Will living together before marriage ruin your relationship?

May 3 | Guest post by Annarhoswen

Offbeat Bride just talked about pre-wedding cohabitation from the perspective of the still-engaged, so we thought we'd look at it from the married-people side here on Offbeat Home, too!

Living in Sin No More
Photo (and pillow!) by Carly
I recently read the New York Times article The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage, and found myself filled with thoughts. I disagree with much of what is written in the article, specifically because of what the author says at the end:

I am not for or against living together, but I am for young adults knowing that, far from safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your chances of making a mistake — or of spending too much time on a mistake.

A mentor of mine used to say, "The best time to work on someone's marriage is before he or she has one," and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation.

Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence, if I had waited until after marrying my partner to move in together, I probably would have gotten a divorce. We have lived together for over five years and have learned so much about each other and ourselves that our relationship is stronger than ever. I don't feel trapped, I don't feel like he isn't committed and I definitely don't feel like I'm marrying him just because it seems like the thing to do. After six and half years together, I know, clearly, that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I have known friends that have broken up after moving in together because they drove each other nuts in a way that wouldn't have happened unless they moved in together.

The problem isn't cohabitation before marriage, it's the societal pressure to get married (I'm looking at you, Wedding Industrial Complex) and that if you don't get married by, say, 30, you're a failure as a human being (there's also something to be said for gender stereotypes and the pressure to reproduce).

If I went back in time six years, I'd still choose to live with my partner. I think it was the right choice for us. Are you on board with cohabitation before marriage, or do you think it'll endanger the future of your relationship?

  1. I lived with my husband for 5 years before we got married. The first three years of that were also spent living with my parents… It was all extremely weird but made every lick of sense at the time, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I honestly feel like a lot more relationships would work out/end before they got too far if people had to have their dates at their family's homes. You can't lie or be anything but yourself in front of your family, and yet you still manage to bring out all your best there, somehow.

    As for the cohabitation… Well, we're only one year in to the wedding now, but there's no shaking in this boat yet. But my husband and I both entered our relationship not expecting the other person to be anything but themselves, before OR after marriage. And I think leaving your expectations behind at the door is the most important thing anybody can do in a relationship. You can keep your standards, of course, but ditch those preconceived notions of what your significant other should or shouldn't be until after you've met him/her.

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  2. I read an article once about cohabitation before marriage, and the research in the study indicated that it makes a difference why people decide to cohabitate and what their intentions are for the relationship. If they intend to get married when they decide to cohabitate, it tended to work out much better. The couples who decided to get married after they'd been living together had higher divorce rates. I don't remember much about the groups of people involved in the research. I keep picturing kids right out of college deciding to shack up to avoid paying two rents.

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  3. Four years ago I pressured my boyfriend to move in with me after we graduated college. I was angry when he chose to move back in with his mom rather than with me. And I am so glad he did! We broke up a few months later and sorted out our issues separately. We got back together, stronger than ever, got engaged, and then moved in together. We are now very happily married. I guess I just wasn't taking cohabitation seriously enough the first time around.

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  4. My partner and I are engaged and moving in together next February when his current lease runs out, which will be about one year and three months before the wedding. The only reason we're waiting so long to get married is money, but since we can afford to move out we don't want money stopping us doing that too. I'm sick of living with my parents and can't wait to be a cohabitor!

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  5. In my college sociology class (just a couple years ago) we discussed this topic and how cohabitating can be a predictor of divorce ONLY if the people moved in together before being truly committed to each other. Also moving in together to "test" the relationship will often have a negative effect.

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  6. Hubbs and I didn't live together before we got hitched.

    It was the right decision for us. We have very different sleeping/eating/cleaning habits. So sometimes it's a challenge but it's been a fun challenge. I wouldn't have changed the way we have done this at all.

