not to have any surprises after the honeymoon.

    And as has been said by others, our sex life really had nothing to do with it. We knew that part worked well and we’d known that for quite some time. And because we weren’t hung up on that, we were able to focus on the other things that can make or break a marriage, like learning how we communicate. How we show love and how we prefer to be shown love. How our values and perspectives lined up. What long term dreams we shared and didn’t share.

    Honestly, I think that figuring those things out is a hell of a lot more important to the long term success of a marriage than whether or not you split the rent beforehand.

  • Gabriel

    Hmm, my anecdotes probably don’t help. I lived with my significant other before both of my marriages. The first one ended in divorce. I’m going into year six of my current marriage. I think this one is going to last but of course I won’t know for sure until the end.

    When me and the current moved into together we bought a house. We lived in it for two years with my children from the previous marriage. Then suddenly she wanted to get married. So we got married.

    It seems to be working quite well so far.

  • My fiancee and I have been together for just over six years, and we have lived together for around the past year and a half. We’ve lived together before, we lived in the same city before, and we’ve lived long distance (for several years) before.

    Cohabitation is ideal. Same-city is acceptable. Long-distance sucks.

    Still, I wouldn’t do anything differently, even the long-distance times. Each part of our relationship has tested us and shown us whether we are compatible. Having done it this way, I don’t think I could marry someone without living with her first.

  • @Nathan and in regards to the difficulty of marriage.

    I don’t think that marriage has an obligation to last a lifetime. I think marriage is an institution that lasts as long as both people buy into it and not a second longer. I’m not afraid of a little work and I know a lot of things can be worked through if you give it some emotional elbow juice.

    I take issue with the pressure to maintain a marriage. I think the reason I keep working out tiffs with my significant other is because I still want that significant other. Kids are important and all but there’s no good reason to maintain a dying marriage, imo. A lot of people suffer from those zombie marriages that should have died a long time ago. If you mistakenly divorce, you can just remarry. Breaking up and making up is more acceptable than committing for commitment’s sake. Commitment should be the act committing for the benefit of the partners.

  • schnauzermom

    Cohabitation: 2 1/2 years. Marriage: 34 1/2 years and counting. No plans to change that.

    Once you commit, you commit. You make a promise and work every day to keep it. That’s what marriage, or any committed relationship, is about.

    It’s what’s in your head, not what’s on the paper, that counts.

  • Chelsea

    I live in a co-habitating with my parter of 6 years and our 3 children. From my experience and observations I’ve come to a couple conclusions; 1. you don’t have to be married to not have sex, kids do that for you :), 2. living together doesn’t cause divorce, getting married does! We are very happy together and plan to be together forever, but don’t plan on getting married until later. I think the feeling of “we can break this off at any time” is what keeps us together in a weird kinda way. We have a VERY non-traditional relationship and I feel like we’ve waited this long, I’d rather just wait until my kids are old enough to enjoy the ceremony too 🙂 The only reason we even want to get married is to have to fancy ceremony, we don’t feel like we “owe” it to anyone, or ourselves, and we don’t feel like it will make us that much closer, we are already as close to each other as we can be 🙂

    just my 2 cents 🙂

  • e.ebullient

    “Does cohabitation work?” What does “work” mean in this context? I think there are a lot of things in the Christian paradigm that conspire to make marriages more likely to last longer, and it seems to me this all comes down to those disparate values between Christianity and modern secularism. To even have this argument within those terms implicitly accepts a lot of those values. Which I, at least, am not willing to do.

    Christians like McNiff already believe that sex outside marriage is immoral, and that once you start a marriage and/or sexual relationship, it should last forever. Anything else, to them, is falling short of God’s imagined will for how society should be structured. Of course they would only see value in cohabitation (which they’ve already decided is a sin anyway) that leads to what is already their ideal.

    But I think it’s worth recognizing that a lot of people who don’t share those religious beliefs, also don’t have the values about relationships, or put on a pedestal the idea of monogamy till death. With that value set, cohabitation doesn’t have to be a means to an end (making a future marriage more likely to “succeed”), it can be an end in itself – just something to enjoy, for however long it ends up lasting. And without belief that God will be disappointed in your “failure”, without the belief that is necessarily a “failure” at all, without belief in lifelong monogamy with one person as the only truly respectable and enjoyable life, divorce and breakups are far less stigmatized, so people typically don’t work as hard to stay in relationships that aren’t working anyway.

    And Christians like McNiff think that’s a bad thing. I don’t.

  • Becca

    “What’s the difference between marriage and an extended hook up for an atheist?”

    A hook up typically refers to two people getting together for the purposes of sex. A marriage typically refers to two people making a lifetime commitment to live with, care for and support each other.

    “Why do atheists get married?”

    For the same reasons any other person may get married.
    – To show commitment to each other.
    – To have their commitment to each other recognized.
    – To take advantage of benefits granted to marries couples by the government.
    – For the purposes of having children.
    – …. And so on ….

  • TRex

    My wife and I lived together for 5 years before we got married. It will be 17 years this Friday, or 22 years together. I would recommend to any young couple and that includes my children when they’re old enough to do so, that they live together before marriage. Why wouldn’t you make sure you were able to live with a person before committing the rest of your lives to each other?

