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70% of U.S. couples now cohabitate before marriage, according to Psychology Today.  So far in my dating escapades, I have met many people who were cohabitating for many years (or were even married and then divorced) and then split up.  Of course, me being one of these statistics.  Some of my friends have been in relationships for just over a year and they are thinking about moving it to the next step to cohabitate.  They cannot decide between waiting for some more commitment (e.g. engagement or marriage) or just going with the flow to see how they get along living together.  With the recent changes in common law relationships in British Columbia, this decision as to whether or not to cohabitate becomes even more relevant.

Just like how I do with everything else on this beloved blog, I will do a pros and cons list.  Now some of these pros and cons may be weightier than the other, and this is for you to evaluate for yourself.  No one knows your values and needs more than you do (well hopefully you understand yourself well enough to know what you need to be happy).  The most important thing to realize is that most cohabitation occurs because it “just happened” without discussion.  Make sure you are making a conscious decision.

Moving Together Pros

  • Cheaper-  I think that one of the main reasons that people opt for cohabitating is because it is more economical that way.  Instead of paying $1500 for a 1 bedroom 700 sq foot apartment, you’re halving that amount to $750.  You have less furniture and household things to buy and can sell the rest on craigslist.  In addition, if home ownership is a dream of your, sometimes buying a place by yourself it out of reach for many, especially if you live in a city that is expensive (ahem… Vancouver)
  • Test it Out- Another big factor in moving together before marriage is that most people (especially men, I find- but this may be a generalization) want to test out the waters in the “shallow” end before diving into the deep end.  Most people I have talked to wanted to make sure this happened before taking the big commitment.  As a friend used to say, you want to “test drive” the car before buying it (I don’t believe that this is a good analogy, obviously you can tell it came from a guy).

Moving Together Cons

  • Can be Messy Messy! It can get really messy if it doesn’t work out.  Especially if you bought property together.  Splitting assets especially if there was an unequal contribution can get downright ugly.  You want to make sure you prevent (or at least mitigate) some of this messiness by getting legal advice from a notary public or lawyer before you start to merge property.
  • Many Women Have the Wrong Perception- Many women move in together with a guy because they know and hope that it will be the next step, one step closer to marriage.  They hope and expect that their guy will pop the question but sometimes cohabitation can have the opposite effect.  For a guy who hasn’t lived with another girl before, they may wonder “is this it?”  “Is this what marriage is going to be like?”  Problems that occur while cohabitation will still occur after marriage, and may be even worse.
  • More Difficult to Leave.. More Time Wasted- When you live together, it can be more difficult to leave the relationship and people end up staying in unhappy relationships because they feel that the barrier to moving out is too high.  This means more of your time (and their time) wasted.  A New York Times article called it “consumer lock-in” and gives an analogy of signing up for a card with 0 % interest for 12 months.  At the end of the 12 months, the interest goes to 23% and you feel too lazy to get rid of the card.

So to Summarize…

To summarize, I think that people out there don’t really understand that relationships take work and that they can’t always be peaches and cream and romance all the time.  Domestic life happens and there’s nothing really that romantic about it but knowing how you can work as a team or how you work as a couple is important.  Who will do what?  If you don’t discuss these things openly and don’t openly agree to these things, resentment may inevitably build up and one person may end up doing more chores than the other.  For some, arguments can inevitably ensue while living together and this can sour the relationship (and possibly even sour future relationships because it can turn people off from taking the plunge to living together).

I have met many people who met each other, dated for two months, and then began living together, mostly for financial reasons and to take the relationship one step forward.  Although this can work for some, this doesn’t work for everyone.  Many people end up cohabitating for years and years (e.g. 10 years) and then end up breaking up because they felt that the partner wasn’t “the one”.

Nonetheless, getting married doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting a divorce either.  These days, with divorce rates hovering around 50%, many people don’t want to get married because of the financial hassle of it, the chance for divorce, and because many people aren’t even sure how they feel about the institution of marriage anymore (yes, we have all become jaded).  It is interesting to note that cohabitation after engagement (e.g. after a clear commitment or intention has been made) doesn’t seem to have the same negative associations as cohabitation before engagement according to the Psychology Today article.

Readers, did you live together before marriage?  Any other pros and cons?

(Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net)

Article comments

Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says:

Cohabiting does not make marriage more successful. As a “test the waters before you marry” step, it’s a statistical failure. People who cohabit first are less likely to ever get married, even if they have a child together, and if they do marry, they are at least equally likely to divorce–more likely, according to some studies.

The idea that moving in together is a step toward commitment is popular, but it’s not borne out by facts.

Teacher Man says:

This is interesting to me Jenny. Can you show me some of the research your quoting?

Cassie says:

I have lived with boyfriends before, some long term (couple years), and I’m honestly not really that interested in doing it again. I’m glad I had the experience, because it taught me a lot about compromise, being self-aware and recognizing red-flags in my relationships. At this point in time, I’m dating a wonderful man who I would love to spend the rest of my life with. That being said, he is a little hesitant on the marriage front. We both own our own homes. He has made some hints about moving in together, but honestly, I’m staying put as long as we’re only dating. I don’t want to sell my home (or rent it) and make a 25 year half million dollar commitment on a home with him unless he’s ready to commit to me.

Justin says:

I think the big trick is to find someone who is not rushing into anything just because they want the “marriage” status. I agree with living with someone ahead of time to figure out what all the pet peeves are so you can sort them out before the wedding. At the same time, it gives you a chance to work through it. Anyone who has been married for over 20 years will all agree that marriages take work and both parties have to be willing to do that.

I think it is crucial to live together before marriage. People act differently when they are home and you should experience that. I learned a lot living with my wife before we got married. I recommend it to all of my dating friends.

Bridgid says:

I didn’t live together with my ex-husband before we were married. I saw a lot of red-flags before marriage, but ignored them because I wanted a wedding, not a marriage (I was 19).

I’m not ready for marriage again, but I like the idea of living with a boyfriend without any intentions of moving forward into marriage.

I know a of of people have strong feelings about living with someone you’re not married to. Bf and I have been living together for the last 3 years and I wouldn’t do it any other way. I know all off the good (and bad) habits he has and I love him even more for all of them.

Living together before marriage is very important, you need that time to get to know a person better. There’s a big difference between seeing someone a few hours a week and being together all day, everyday. My wife and I took a bit of a different route when we were dating by staying at each other’s places for 3-4 days at a time. Once we got engaged we moved in. We didn’t totally move in but we still spent a great deal more time together.

Another pro: Two people to share chores around the house/apartment

Young says:

@Andrew- Ahh yes! Great pro! Unless you argue about the chores that is LOL.
The way you and your wife did it is the best- extended “stayovers” and then moving-in at engagement. Research shows that relationships fair much better in marriage if the move-in happened with some sort of commitment (e.g. engagement).

I lived with my then-boyfriend / now-husband for 2 years before we got married. It worked out well, but we wanted to live together because it made more sense / it’d give us more time to spend together, I didn’t view it as a “test drive” for a marriage, either for good or ill. I’d say it just depends on the couple – there’s no right or wrong answer.