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  7. I'm of the opinion, that whether you cohabitate first or not, the true danger lies in expecting marriage to change something fundamental about the relationship. I've seen divorces result from this both in couples that had lived together first and in those that hadn't, but anyone who thought their spouse would magically quit doing one thing or start doing another was horribly and sometimes irreparably disappointed. So cohabitation has little to do with it for me, rather it's the expectations inherent in some people's vision of marriage.

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  8. I don't think my now-husband and I would have made it if we DIDN'T live together before we got married. We definitely did the "right" thing as far as discussing why we wanted to live together, already being a very stable and comfortable couple, and all that. BUT, adjusting to living together was one of the most difficult things we've been through as a couple. We fought more that first year than we ever had before or ever have since. Knowing that it was a choice we were making to stay and make it work, versus a means to avoid the legal mess of a divorce, made us fight harder for our relationship. If I had felt bound there legally instead of by my own love for my partner, I would have been angry and bitter and probably not tried anywhere near as hard to work with him to make the compromises our relationship needed us both to make. I would have felt like I was doing it for the wrong reasons and hated myself and him for it.

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  9. "I have known friends that have broken up after moving in together because they drove each other nuts in a way that wouldn't have happened unless they moved in together."

    This is exactly why I had a problem with the article. I've lived with a few different partners in the past, and with the last one in particular I don't think we would have realized how wrong we were for each other had we not lived together. My current boyfriend and I are living together, and this has solidified our relationship. It has magnified the ways we are compatible (whereas in past relationships it magnified the way we weren't).

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  10. We have effectively been living together for a year and officially for 7 months, and been engaged for 6 and a half. I may be wrong in this, but personally it feels like us getting married is more us recognising what our relationship is and making that public – if we weren't getting married we would still be committed for life.

    From the article it looks like this phenomenon is a result of poor communication between partners – if you don't talk about what you want, how you feel about your relationship, how to build on or reinforce what you've got, how to solve problems, then you're going to have problems keeping your marriage going. In our relationship, our living arrangments evolved gradually but always with serious and open discussion – it may have looked like "sliding" but it was definitely "deciding". And that's why I'm confident that we will make the best we can of our marriage.

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  11. My boyfriend and I were just talking about this last night (we've been dating for 3.5 years and living together for 1, we plan to get married after/at the end of grad school). He had read an article that listed "cohabitation before marriage" as one of the 10 biggest mistakes people make in their twenties. I completely disagree with that stance, and it totally depends on the relationship you have. Thanks for this article and for all the comments, you all are saying exactly what I believe to be true! And now I have statistics on my side!

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  12. I feel strongly about living together before marriage, though I can't speak for everyone, but it is working greatly for me and my fiance. We've grown closer and dealt with many issues while living together, I can't imagine what it would have been like to be newlyweds and trying to figure out how to live together.

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  13. My husband and I did not live together until after we were married. (We're super old-fashioned in some ways; we didn't have sex before we were married, either.) We've been happily married for 2.5 years now. I don't care one way or the other about how folks choose to prepare for their marriage, but I really don't understand this idea that you won't know each other well enough if you don't live together. Is being surprised a problem? I hope we go our entire lives growing and learning new things about one another. Something as basic as toilet habits isn't going to break your marriage if you're committed to staying together. It's important to do your homework, but equally important to be willing to embrace the new.

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    • I'm so glad you posted that. I'm planning on waiting until I marry to have sex, and honestly, to go by responses of friends and posts like this, it apparently means there's something wrong with me.

      My brother and his wife waited to move in together until they were married, and it seems to have really strengthened their relationship – learning how to communicate over things like washing the dishes while still in that "honeymoon" stupid-in-love phase helped them deal with real issues later.

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  14. You may think Im crazy– BUTTTT I opted to live with my boyfriend, for the past 4 years, we are not married, and are not even thinking about it…the way we see it is "public, documented marriage" is strictly for the papers, and how we will file taxes… marriage doesnt mean better health care for us… in fact, we would be MORE poor if we got married. I love this man, I always will, regardless of waking up every morning to a turd in the toilet (no lie) and his beer cans half drank all over the counter. If I got married and then moved in, I'd die. I had to learn him, and he had to learn me…. We even decided to have our first child before we got married. Marriage is (I think like you do) superficial. We love each other the same as we would if we had 10 grand to spend on a giant party with dresses and suits. Id rather have the 10 grand as a down payment on a house rather than a wedding… Weddings are a luxury in this day and time.