  • FunnierOnPaper

    What I find hilarious about all this is that during Biblical times when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, or you know what I mean, the way marriage worked was Engagement (where they agreed that being married would be the thing to do), Bethrothal (where they lived together as husband and wife will all the “benefits” too) and Marriage. Some Bethrothals went on to Marriage, and some did not.

    What I wonder about all the so-called statistics is if they include all the people that lived together and split up without getting engaged or married, or even did get engaged. If that’s the case, then yes it’s more likely there’s a split up, but that’s also true with modern dating. It’s very rare that someone will marry the person they dated at age 15, although the church would have you believe that’s the way to do it too.

    And to add, I’ve lived with 2 men and been married to both of them. My 1st marriage ended in widowhood. My 1st husband, I lived with for 2 years, 1 of them with us engaged before marriage. My 2nd I lived with for 5 years, 2 of them engaged before marriage. I waited so long because my “wonderful” 1st husband left me a parting “tax” benefit of $10k to the I.R.S. that my 2nd husband would’ve owed had I remarried before I found out about Innocent Spouse Relief.

  • Courtney

    I think the assumptions here, beyond just “people only live together so they can have sex” is also, “People who do not live together cannot have sex” AND “people cannot live together without having sex.”

    The first one seems especially silly to me, and just a comfort to people with their heads in the sand about how many people actually engage in pre-marital sex.

    But I really don’t see how, if for whatever reason you were committed to a moral code that involved abstention from sex prior to marriage, you couldn’t keep that pledge while living with another person.

    I myself have only been cohabiting for about 6 months after a cross country move, but non-sexual intimacies of like, cooking and eating together, planning weekend activities, dealing with bills, car maintenance, etc. are really helping me to build a sense of paired unity with my partner.

  • Mikey J

    Lived together for 2.5 years, married 8 years next month with 2 awesome kids. We were older when we met (26) and I think we did it perfectly. How can you truly know if you are compatible with someone until you’ve lived with them?

  • CanadianNihilist

    There are, of course, no citations for any of this research…

    darn. I was really looking foreword to reading the

    expanding body of evidence shows that “shacking up” damages individuals, relationships and communities…

    I’m curious as hell to know how my gf and I living together are damaging the community. I had better be carefull not to draw notice among the other 578,000 (2006 census) other people living here.

  • Mary Ellen

    My spouse and I have been married 35+ years – 2 kids, 4 grandkids. We cohabited before marrying and I had also cohabited with another potential partner in a previous relationship. I believe those experiences helped me to choose the right person for a long-term relationship. For that reason we have been supportive of our daughter cohabiting with her fiancee as well. (BTW, cohabiting was still considered scandalous in the ’70s! The times they are a changin’ for the better, IMO.)

  • I’d say the success or failure of a relationship, cohabitation, marriage, or otherwise, depends more on the abilities of all parties involved to communicate effectively with one another. When that doesn’t occur or is prevented in some manner, a breakup may follow.

    My wife and I “shacked up” for 7 years before we got married. March 18 is our anniversary – 17 years later (huge love to my lovergirl!). The one thing through it all that has been consistent has been our ability to communicate with each other. I won’t say it has been “perfect bliss”; I doubt many relationships are. We’ve had our ups and downs, certainly. But through it all, we’ve communicated our wants, needs, and desires.

    Ultimately, the level and quality of communication in a relationship is likely a more important and larger reason behind its success or failure, regardless of whether the participants cohabitate or not in the beginning. Its strange that some theists either don’t understand this, or fail to see it, as they seem to stress communication with their deity; then again, when said deity never truely returns the conversation with the same level and quality…

  • M1n

    I lived with my now husband for about a year before we got married.

    best decision ever.
    I will encourage my kids to live with their partners before considering marriage.

    I have a very close and hiper-christian friend, she got married to her boyfriend after 14 years of relationship. She lived with her parents until she got married.
    Half year later they’re getting a divorce (and they’re going to hell but according to her words “hell sounds good compared to this marriage”). The reason? They didn’t really know each other.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I have no scientific evidence going into this statement:
    But to me it seams like cohabitation would help protect the sanctity of marriage and all that.
    If you live with someone for years you’re going to have disagreements and fights and that’s natural. If you’re not compatible you’ll break up. It happens. Nothing lost except time and hurt feeling. However if you marry someone you’re not sure is a good fit then BAMO! Divorce.
    Personally I’ve already weathered the worst with my gf over the last few years. If we were to get married I already know our relationship is strong enough to last.
    Other gf’s though… I would be divorced a few times over by now.

  • Aimee

    I lived with my partner before marriage but we lived at my mom’s and his parent’s house. I had an apartment before that where he and others often stayed (up to 7 people in the 1 bedroom it was a nightmare). I was glad for the experience with the apartment because it taught me that I could handle a job, school and a household of teenagers who try to mooch off me. I got pregnant at the end of that year and moved in with my mom, and then lived with his parents after the baby was born (they had more room). We both benefitted greatly from living with our parents as adults.

