Research published in February of this year confirms previous research that has found that if you have an interest in marrying a person, you’re better off not living with them before you get engaged. Rhoades et al. (2009) compiled their study by phoning 1,050 individual men and women from different relationships and asking them to complete a brief telephone survey. Participants were generally younger (18 to 34 years old) and had been married for 10 years or less.
The majority of participants (91.8%) had never been divorced. Regarding cohabitation history, 40.5% reported that they did not live with their spouse before marriage, 16.4% cohabited only after engagement, and 43.1% cohabited before engagement.
After administering their survey — which included demographic information, relationship satisfaction questions, and the potential for divorce — the researchers crunched the numbers and found what previous research had also found: Those couples who had lived together before making a commitment to marriage (e.g., before getting engaged) reported significantly lower quality marriages and a greater potential for divorce than those who didn’t live together at all, or those who lived together only after getting engaged.
The researchers’ findings remained significant even when they controlled for other potentially explaining variables, such as length of the marriage, religiousness, and education levels. The researchers also did not find any significant differences “based on cohabitation history for the level of friendship between partners or for satisfaction with the sexual/sensual relationship.” In other words, having a closer partner friendship or increased sexual satisfaction didn’t change their findings.
What might explain the differences between the two groups — those who live together before they get engaged, and those who don’t? The researchers have some ideas:
These findings are consistent with the theory that some cohabiting couples may go on to marry partly because of constraints associated with living together (e.g., tangible investments, social pressure). Settling on marriage during cohabitation is a risk factor for having more problems in marriage.
Our advice? If marriage is your eventual goal in a relationship, it might be best to forgo the convenience of living together in the short-term and instead put off such living situations until you get engaged.
If, on the other hand, you have little intentions toward marriage or a long-term commitment with the person, feel free to shack up. Just be aware that doing so does put you at greater risk for an unhappy marriage if your intentions do change. It doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion, just something to be aware of (and perhaps take proactive steps to ensure the quality of the relationship is maintained after marriage).
Read the full article: Living Together First Can Spoil Marriage, Study Finds
Rhoades, GK, Stanley, SM & Markman, HJ. (2009). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: A replication and extension of previous findings. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 23(1), Feb 2009. pp. 107-111.