There has been a seismic shift in the way we approach romantic relationships. The once-traditional path of dating, getting engaged, and then getting marriaged has been muddied as dating now often slips into cohabitation.
So we need to understand: is moving in together before marriage a good idea, or is it a recipe for disaster?
The once-taboo notion of living together before marriage has now become the norm for many couples. In fact, a striking 70% of couples now opt to cohabit before tying the knot. The rise in cohabitation has been significant. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey found that in 1968, less than 0.5% of 18 to 34-year-olds did it. In 2021, that number was 6.9%.
So, how did this shift come about?
The prevailing societal perspective on cohabitation has undergone a sea change. Living together before marriage is no longer seen as an anomaly but as an acceptable, practical, and even somewhat normal step in a relationship.
With 45% of Americans ages 18 to 29 living with their families due to financial considerations, the thought of splitting rent, utilities, and grocery costs with a partner makes cohabitation an attractive decision. Many couples also see living together as a “trial run” for marriage, a chance to gauge their compatibility before making the ultimate commitment.
Changing Societal Norms
While marriage once stood as an essential pillar of adult life, societal attitudes have changed about this as well. Today, a majority of adults in the United States view marriage as significant but not necessary for a fulfilling life.
In fact, a study by the University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox found that 75% of adults (ages 18 to 40) consider having a satisfying job or career to be essential to their life satisfaction, while only 32% thought marriage to be essential.
Most of us realize that money can’t buy happiness, and the world’s biggest happiness study from the Harvard Study of Adult Development backs it up. Money can provide a sense of security though and ease fears about meeting basic needs, which has its psychological benefits. To an extent.
The American Time Use Survey found that happiness increased with income, but that those earning less than $25,000 per year were about as happy as those earning $100,000 per year. This suggests that money stops increasing happiness once basic needs are securely met.
Some studies suggest that both young women and men are less interested in marriage than previous generations due to a host of factors such as blurred gender roles, the acceptance of living together, economic uncertainty, and career ambitions.
Undoubtedly, one of the most compelling reasons couples choose to live together before marriage is the financial benefit, with a Pew Research study finding that 40% of people stated it was a major reason.
Sharing costs can significantly reduce the financial burden on each individual. This shared economic advantage often makes cohabitation an attractive option, especially for couples in the early stages of their careers or those pursuing further education.
While cohabitation can bring substantial financial benefits, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t provide the same legal protections as marriage. This reality underscores the importance of couples having open discussions about their financial expectations and obligations before deciding to live together.
The Potential Advantages of Cohabiting Before Marriage
Aside from the financial advantages, cohabitation offers couples a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of each other. By sharing a living space, couples get an unfiltered view of each other’s habits, preferences, and quirks. This intimate knowledge can prove invaluable in determining whether a relationship has the potential for long-term success.
Some say that cohabitation can serve as a training ground for honing essential relationship skills. Couples can improve their communication skills, learn to navigate everyday challenges together and gain insights into each other’s habits. These experiences can lay a solid foundation for a successful marriage, should they choose to take that step.
Living together before marriage allows couples to:
Get a sneak peek into what their future might look like, including aspects related to premarital sex
Experience the daily rhythms of life together, from the mundane tasks of household chores to the dynamics of decision-making
Have a “test drive” that can provide valuable insights into each other’s personality traits and preferences
Strengthen their companionship or lead to the realization that marriage would be unwise
Furthermore, some say that cohabitation offers immediate relational advantages, such as the sharing of resources and the enjoyment of companionship. It also helps in smoothing the transition into married life by reducing the need for significant adjustments, especially in terms of cohabitation dynamics.
Improved Communication Skills
Living together offers couples ample opportunities to improve their communication skills. From discussing who does the dishes to talking about spending habits, living together necessitates clear dialogue and cooperation.
This daily interaction can enhance skills such as active listening, expressing needs and expectations, and learning to work together toward a shared outcome, all of which are vital for a successful long-term relationship.
A shared living environment also permits couples to tackle real conflicts that come with sharing a space. They can set aside specific times to address problems, express their feelings constructively, and seek solutions that meet both partners’ needs.
Cohabitation can also contribute to financial stability. Sharing expenses not only helps couples save money but also provides an opportunity to practice budgeting together. This shared financial responsibility can result in a better understanding of each other’s financial literacy and discipline, which is vital to a shared financial future.
Financial transparency, which stems from expense sharing, can also promote trust and balance within the relationship. Knowing how your partner handles money can give you peace of mind and prevent financial disagreements down the line. This understanding of where the money is going allows the couple to start setting and working towards financial goals.
The Potential Drawbacks of Cohabiting Before Marriage
As with any major life decision, cohabitation is not without its drawbacks. While living together can provide a closer look at your partner’s habits and character, it can also lead to complacency in the relationship and relationship inertia.
Moreover, without a clear intention and commitment to marry, unmarried couples who are cohabiting may find themselves stuck in a relationship that’s convenient but not fulfilling. This relationship rut can make it difficult for couples to end their relationship, even if it’s not the best fit for them.
The longer the unmarried cohabitation lasts, the more it is likely that the couple’s finances and lives will be intertwined and commingled. When it is time to part ways, dividing assets may be without legal protection.
Diminished Importance of Marriage
Premarital cohabitation can inadvertently diminish the significance of marriage. Couples who live together often get comfortable with the status quo and may not feel the need to take the next step towards marriage.
As couples get comfortable living together, they generally make less of an effort in their relationship, which makes planning a wedding seem like an unncessary hassle that might end up fixing something that isn’t broken.