    His parents are still married and have raised 3 very well adjusted intelligent children (dh is the youngest) so we were able to learn a lot from them about being married, how to manage a household and how to be good parents. It was especially helpful because of how young we were. We got officially married so my husband could join the military and we would receive all those benefits.

    I am glad I was able to experience living on my own(ish) and living with my partner and living with my in-laws. I learned valuable things about being an adult. We’ve been together for 7.5 years, married for 3.5.

    My two christian friends did not live with their husbands before marriage. One is still engaged and she’s only known him for a couple months. I am extremely apprehensive about it. The other has confided that they have fought almost constantly but they are newly weds. My partner and I did not have that fighting period after marriage perhaps because we were well used to living together and had a lot of family support.

  • A

    My partner and I have lived together for 7 years now and have been together for a total of 13 years. We don’t really view our union any differently than other couples who are legally married. We are committed to each other and our relationship. I think we will probably end up getting married at some point, but neither of us sees a huge reason to get “married” – especially because neither of us are religious. I think a Vegas wedding will be in our future 😉

  • Joy

    I’m not sure a higher divorce rate is necessarily bad. I had a really, really brilliant history professor who shared his thoughts that the current higher divorce rate was probably due to the higher average lifespan. He said it makes perfect sense that if you’re going to live for forty or fifty more years, you decide you’d rather end your less-than-ideal relationship rather than living with it the rest of your life. If, hundreds of years ago, you were thirty or thirty-five and your marriage wasn’t ideal, chances were that one of the partners would die before long, but now, we see that it doesn’t always make sense to keep a relationship alive. If people are divorcing to take advantage of the rest of their lives and move on to healthier relationships, why should that be considered a bad thing?

  • zachofalltrades

    My wife and I lived together for 5 years before we got married. We’ve been married now for 8 years. I’ve been an atheist since fourth grade, and though my wife was raised Catholic I suspect she was always an atheist at heart. That’s just by way of saying that religion has played no part whatsoever in our relationship at any point.

    We nearly split up once, and it would of course have been much, much easier if we had, but also unsatisfying. We worked through our problems, not because of embarrassment at ending our public union, but because we loved each other and genuinely wanted to fix things. Aside from that single hiccup, my wife and I have a great relationship and I like being married to her. I’m not going out on a limb at all by saying that if we hadn’t lived together first, we would definitely have been divorced by now. It’s only because we knew each other so well that we were able to solve our problems.

    That comment about the not divorcing because of embarrassment absolutely makes my skin crawl. They probably had a huge extravagant wedding that was more of a status symbol than actually having anything to do with the people involved. That just sounds like a terrible way to live.

    Good lord, it’s those sorts of marriages that should be against the law…

  • Daniel

    Lived together a little over three years. Been married eight years since then. One 2.5 year old daughter and another due in July.

    Our first week back after our honeymoon, we looked at each other and said, “This isn’t really any different, is it?”

    The only real change was our taxes and our auto insurance.

  • I’ll pose you one better:

    Why is “commitment” automatically seen as an absolute good?

    Obviously, many people want commitment and if that’s what both parties in a relationship want, then fine. (And yes, a relationship is a business arrangement whether you like to think of it that way or not.)

    Often, those who can’t commit are labelled as selfish and immature. But how, exactly, is expecting somebody to be loyal to you and only you, no matter what, and furthermore demanding that loyalty for the rest of their (not necessarily your) life not just as selfish?

    Or, is it even productive to put value judgements on peoples’ levels of selfish interests so long as they’re not willfully hurting one another?

    I’m not impressed by my friends’ marriages, nor do I demand they be impressed by my non-marriage. But, if you want to get political about it, there is an entire industry in this culture putting its muscle behind the marriage camp which feels the need to flex its muscles and wield the commitment stick over everybody. So yes, I think it’s perfectly alright for those who choose not to go that route to be publicly miffed about it, the same way it’s perfectly alright for atheists to be publicly miffed about the intrusion of Christian worldviews on our lives.

  • It’s clear that the real objection of the people who wrote the article is premarital sex, not cohabitation. I doubt very much if even the most conservative Christian would have a problem with an asexual couple living together prior to marriage.

  • This, also, is anecdotal evidence (so, when does the plethora of anecdotal evidence become just plain evidence?), but my partner and I have been living together for 10 of our 11 years together. We have no plans to get married – we don’t want religion or the government in our relationship, not to mention the expense! – and no plans for kids. We’ve been happy and committed this entire time.

  • Silent Service

    Cohabitated for 6 months. Probably would have cohabitated for another year if I hadn’t had orders to a different base. We’ve been married for 14 years now. Don’t know if it will last forever; don’t really care one way or the other. We love each other and that’s what counts in this day and age. When it stops working, we’ll figure it out and move on.

  • MV

    I can provide some info from my Lifespan Development book (not that I particularly trust that). It seems to depend on the purpose of cohabitation, whether as a prelude to marriage, replacement for marriage or just a temporary arrangement. If temporary, separation is likely (duh). As a prelude to marriage, supposedly longitudinal research shows that in five to seven years many marry, one sixth still cohabit and one third break up. Data for these first two come from Casper and Bianchi, 2002. Other research notes negatives (Bouchard, 2006, Brown et al 2006). I haven’t looked at the research, I only note what the book says and the citations. It seems that data is mixed at best and probably depends on socioeconomic factors among other things.

