Moving in with a significant other is a big decision. If you’ve been paying attention the headlines about whether or not you should live with your partner before marriage, I can imagine you’re pretty confused. The long-held belief was that cohabitating prior to marriage led to less satisfying marriages and divorce. Now new studies are saying that this is not the case. So what does this all mean for you?
When living together before marriage became the norm in our culture, socialists and researchers started to study the long-term effects of cohabitation. What came about was the “ cohabitation effect,” which is defined as “the negative outcomes of cohabitation before marriage, such as less satisfying marriages and divorce.”
Researchers decided to dig deeper and in 2014 a paper in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family reported, “past studies have overstated the risk of divorce for cohabiting couples.”
Arielle Kuperberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro found from her research, “cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did. What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone – with or without a marriage license – before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship.”
That changes things…well…kinda. Those of you who are thinking about moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend don’t need to return those boxes to the back of Safeway but there are a few things you need to consider before you take that big leap.
Before you jump into a lease with your significant other, take a minute to ask yourself the following questions.
How old are you?
Kuperberg’s research found, “that the age when people move in together is a much more important factor than whether or not they have taken out a marriage license.” Kuperberg states that premarital cohabitation has very little, if any, impact on a couple’s chance of divorce. Rather, “early entry into marriage or cohabitation, especially prior to age 23, is the critical risk factor.”
While age is not the only deciding factor of whether or not a relationship will work out, you do need to be realistic about where you are in your life and how much you believe your life will change and grow in the next couple of years.
It’s not that just because you’re “too young” to make smart decisions for yourself, it’s that the younger you are the more your life is in transition. Right now your choices are limitless and the person you are today may not be the person you are 2-3 years from now.
Are you “sliding not deciding?”
Sliding not deciding is a phrase I learned from Meg Jay’s book “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now.”
“Sliding not deciding “ refers to what happens when couples mindlessly “slide” into cohabitation and marriage instead of making a conscious choice to share your life with someone else.
“Sliding” is when you and your partner decide to move in together because it would be cheaper to split the cost of a one bedroom. “Sliding” is when after several years of living together you and your partner decide to get engaged without ever having a conversation about what marriage means to either one of you.
“Deciding” is making the choice to live together with your eyes wide open. It’s understanding why you want to move in with this person and why you want to spend your life with them. When you “slide,” you bypass and cheat yourself out of talking about what living together really means to you.
What are your expectations? Do you know what your partner is thinking?
You decide to move in together with the thought that this is a great way to test out the relationship and save some money. Seems like a win-win. Unfortunately, it’s only a win-win if you and your partner understand each other’s expectations. Neither of you may be thinking about marriage right now, which is fine, but do either of you want to get married in the future?
Research has shown that women want to live together to have more access to “love” while men want to have more access to “sex.” While this probably doesn’t surprise anyone about the differences of the sexes, it does show that the underlying reason why a man decides to cohabit is different from a woman’s.
You have to be clearly and mutually committed to each other because once you’re living together, ending it isn’t as easy as you think.
If it doesn’t work, do you have the guts to get out?
One of the big rationales for living together before marriage is that if it doesn’t work out, “no harm – we go our separate ways – no big messy divorce.” Even if you never make it “legal,” if you move in with someone else, merge your lives, combine record collections and buy furniture together, separating is still messy.
There’s this belief that if there are no divorce attorneys involved then the pain isn’t as severe. If you both decided to live together as a way of seeing if you can be together long-term, then you both have to be willing to leave if it doesn’t work out.
Breaking up and moving out is expensive and uncomfortable. One of the biggest reasons why people who are living together end up staying together longer than they ever thought they would is because moving out and paying rent on your own is tough.
Moving in together can be very exciting. I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s always a bad idea or that it has to result in marriage in order to be considered the right decision. What I am saying is this is a serious decision and one that should not be made lightly.
Every relationship is different, and unfortunately there’s no easy answer to the question, “is moving in together the right choice?” There are, however, a few ways to ensure a more positive and long-lasting outcome. Be clear on your motives before moving in. Don’t force a situation before it’s time and don’t jump into a lease together if you don’t feel ready.