Why Are Some Studies Showing That Living Together Before Marriage Is Linked To Divorce?
Recently, one of my friends and her boyfriend started talking about getting married. They’ve been dating for a long time, they get along great, and they both want to start a family. It seemed like the right time to start thinking about marriage.
There was just one problem: in all the years they’d been together, the two have never lived together. Now that they’d gotten this far in their relationship, they weren’t sure if they wanted to play it safe and move in before getting engaged or if they wanted to wait until they got married to move in (and make taking that step feel even more special).
To be honest, my first thought was that my friend was being a little bit crazy for even considering getting married before moving in. Research shows that the majority of couples (66%) move in together before tying the knot. And public opinion usually encourages this practice.
These days, when a couple doesn’t make plans live together first, it can be seen as a little bit reckless. Many consider living together to be an important, and even necessary, stepping stone on the way to marriage. They consider it a way to make sure that a couple is not only ready for the commitment but that a couple is truly compatible as a team.
However, while couples might be encouraged to live together now, it wasn’t always that way. Just a few decades ago, it was commonly referred to as “living in sin” and hardly ever done. My how times have changed. One study found that in the early 1960s, less than 1% of unmarried couples lived together. That’s a big change compared to the number of couples living together today.
Though it’s becoming more common, some studies actually suggest that, in fact, living together might not be the best way to prepare for marriage. Statistics show that only 50% of live-in relationships ended in marriage. The study found that 40% of those couples broke up (while the remaining 10% simply continuing to live together without tying the knot).
But what about the success of those couples who did end up married? Studies report bad news again. It’s been found that couples who do get married after living together were at greater risk for getting divorces than those who waited. One study finds that after five years of marriage, couples who had cohabited before getting married had a 49% divorce rate, while couples who didn’t live together before marriage had just a 20% divorce rate.
That same study found that after ten years of marriage, a couple who lived together had a 62% divorce rate while the couples who didn’t live together before had a much lower 33%.
With these numbers in mind, one might think that living together could contribute to breaking up in the long run, but could sharing a space really set a couple up for failure? It doesn’t seem right that something people do to prepare for a healthy marriage could actually cause marriages to fail.
But correlation doesn’t necessarily mean connection, so maybe there’s more to the story.
It’s likely that a large number of the people who decide not to live together before marriage are doing so because their religion or culture advises against cohabitation if you’re not formally hitched. Many devout religions and cultures disapprove of living together (and sex) before marriage, so for those reasons, couples might abstain even if that means not knowing their spouse as well as they could. Further, just as those groups discourage cohabitation, they often also disapprove of divorce. So, perhaps those who put off living together because of a feeling of duty to their religion or community may also refuse to get divorced (even when the relationship gets rocky) for that same reason. Just because a couple is still married, doesn’t always mean they’re always satisfied.
On the other hand, some marriages might fail not because they lived together, but because they didn’t live together long enough. Some cohabiting couples might only decide to get married because they feel pressured by family and friends to do so. Studies show that millennials are 117% more likely to feel pressure to get married than previous generations. Perhaps couples (especially those who have been living together) feel pressured to get married before they’re ready. Or, perhaps they marry (in a rush) someone they may not be completely compatible with.
But perhaps the decision of whether or not to move in together doesn’t actually hold that much weight anyway. One study, which appeared in The Journal of Marriage and Family found that the age a couple gets married is actually a much bigger determinate of whether or not a couple will get divorced. Researchers found that the longer couples waited to make their first serious commitment (be it moving in together or getting married), the better their chances were of staying married.
And it makes sense. Marriage isn’t only about how well or how long you’ve known your partner. A big part of it is also your level of maturity, your ability to find the right partner for you, and how well you know yourself.
This week, I talked to my friend again and she said that she and her boyfriend aren’t going to worry about rushing to live together before getting engaged. They think they might move in together after getting engaged, not because they want to make sure they’re compatible (or to make sure their marriage will work), but because they feel ready, and I think that’s wonderful.