  • Zachary Aletheia

    My wife and I lived together for about 7 years before we decided on a whim to get married. We didn’t go through the silly (to me) engagement period but i am not sure if not living together was even an option for us. We did so much together (still do as much as possible) and spent so much time together it just made sense for her to stay with me or visa verse.

    If we look at experts in what makes marriage fail Dr. Gottman is the leading expert. He can predict with i believe 95% accuracy whether or not a couple will end in a divorce or not by spending 15 min with them. Now this has nothing to do with whether or not they cohabited or not.

  • Erik

    “I’m glad we stuck together. We wouldn’t have if we’d been “trying out” our relationship.”

    Ha. Probably should listen to himself speak.
    Far fewer couples would have to go through “embarrassing” divorce if they knew before they got married that they weren’t compatible. I find that nearly impossible to determine unless the couple has lived together previously.

  • Luke

    There is an association between cohabiting and higher divorce rates, but the problem is that the two groups of people are different on other variables as well. That is, people who go straight to marriage without cohabiting have more conservative and “no divorce” attitudes than those who find it acceptable to cohabit. As Mark Regnerus found in his book “the marriage go round”, cohabiting in other countries, such as Europe last longer than marital relationships in our country. So if religious people want stable relationships, such as for child rearing, they should support couples who cohabit as much as they support married couples. there is a self fulfilling prophesy going on that those who assume that cohabiting is somehow “bad” based on societal norms, receive less support and therefore may be more likely to view the relationship as more fragile.

  • Robert W.

    This comes from the same report:

    The data show that those who live together after making plans to marry or getting engaged have about the same chances of divorcing as couples who never cohabited before marriage. But those who move in together before making any clear decision to marry appear to have an increased risk of divorce.

    Makes sense and shows that the statistics can’t be taken as a blanket statement that co habitating doesn’t make a difference.

  • martha

    Dated my spouse in the 70s. Split up, got back together in the early 80s. Lived together for a few years, married in 1986 for insurance and tax reasons, but definitely believed we were committed for life. Continued living together until about 2008, when we split. We are still married for financial and other tedious reasons.

    I’d never marry again.

    Things change. Sometimes dramatically.

  • Annie

    My husband and I lived together for 5 years before marrying (we will celebrate our 18th anniversary this summer). We also chose to wait another 6 years after marriage before having a child. For us, these were good things.

    I really think that people who live together before marriage are usually less religious (or at least do not come from a church that stigmatizes co-habitation). Maybe these same people are less bothered by breaking a legal union (which is what I consider my marriage) than perhaps a religious person breaking a religious union?

  • ButchKitties

    My parents did not cohabitate and have been married for 38 years, but their situation is not the same as mine. They met in college while still living with their parents and got married right after college. Neither of them has ever lived alone. OTOH, I lived alone for five years and my fiance lived alone for almost ten years before we moved in together. We both had to relearn how to share our space, which is something my parents – having moved from one multi-person household to another – did not have to do.

    I moved in with my fiance with the intent of making the relationship last a lifetime, but not necessarily with the intent of getting married. I saw the cohabitation itself as a kind of marriage. Marriage hasn’t always been about having a ceremony and getting a license. It used to be that if you lived together, you were married. Ceremonies were for the aristocracy, not the peasants. The marriage license itself came from the “need” to disallow certain types of marriage such as marrying outside one’s class or race. The government took for itself the power to tell people when they were married so it would gain the power of telling people they were not married.

    I don’t need to get married to make my relationship work, but having gone through a medical emergency with my guy, I see the value of getting that government registration.

  • CJ

    I’ve been married twice. Live with them both before marriage.

    Divorced one. Still married to the other after 21 years.

    There you go.

  • Ashton

    I haven’t read the comments, so I don’t know if someone else has already said this: I have read some serious studies (or maybe it was just one) that said that the divorce rate was higher for couples that lived together first. It’s irresponsible to write an article and not cite it, though. The studies that I read have said that living together while engaged does not lead to higher divorce rate, but living together before making that commitment does. Funny how a Christian only cites the part that supports what he says.

    Personally, I don’t really see myself getting married. Maybe I will someday when I’m 40 or 50, but for the forseeable future, it just doesn’t seem like it’s right for me. If I felt moved to get married, then sure, I would. I would, however, be very likely to live with someone whenever it happened that I met someone that I desired to do that with.