Relationship inertia refers to the tendency for couples to stay in a relationship due to convenience rather than genuine commitment. This inertia can create challenges in ending the relationship in the future.
When one partner demonstrates a greater level of commitment, it can lead to a situation where:
One person waits for the other to make a long-term commitment
There is uncertainty and strain in the relationship
The couple may decide never to marry (Why fix it if it isn’t broken?)
Despite the similarities in daily life between married and cohabiting couples, cohabiting couples do not automatically enjoy the same legal rights and protections as married couples. For instance, upon the death of a partner, cohabiting partners are not guaranteed that they will inherit each other’s property, unlike married couples.
Cohabiting couples do not possess marital property rights, which encompass a broader range of property-sharing and legal protections.
Legal protections for a “common law marriage,” which is when a U.S. state considers a couple married even though they didn’t get married, differ by state. About 10 of the U.S. states have some form of protection for cohabiting unmarried couples through this concept of “common law marriage.” California and Florida do not.
Among the states that do have common-law marriage, the test for qualification varies by state. Unlike an official marriage with a marriage license issued by the state, each state’s test is not clear-cut. In addition to the rules of the test that are written in the state’s legislation, different court cases in that state have shaped the interpretation of those rules.
This means that you will likely have to hire a lawyer to fight that you either should be, or should not be, considered married via the common law marriage rules of that state.
Factors to Consider When Deciding to Cohabit
Deciding to cohabit represents a significant stride in a relationship, not to be underestimated. Before choosing to move in together, couples must contemplate their values and beliefs, relationship aspirations, and emotional preparedness.
Take some time to talk through these issues before you get out the moving boxes so you can lessen the misunderstandings and disagreements you will inevitably face.
Individual Values and Beliefs
Understanding and respecting each other’s values and beliefs is a critical step in deciding to cohabit. This includes discussing your motivations for moving in together, your desired outcomes, and your long-term goals, which are all part of the whole story.
Moreover, discrepancies in values and beliefs regarding cohabitation can lead to relationship strain and dissatisfaction over time. Taking the time to understand each other’s perspectives can help ensure that your decision to cohabit aligns with your personal values and beliefs and leads to a fulfilling relationship.
Having clear relationship goals is vital when deciding to cohabit. It’s pretty obvious that these goals can shape your expectations and commitment levels, ultimately affecting the outcomes of cohabitation.
Openly discussing your thoughts, desires, and concerns about cohabitation can align both partners on their relationship expectations. You should discuss in detail how you plan to manage your shared life – including your finances.
Aside from practical considerations, both partners need to be emotionally ready to share their space. Being emotionally ready means being prepared to engage with and process emotions, including your own and your partner’s.
It is important to actively listen to your partner’s viewpoints and be open to compromise.
Emotional readiness enables emotional intimacy, vulnerability, and trust between partners, which are critical for the success of any cohabiting relationship. Being emotionally ready can significantly influence a couple’s capacity to effectively address challenges and adjustments in cohabitation, impacting individual well-being, relationship quality, and the ability to effectively co-parent, if you decide to have children out of wedlock.
Tips for a Successful Cohabitation Experience
Cohabitation can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience if couples approach it with the right mindset and are prepared. Here are some tips to help make cohabitation successful:
Set ground rules for chores, finances, and personal boundaries to prevent conflicts and misunderstandings.
Maintain open and honest communication to address any issues that may arise during cohabitation.
Seek relationship education or counseling if needed to gain valuable tools and insights to navigate the challenges of cohabitation.
By following these tips, you can create a harmonious and enjoyable living arrangement, with both of you aligned on how living together should work.
Keep in mind that while cohabitation may provide a glimpse of your shared future with your romantic partner, it doesn’t ensure a seamless journey to marital bliss. Constantly working on your relationship and consciously striving to understand and appreciate your partner is essential.
Establish Ground Rules
For living together to go well, it’s important to establish ground rules from the get-go. This includes discussing financial responsibilities such as who pays for what, how bills will be split, how major purchases will be handled, and if you will share credit cards, debit cards, cash apps, and bank accounts.
Even though it may seem mundane, it’s equally important to discuss household responsibilities. Who will take out the trash? Who will do the dishes? How will the laundry and cleaning chores be divided? These are all pertinent questions that should be addressed before moving in together.
Furthermore, it’s important to establish boundaries for personal space and respect each other’s privacy.
Maintain Open Communication
Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of a successful cohabitation experience. This means discussing:
The practical aspects of living together
Remember, conflict is natural in any relationship, but it’s how you handle it that matters. Constructive dialogue, positive expression of feelings, and openness to compromise can keep minor disagreements from turning into significant conflicts.
Seek Relationship Education or Counseling
Cohabitation can pose challenges, and at times, couples in romantic relationships might require additional support to navigate through these. Seeking relationship education or counseling can provide couples with essential communication skills and reinforce the significance of their relationship, contributing to the sustenance of a fulfilling relationship.
When choosing a counselor or relationship education program, it’s important to consider factors such as:
The therapist’s qualifications
Your comfort level in discussing personal issues
Don’t forget that seeking help is perfectly okay, and it can help you and your partner work through various issues so you have a happier, healthier home.
Cohabitation is a significant step in a relationship. It has benefits but also potential drawbacks. Practicing open communication, setting ground rules, and seeking relationship education or counseling help create a comfortable and workable living environment.
Living together while unmarried is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one couple may not work for another. It’s your relationship, and you have the power to make it a fulfilling and rewarding journey.