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  15. I am pretty sure I my husband and I would have killed one another if we had not lived together before getting married. He and I have been together almost six years, living together for about four. It was a huge adjustment. He is a neat freak and I am a walking tornado of clutter and disaster. Beyond that though, living together has made us learn how to deal with one another. How when he's upset, he needs space. Or when I am having issues with my depression I clean like a fiend. He wouldn't know that a sparkling clean residence of mine was a sign that I am having a hard time dealing with life and probably need someone to notice. Of course you learn those things after you move in after marriage as well, but I can forsee it being a lot more difficult.

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  16. I believe cohabitating would have helped my mother in her first marriage. She has always kept her past close to her, but from what she has told me her first husband was very emotionally abusive. When they were married she was 26 and moved out of my grandparents house after the wedding. I think had they cohabitated prior to getting married, this may have been realized before making a legal step of commitment. Seeing how that emotional abuse affects her even today makes me wish cohabitating hadn't been so taboo with my grandparents when she was married. I love them, but they make sidelong comments occasionally about my boyfriend and I living together. I merely remind them that we did make a commitment when we decided to live together and it's working out well.

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  17. My fiance and I have lived together before, and we're saving up for a flat so we can live together again. We did slide into living together, but for us that was less of a "this just sort of happened" and more of a "this happened organically and was beautiful for it" situation. Personally I don't think it was necessarily better than waiting, but we're happier when we're together so for us it makes sense. I really think blanket statements about what works best in relationships are worth a grain of salt. Every individual is different, every relationship is different, and so every situation has its own best approach.

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  18. Maybe I'm naive, or maybe just incredibly blessed. It's so strange to hear some of you talk about facing "make or break" situations before marriage and successfully navigating them, but also being glad there was no concrete committment until after the difficult circumstance. My husband and I were only engaged for one month, (no, we weren't pregnant, and no we didn't live together before we were married) and in that month, my husband was diagnosed with a rare eye disorder that threatened to take his eyesight. Thankfully, he responded well to treatment, and barely notices the holes in his vision now. I mention all that to say that I married him anyway. I married him even in the face of uncertainty. The uncertainty of his vision, and of what this would mean to our life together. And had he lost his vision I would have stayed. Because I committed to him. Marriage is a commitment. For better or worse. Period.

    It is foolish to enter into a cohabitation situation thinking all the issues would come out before you have to make a commitment, because in a sense you already have. Do you think a split is less emotionally damaging than a divorce just because there is no paperwork?

    Having a clear cut commitment at the beginning of married life is a glue that holds the two of you together through the make it or break it challenges. There is no magic person, there is no "meant to be" relationship. Love is a choice, and couples CAN make it work…if they are both committed to it beyond all circumstances. But love like that take lots of guts.

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  19. My husband and i moved in only after 4 months of dating (we lived 200 miles apart). I would not trade that decision for the world! It was a shock to many of our friends and family since it was a very "out-of-character" decisions we made. However, it was the right thing to do. We decided that we did love each other already and if we were going to date it meant we were potential wife and husband, so we decided that moving in together would give our relationship a fighting chance (since we both had had long-distance relationships in the past that failed miserably). It turned out to be the best decisions we ever made. We DID get married and are currently happily married, no regrets and we have married people problems just like everyone else. I think that should definitely be a concern for those who are wanting to move in together, potential marriage/life commitment.