  • SWare

    I still “had religion” when my husband and I moved in together. We were in college. He still lived at his mother’s home and I was living with one of my sisters. We were going to the church’s premarital counseling when an opportunity arose. A friend of ours was moving out of a rental house and the rent was only $250 per month. It was a tiny humble home but still a home and VERY low cost for our area and not in a bad neighborhood. So we jumped on it. Being the honest person I am, I made the mistake of telling the church pastor about this. We were met with contempt and judgment for our decision to move in together and were told that they would not marry us in their church if he didn’t remain living at home with his mother until the marriage ceremony was complete. “The ways of society are not the ways of the church and the path to holiness.” We felt this was utter nonsense and weren’t going to be instructed by anyone on what to do with our lives so I stopped going to that church and also called them to tell them to remove me from their records as a member of any kind. When the pastor learned that we left, he wrote me the nastiest letter about how selfish we were being and that he’d pray that we don’t treat our marriage like we treat the church…that we quit when things get difficult. Well that was nearly 14 years ago and I am still happily married to the same man after having had a nice outdoor ceremony among friends and family before a justice of the peace. While we only really lived together roughly 2 months before hand for us it was the most reasonable thing to do given our circumstances. I also kept the pastors letter as a humorous keepsake.

    Two months probably wasn’t enough time to say that it had a huge impact on what we would learn about each other but it was still a learning experience. In the last couple of years we have both taken on new personal hobbies that we could never have predicted about ourselves or each other. He got into country music and is involved in a band (I largely despise country music) and I got heavily involved with the local roller derby team. I guess my point here is that in all fairness living together for a little while or even a long while doesn’t mean you can know everything about a person. It can however help you learn how to work together as partners in life and learn if you even can work together in that sense.

  • Poyndexter

    “Ah, yes… the old “I-would’ve-gotten-divorced-but-that-would-have-been-embarrassing-and-that’s-why-we’re-still-together” line. So romantic.”

    That sounds to be about the tone I would expect. Doubtless everything YOU do is motivated by only the most logically, ethically purest of intentions. G0d forbid society should be seen as anything other than a cheerleading troupe specifically lauding whatever lifestyle-experiment you conduct…as long as it isn’t approved or supported by tradition of course.

  • TheGoodGerman

    Fun Fact: I moved in with my (soon-to-be) wife before I even knew her. I moved to a new city and was looking for a place to live. She was looking for someone to fill the room that her roommate was moving out of. We lived together for about 3 months before the akward mutual-attraction-tention broke.

    Also, opposite-sex or not, you learn a LOT about a person just by living with them. I once rented a house with a friend of mine in college, and he turned out to be a slob and a pot head. After a couple of arguments, I moved out and we stopped being friends…..

  • G0d forbid society should be seen as anything other than a cheerleading troupe specifically lauding whatever lifestyle-experiment you conduct…as long as it isn’t approved or supported by tradition of course.

    I’m perplexed at the notion that men and women living together constitutes a “lifestyle-experiment.” Human beings have lived together as sexual partners since the beginning of time. Legal and religious marriage is the new kid on the block, historically speaking. If one is enamored with tradition, it’s surely far more traditional to live as our earliest ancestors did?

  • hippiefemme

    One of my dear friends has been cohabiting with her partner for the last twenty-five years. They have a lovely relationship and five great kids, all of whom are over age 12. They don’t believe in the institution of marriage, so they never got married.

    One of my sociology professors commented on how cohabiting couples often break up. I don’t see this as a problem. I’d prefer to find out any incompatibilities before making a legal contract with someone.

  • Bulletproofheeb

    One thing my now wife and I agreed on once we became serious was that living together would be a requirement before even considering marriage. There are many ways people can be compatible or incompatible. There’s intellectually, emotionally, sexually and co-habitable. If part of being together is living together then why discourage that?

    I find it odd that some churches demand counseling meetings before marriage but forbid cohabitation. Which one would give the couple a real sense of life together?

  • Stephanie

    Yeah, it took me six months to buy my first car and that was only a five year commitment. I’m happy I gave our marriage a trial run of several years before getting the state involved. It just seems more prudent.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Met my husband in high school when he lost his virginity to me (& vice versa!); lived together for 3 1/2 years (which made his Mother & my Father very unhappy) and have been married for 35 years this September. We got married for the legal benefits, especially in regards to having children.
    As Michelle points out above, “marriage” is a legal contract which defines rights & obligations. You would have to go through a lot of legal hoops to spell each one out, whereas getting married automatically enacts them. This is precisely why gays want the right to marry – so that their rights & obligations to each other will be recognized. For example, your parents (then siblings) would have the right to make medical decisions for you if you were incapacitated. Marriage transfers this right to your spouse – but not if your are co-habiting and your state doesn’t recognize common-law marriage. (Many of the laws being written to stop gay marriages by defining marriage as a “legal union between a man & a woman” are also meant to eliminate rights in common-law hetero unions as well. Sneaky bastards!) Other rights include property ownership, financial support, inheritance and child custody.
    I’ll give an example in a second post as it will be too long for this one.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    My husband’s uncle was a maintenance worker at McGill U. in Quebec. He lived in a common-law relationship for 30 years with one woman. Quebec common law was based on the Napoleonic Code, which only recognized legal marriage (not sure if it is still the same up there now). When he died, she was evicted from their apartment on the university (she would have been allowed to stay had she been legally married); and all his assets & insurance were disbursed to his living siblings or the children of his dead ones (which meant my husband had a right to a share as his mother was dead). The “wife” couldn’t inherit as she wasn’t his legal spouse. This would leave her nearly destitute.
    When a cousin got wind of this, she found that the money could be given back to the “wife” if all the legatees rescinded their claim – which most of them did. Unfortunately, the “wife” died before the estate could be settled and my husband got the share (which only amounted to $3,000).
    This is the situation that gay and unmarried hetero couples can face, unless a state recognizes their common-law rights. I don’t find it cold and unromantic to want the person you love to be taken care of and have their rights protected when you are ill or dead, the same way you did for them when you were alive and healthy.

