Is Living Together Before Marriage a Good Idea?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Common "wisdom" says that living together in a "trial marriage" is a good way to determine if couples are compatible before marriage. Does this idea really work? What are the factors that lead to a good marriage and how can we know if the other person is right for us?

Cohabitation - the studies

There have actually been numerous studies that have examined whether living together before marriage is a good idea. The data shows that people who have multiple cohabiting relationships before marriage are more likely to experience more negative communication in marriage,1 lower levels of marital satisfaction,2 the erosion over time of the perceived value of marriage,3 higher perceived marital instability,4 lower levels of male commitment to spouse,5 and greater likelihood of divorce6 than people who do not cohabit before marriage. Although some of these effects might be due to the characteristics of people who cohabit (e.g., they tend to move from one relationship to another), recent studies suggest that selection is not involved,7 but that the cohabitation experience itself contributes to problems in marriage. The reason why cohabitation may setup couples for failure in marriage is because cohabitation is just a test. Since all couples suffer from some incompatibility, when the other partner "fails" the test, the person moves on to the next partner. A succession of cohabitation failures results in an inability to maintain commitment - the most important part of a marriage relationship. Recent research shows that most couples who cohabit do not do so as a trial marriage, but just slide into it without any particular intent.8

Woman-killing by males

A nation-wide study of over 400,000 homicides committed between 1976 and 1994 calculated the rate of uxoricide (the murder of a woman by her romantic partner).9 It was found that the incidence of uxoricide was nine times higher in women who cohabited with men than those who were married (see figure to right).

What is love?

Most young people think that love is just a strong feeling one has toward another person. However, the elated, "high" feeling we get when we "fall in love" is really infatuation This kind of "love" is something that is typically short-lived, and unless replaced by true love, results in broken relationships. Those who think the infatuation phase of a relationship will last for a lifetime are setting themselves up for disappointment and failure. Life happens, and people make mistakes that hurt others. The ability to forgive and rebuild trust is required for any marriage relationship to succeed. Those who are used to moving on to the next relationship at the first sign of trouble will not make a good marriage partner, which is why living together leads to bad habits.

Factors that lead to a good marriage

Fireproof DVDThere are a number of factors that predict success or failure in marriage. When considering a potential marriage partner, these factors greatly impact the average success rate for marriage (although there will obviously be exceptions to the trends). Some of these factors predict a more than twice the likelihood of divorce.

Factors in a good marriage
Factor Success Failure
Age >20 years old <20 years old10
Values/Backgrounds Similar Different11
Education College High School12
Cohabitation None or once Twice or more6
Family of origin Intact Divorced13

Conclusion Top of page

Living Together: Myths, Risks & AnswersSo, the best advice is to wait to get married until after you finish college. Don't get into the habit of cohabitation, but date over a long period of time. Also, pick people of similar backgrounds and values to date. Dating a more exotic person may be exiting, but a long-term marriage relationship with such a person would be trying.

¿Es Vivir Juntos Antes del Matrimonio Una Buena Idea?



References Top of page

  1. Cohan, C.L. and S. Kleinbaum. 2004. Toward a Greater Understanding of the Cohabitation Effect: Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Communication. Journal of Marriage and Family 64: 180-192.
    Kline, G. H., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Olmos-Gallo, P. A., St. Peters, M., Whitton, S. W., & Prado, L. M. 2004. Timing is everything: Pre-engagement cohabitation and increased risk for poor marital outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology 18: 311-318.
    Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., S Markman, H. J. 2004. Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or nonmarital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues 25: 490-519.
    Thomson, E. and U. Colella. 1992. Cohabitation and marital stability: Quality or commitment? Journal of Marriage and the Family 54: 259-267.
  2. Nock, S.L. 1995. A Comparison of Marriages and Cohabiting Relationships.  Journal of Family Issues 16: 53-76.
    Stafford, L., Kline, S.L, & Rankin, C.T. 2004. Married Individuals, Cohabiters, and Cohabiters Who Marry: A Longitudinal Study of Relational and Individual Well-Being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 21: 231-248.
    Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., S Markman, H. J. 2004. Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or nonmarital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues 25: 490-519.
  3. Axinn, W. G. and J. S. Barber. 1997. Living Arrangements and Family Formation Attitudes in Early Adulthood. Journal of Marriage and the Family 59:595-611.
    Axinn, W., and A. Thornton. 1992. The Relationship between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Causal Influence? Demography 29: 357-374.
  4. Kamp Dush, C. M., Cohan, C. L., and Amato, P. R. 2003. The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: Changes across cohorts? Journal of Marriage and Family 65: 539-549.
    Stafford, L., Kline, S.L, & Rankin, C.T. 2004. Married Individuals, Cohabiters, and Cohabiters Who Marry: A Longitudinal Study of Relational and Individual Well-Being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 21: 231-248.
    Thomson, E. and U. Colella. 1992. Cohabitation and marital stability: Quality or commitment? Journal of Marriage and the Family 54: 259-267.
  5. Rhoades, G. K., Petrella, J. N., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. 2006. Premarital cohabitation, husbands' commitment, and wives' satisfaction with the division of household contributions. Marriage and Family Review 40: 522.
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  7. Cohan, C.L. and S. Kleinbaum. 2004. Toward a Greater Understanding of the Cohabitation Effect: Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Communication. Journal of Marriage and Family 64: 180-192.
    Kamp Dush, C. M., Cohan, C. L., and Amato, P. R. 2003. The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: Changes across cohorts? Journal of Marriage and Family 65: 539-549.
    Kline, G. H., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Olmos-Gallo, P. A., St Peters, M., Whitton, S. W., S Prado, L. 2004. Timing is everything: Pre-engagement cohabitation and increased risk for poor marital outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology 18: 311-318.
    Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., S Markman, H. J. 2004. Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or nonmarital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues 25: 490-519.
    Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J. 2000. Pre-engagement cohabitation and gender asymmetry in marital commitment. Journal of Family Psychology 20: 553-500.
  8. Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., S Markman, H. J. 2009. Couples' reasons for cohabitation: Associations with individual well-being and relationship quality. Journal of Family Issues 30: 233-258.
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    Elaina Rose. 2004. Education and Hypergamy in Marriage Markets. Seattle, WA: Department of Economics, University of Washington.
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    Paul R. Amato. 1996. Explaining the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family 58: 628-640.
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    Jeffry H. Larson and Thomas B. Holman. 1994. Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability. Family Relations 43: 228-237.

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Last Modified March 29, 2013

 

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