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  20. My bf & I have been datin on & off for 4years. Since the year started we've been talkin about marriage. We're both ready for it and there are so many things to consider esp since we're nt living together. He's 24 & I'm 22. He works & I'm still lookin for a job (I'm living off my pension fund which pays almost as much as his salary & until I'm 25) Recently I feel like he's been hinting of a "possible proposal". He told me that he wants to "grow old with me" & that I have "good qualities" that he admires & makes me "wife" material and dat "life is short to be interested in other ppl when u've got someone right in front of u" (his words). I pretended like I didnt notice his "hints" as I cud be jst imagining it. My gut/instincts tell me it myt happen soon (b4 da year ends fingers crossed). My plan is "when" he does decide to propose.. I'd want to be engaged for a year b4 plannin our "wedding". I dnt intend to move in with him until we're married, but if he wants me to move in I would do it. Is it weird to not rush into "moving in together" once we're engaged and waiting for a year b4 getting married?

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  21. I have been reading the comments here and thinking about how to respond as a person who does think that you should get married before living together. Disclaimers: I am a Christian so that does influence my beliefs here.

    First to address the idea of sin and judgment. The picture at the top says, "Living in sin no more," and the author's question is, "Will living together before marriage ruin your relationship?" The underlying assumptions behind these questions are more about the effects of sin rather than a question about causes of a ruined relationship.

    To clarify, sin does not always "ruin" things. For example, sometimes people lie but there is no discernible negative effect. It is the same with relationships. I believe that God designed relationships to follow a natural order. So the closer you get to someone, the more you will have feelings of love for that person, and the more you will join lives with that person by living together, making commitments, sharing money, having kids together etc. The fact that you have not made a lifelong commitment to each other will not have a significant impact on the relationship. The relationship can be impacted by other things such as not being honest about feelings, having different values (household responsibilities count here), or hardships.

    The reason that people use the word "sin" is because they misunderstand what sin means. To sin means to miss the mark. It means our relationships are a little off from what they were meant to be. As a result of having logical and rational minds, we can make lifelong commitments to other humans as an act of selflessness. Since God makes that commitment to love us first (regardless of whatever he would find out by living with us) he wants us to give that same gift to other humans. Since I know that God loves me regardless of my flaws, I am able to extend that love to my husband. And here's my main point: No one is telling you to make that lifelong commitment of marriage before cohabiting. The only people who are supposed to do this are people who follow Christ.

    Naturally a lifelong commitment of marriage will be a natural part of a healthy human relationship, but the timing only matters to those who believe in Christ.

    For Christians, the act of committing for life in marriage before having sex or living together is viewed as an ultimate sacrifice of selflessness. If you already know all the flaws and have worked through the hardships, marriage is just the outcome of a relational negotiation. You have negotiated that both of you agree that your relationship is beneficial to both parties.

    Now to address the problems with this viewpoint. Imperfect humans get it wrong still. Do people get married to the wrong people? Yes, absolutely, but I can't say that I believe cohabitation truly changes anything in this area. My reasoning comes from kids. Lots of people have kids and kids usually decrease satisfaction in life. However, most people don't suddenly reject their kids when they find out that their kid has an issue. The reason? Because they are committed to loving their kid. Maybe a weak example because parental relationships are different but I believe that commitment can be stronger than problems. And since we know who we are choosing to marry we have more reason to be committed.

    Another problem: abusive relationships. Again we get it wrong but sometimes relationships are ruined by things outside of our commitments. This does not make the commitment wrong, it just makes it an oxymoron. You cannot truly be loving someone and abusing them at the same time (or let them abuse you).

    In the end, and here's the real reason you can be mad at me and at other Christians. We're prideful. We think that for some reason if we follow the rule we'll end up getting it right. It is only by the grace of God that marriages last. And that takes humility and surrender to God daily that is not easily achieved.

    Sorry for the long post but my two main points are 1) Living together before getting married will not "ruin" your relationship and 2) Sin is not meant to point out something wrong but to encourage us to act selflessly.

    So please by all means do not worry and do not feel judged.

    "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world." John 3:17

    I have been happily married for 8 years. I wish the same and best for everyone here that has left comments. May we all learn how to love selflessly in our marriages.

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