  • Andrew

    I met my now-wife around the time when I had begun to question the fundamentalist Christian beliefs that I had been raised with. When we originally moved in together (after we had been dating for a year), my parents were very opposed to it. My mother wrote a strongly-worded letter to me, and they sat down and had a talk with me (my then-girlfriend was not invited).

    I still remember that my one of my mom’s points was that “even non-Christians call it ‘living in sin’!” My response to that was, “Uh mom, people call it that because they think it’s amusing.” Oh, and the best part: “But, but, you might be tempted to have sex!” Heck, one day even the pastor of their church (that I used to attend) stopped by to take me out to lunch for a talk (and again, my girlfriend was not invited).

    But I moved in anyways. A few years later, we got married, and now we have been together for over ten years. We have weathered a number of heart-wrenching family tragedies in that time, but we came through them stronger than ever. I also managed to survive the transition from Christian, to gnostic, to agnostic, and then to atheist during the intervening years.

    Am I proponent of cohabitation? Absolutely. Without living together, people cannot know how truly compatible (or incompatible) they are.

  • catherine

    well, unless I move to state that allows same-sex couples to get married, cohabitation will have to work for me.

  • This statistic has been mentioned in about half the sociology classes I’ve ever taken. On of my profs said that this trend has declined in recent years, though another said that it remained the same. I never went looking for the exact research, and I don’t have the textbooks on hand right now, but if I remember correctly, the difference between groups was explained by the fact that less traditional/religious people are more likely to cohabit, and are more likely to divorce as well, making it less a cause/effect than an effect/effect. Correlation does not imply causation and all that.

    Although now that I think about it, I don’t recall there being a significantly higher divorce rate among the irreligious… I shall have to look it up after Spring Break is over.

  • Beijingrrl

    My husband and I met our freshman year of college. We officially moved in together after college (our rooms were just floors apart in college)and lived so for another 5 years. When we decided we might be ready for kids we got married. We were ready 3 years later. We’ve been married for 14 years and a couple for 23 years. Despite practically living together those 4 years of college, actually living together was a lot different. I think it’s crazy to marry someone without living with them first.

  • Xerglacia

    Just figured I’d give a starting point, though I don’t know that either of these are the studies being referenced.

    University of Denver (2009, July 14). Couples Who Cohabit Before Engagement Are More Likely To Struggle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from­ /releases/2009/07/090713144122.htm

    Wiley-Blackwell (2008, November 7). Serial Cohabiters Less Likely Than Others To Marry. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from­ /releases/2008/11/081106153544.htm

  • AxeGrrl

    cat wrote:

    Relationships do not have to last forever to be meaningful and beautiful. Relationships do not have to result in marriage to be wonderful. I object to the standard in and of itself

    Amen to that 🙂

  • Andrea37

    My hubby and I lived together for six years before getting married (by a justice of the peace) and we’re still together twenty six years later. Our relationship couldn’t be stronger.
    I would recommend cohabitating anytime over the alternative, I mean you wouldn’t buy a new car without a test drive, so why wouldn’t you want to know up front what you’re getting in a mate?

  • Marriage Increases Divorce Risk!

    After reading several seemingly contradictory stories about the pros and cons of cohabitation from respected national news sources, I could not help but be reminded of this infamous quote about research… “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”– Aaron Levenstein

    Regardless of one’s position on living together, perhaps, before or instead of marriage, the fact is the America has become a cohabitation nation. Years of condemnation and negative research studies have had no effect on slowly the rate of cohabitation since most couples reject the guilt-laden, fear-mongering attempts to discourage their living arrangement.

    Instead, most cohabiters fear a failed marriage even more than the criticism, so opt to live together despite the odds. Now over 60% of all couples who marry will cohabit first and while the rate of marriage continues to decline, the rate of cohabitation will skyrocket since 75% of high school students believe living together is worthwhile and harmless.

    Additionally, many of the latest blogs and newspaper stories critical of cohabiting are either using old research, in some cases going back years or the researchers are being quoted, out of context, to substantiate the reporter’s personal bias. Regardless of the results from the studies on cohabitation, please show me one couple who falls in love, decides to cohabit but as a result of a study on the downside of cohabiting, cancel their plans. Furthermore, if you consider the decades long trend… did you know that getting married increases the possibility of getting divorced to nearly 50%. However, when was the latest time you talked to someone who was planning a wedding but called it off due to the often-quoted, well known 50% failure rate of marriage?

    Like it or not, for many, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the new family role model and cohabitation has become a viable institution for over 12 million Americans. Furthermore, if you base your anti-cohabitation opinion on concerns about children and family stability… here’s an interesting little known fact. A child born to a cohabiting couple in Sweden is more likely to grow to adulthood in the same stable home with the same unmarried parents than a child born to a married couple in America.

