Living Together Before Marriage: A Good Idea?

Why some cohabitating couples thrive while others crash and burn.

Living together is a steadily growing trend that is now the norm for 60 percent of today’s unmarried couples. Cohabitation no longer carries the stigma that it did in years past: In the 1960s, only 10 percent of couples reported living together pre-marriage. Research shows that one out of four women will live with a man by age 20 and three out of four women will live with a man by age 30. As far as divorce rates go, couples who live together but are committed in terms of an engagement and future wedding date have a higher chance of staying married as opposed to those who live together uncommitted prior to getting married.

So how does one decide whether to take this step or not with their significant other?

There are many pros and cons to co-habitation. Couples must decide what works best for them. Living together is a fair test of what married life will be like. As a couple, you now need to think about who is responsible for the rent versus the utilities versus the groceries, as well as who is in charge of cooking, throwing out the trash, and doing the laundry. Add to this questions like whether you can put up with your lover’s peculiarities. Does her method of brushing her teeth make you grind yours?

On the bright side, you’ll get to know each other on a deeper level, or so the hope is. All of the good, bad and ugly will be revealed. The more far-reaching issues—such as your mate’s desire to have children or not, or what your love’s long-term goals are—will come to light quickly while living under the same roof versus mere dating. Additionally, the dynamics of both sets of extended families and how they impact your relationship will be in the forefront of all discussions as you approach each and every holiday! Negotiation skills will surely be tested.

Once in the position of living together, couples find that breaking up is like a divorce in some ways … though certainly easier and less costly. Of course, there’s the splitting of the furniture and appliances and, naturally, the decision of who gets to stay in the apartment or house. Hopefully no lawyers will need to be involved. In most cases, the only custody issues would pertain to a cat, dog or ferret. (Not to say that those sorts of arguments can’t get ugly.)

When an older couple or a couple who has been married before choose to live together, the decision to do so falls into a different category entirely. Although some do want the security of marriage, most realize that the piece of paper did not make them happy or keep them in the union round one, so such things don’t matter as much in round two. If children are involved, melding the Brady Bunch legally is a huge decision since second marriages have an even higher failure rate than first ones, and this breakup would affect so many more people. As far as the older group goes there are few reasons to tie the knot other than pissing off the kids who would prefer their parents to remain single.

For couples considering marriage for the first time and who want children, the legal document is more significant. To be successful when embarking on living arrangements prior to marriage, one must be honest with one’s mate about expectations, future plans and a timetable for wanting these goals to come to fruition. If there is a ring on the finger and a wedding date planned, living together seems to be a sensible way to make sure that the foundation of the relationship is strong. If you move in together without a commitment and no clear direction, don’t be disappointed when many years are wasted. You don’t want to be one of those angry women, ending up freezing your eggs down the pike, or a father throwing a football to your six-year-old in your mid-fifties because of lost years during your youth.