    Cohabitation does not destabilize marriages or families… people who do not understand commitment do. The goal needs to be teaching the meaning of commitment and walking down the aisle does NOT mean commitment. Another recent study found that among newlyweds… the ones who DID walk down the aisle, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women had an affair within two years of the wedding. Obviously, for millions of newlyweds, the wedding did not increase their commitment.

    The point here is that while many promote marriage as the “gold standard” for what ails American families, keep in mind that ANYONE of legal age can marry. On the other hand, I think we need to be putting more of an emphasis on building COMMITTED relationships which is something that requires lots of hard work and emotional maturity and can happen WITHOUT marriage, as evidenced by the Swedes.

    Yes, let’s keep pushing for changes that range from city initiatives by the clergy to educate couples before marrying, to changes in tax laws or to elimination of no-fault divorce. At the same time, let’s work to develop a productive response to the millions of cohabiting couples who are far too often judged, condemned and ignored by society.

    I think we must “re-invent” and raise our expectations of cohabitation, and our attitudes toward those who decide to live together. There is a commonly held myth that marriage means you will “live happily ever-after.” However, there is no similar assumption of cohabitation other than “it won’t last” which helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    It’s time to take a serious and non-judgmental look at cohabitating couples of all ages and help them strengthen and sustain their relationship whether they ever plan to marry. Let’s consider finding a new approach to this reality.

  • Although now that I think about it, I don’t recall there being a significantly higher divorce rate among the irreligious… I shall have to look it up after Spring Break is over.

    Evangelical Christians actually have the highest divorce rate out of any religious group. Atheists have one of the lowest.

  • Laur

    “The point here is that while many promote marriage as the “gold standard” for what ails American families, keep in mind that ANYONE of legal age can marry.”

    While I understand what you meant, that just ain’t so. This entire discussion leaves out the groups, like glbt people, who cannot legally marry. I don’t really want to participate in an exclusionary institution like that.


  • Hi folks!

    I’ve been with a way lot of work, so I haven’t been posting either here or my own blog… but this is relevant for me.

    Me and my wife were living together before getting married. For about a year or two. We’re currently very happy, and I believe we matured a lot in our relationship thanks to that shared closeness: There were times when we almost broke, but it was not related to cohabitation; indeed, if not for it we would have never married, because our desire to be solve problems and stay was stronger after getting to know each other so intimately.

  • Beckster

    We did not live together before we married. We are still happy 8 years and 3 kids later and I imagine we would still be happy if we had cohabitated. I think the more important consideration is to live with someone a few years before you have children with them, married or not.

  • Kailey

    I think another issue with these topics – is that people who co-habitate probably have less strict views on the permanence of relationships – and divorce.

    I don’t know that ANY of my religious friends or classmates who were recently married that co-habitated before marriage, and I would assume they are also less likely to agree that divorce is an acceptable outcome for a relationship.

    I don’t think that divorce means that someone failed or that people should never have married in the first place. People grow, things change – and yes, part of marriage is a commitment to work through things – but you aren’t a failure if you can’t. Some issues or situations are too much for ANY relationship. I know quite a few instances of really unhappy people staying in marriages that they want no part of being in – why would you do that to yourself and your partner?

  • Jeanette

    To be fair, there is some evidence showing that cohabiting before marriage can lead to increased divorce rates post-marriage (how they got from that “damaging individuals, families, and communities” I don’t know). You can find this if you type “cohabiting divorce” into google scholar.

    However, most researchers seem to think that the reason for this is that a lot of people who move in before marriage are thrown into a kind of inertia marriage where they feel like marriage is the natural next step or their families pressure them into it to “legitimize” the relationship…so all the whining about evil sex and god’s will actively harms their own cause, basically.

  • ACN

    However, most researchers seem to think that the reason for this is that a lot of people who move in before marriage are thrown into a kind of inertia marriage where they feel like marriage is the natural next step or their families pressure them into it to “legitimize” the relationship…so all the whining about evil sex and god’s will actively harms their own cause, basically.

    Classic correlation /= causation eh?

  • crystalspin

    I didn’t read all the comments, sorry if this was said (other people’s blogs are threatening to take over my life as it is!) —

    It’s fiction, no citations, fabricated by one person or the editorial staff of the magazine to advance Relevant’s agenda.

    I read very little fiction so I’m probably not the one to critique this one, but it seems thin in the plot, transparent even.

    I lived with someone I split up with, and I lived with someone (for a much shorter time) that I married twenty years ago.

  • Eric

    My wife and I got secretly engaged after 6 weeks of dating, publicly engaged after something like 6 months, lived together for about 2 years, and have been happily married for 10 years this April.

    Living together was totally not a big deal for us; it was good for getting to know each other better, but I never considered it as a kind of trial marriage. There has never been any doubt in our minds that we are perfect for each other. We’re both atheists, completely in love, best friends, and dedicated to each others’ happiness. Cohabitation was a sensible and practical thing to do while we planned our wedding; if not for the ceremony, we’d have gotten married right away.

    We don’t stay together because we’re married; we’re married because we stay together.

  • saltyestelle

    We lived together for 5-6 years before marriage. I would never marry someone without living together first; I think it’s nearly impossible to really know a person until you live with them.

    Most of the research on this subject indicates a correlation between couples who are religious and who tend to avoid cohabitation before marriage, as they are ALSO less likely to consider divorce. Both factors are based on religious values. There is nothing to indicate a causal link between premarital cohabitation and eventual divorce. Correlation does not equal causation.

  • Shannon

    The other problem with this article is exactly the one articulated in the comment you posted at the end: for religious conservative types, being married is the end value, not happiness. So if cohabitation really does make more marriages end in divorce (and, as you and many commenters say, this isn’t by any means proven), this is, in their view, a Very Bad Thing. The Very Bad Thing isn’t unhappiness in marriage or unhappiness in general. They are more concerned with preserving a total vision of society as a series of good godfearing types hiding behind their white picket fences with their 2.5 godfearing children. This shouldn’t surprise us at all: much of religion is aesthetic. And in the conservative/fundamentalist religious aesthetic, the valued state is the outward appearance of social stability that existed for a few brief moments in the 1950s, and probably not even then.

  • Will

    My wife and I lived together for 9 years–9 YEARS!–before marrying. I read the original article on Relevant, and found it to be one of the most silly, uninformed things I’ve ever come across. How anyone can make so many blanket assertions about the motives of “co-habitators” without ever having been one is beyond me. My wife and I moved in together because we fell in love, but wanted to make sure we were compatible living together before we made the plunge. It turned out that living together was good enough for 9 years. After that, we decided to go ahead and what the hell: make it official. I don’t believe we ever would have gotten married had we not lived together first, let alone stayed together.

  • katie s.

    this is certainly played out by now, but in answer to fingon, i’ll discuss my husband. he is certainly an atheist, and between the ages of 18 and 37 had cohabitated with a number of different girlfriends, for varying lengths of time. the longest was 5+ years. he believed himself to be anti-marriage, and that was a factor in the breakup of several of those relationships. but then we met, and just six weeks later, he proposed to me (i was ambivalent about marriage, for the record). and what he’ll tell you is that while he was happy and in love in those relationships, it was very much living in the moment. and he’ll tell you that when he met me, he realized i was someone he wanted around for the rest of his life and marriage suddenly meant something to him. it was a way of differentiating our relationship, and of announcing to his friends and family and the rest of the world that this (i) was different.

    those differences don’t exist for everyone, or they define them differently, but they sure did to him.

  • Hemant, the preponderance of the evidence shows that indeed, couples who live together prior to marriage are more likely to later have marriage instabilities that lead to divorce. This has been pretty well-established over the last 20 years or so and a google scholar search will produce many studies that show this. However, there are many explanations that are not religiously-based. Here’s a couple I thought of off the top of my head:

    1. Couples who wait until marriage to live together may be more traditional overall and not believe in divorce, and therefore may stay together after marriage even with significant problems in their relationship.

    2. Couples who live together prior to marriage may be more likely to have lower incomes (and therefore cohabiting out of need). They may be more likely to experience financial stress that could effect their later marriage.

    3. Couples who live together prior to marriage may set a higher standard for leaving the relationship since it is much more difficult to break up and move out than to just breakup. They may stay together through issues that would have broken them up had they not been living together. Getting married is the next logical step, which could lead to instability in their marriage. Since they may have had problems prior to the marriage, they may also have more problems after.

    4. Younger people are more likely to live together prior to marriage than an older generation. Depending on how specific studies were done, they may be fallaciously comparing across generations in studies.

    5. People who live together prior to marriage may be younger at the start of their relationship. Therefore, they are more likely to have a turbulent relationship.

    The fact is that the type of people that live together prior to marriage and the type of people that don’t are statistically different. Therefore it’s not surprising that they would also have different types of relationships and marriages. This is all statistical of course, so there are many couples who live together prior to marriage and have a wonderful, healthy, happy and long marriage. Similarly, many couples don’t cohabitate but end up divorcing. However, saying all that, it is well-established from a statistical standpoint that couples who live together prior to marriage are more likely to later get a divorce. Just because that statement is true doesn’t mean there is causation.

  • Mel

    My husband and I, both atheists, lived together for 1.5 years before we were married. Nearly 8 years later, we are still happy and in love.

    My theory, if the numbers work out to be true, on why people who don’t cohabitate break up less often is that it seems to me that the ones who don’t cohabitate first are stricter in their religious beliefs. Therefore, they are also less likely to get divorced, even if unhappy, because of same said beliefs.

  • Grimalkin

    I lived with my partner for about 3 years before we got hitched. At our wedding, my father asked us how it felt to be married. “Exactly the same as yesterday.”

    We were married in every sense of the word save for the signed piece of paper. We had already invested our lives in each other – combining our finances, supporting each other through school and periods of unemployment, adopting pets, etc.

    Living together *is* marriage. The author even admits that “When their relationships unravel, cohabitors experience all the emotional turmoil and much of the economic fallout of a divorce.”

error: Content is protected !!