Living Together Before Marriage: Is It Worth It?

By Joanna Smykowski

Updated September 06, 2019

Reviewer Debra Halseth, LCSW

For many people, relationships have clear-cut steps. First, you meet someone. Maybe you were friends first, or you met online, or at a bar, or a mutual acquaintance introduced you. Then, you begin chatting, and your interest in each other is piqued. After talking for a bit, you will likely start dating. Dating leads to a relationship, and that is when a new chapter begins.

There are different milestones in a relationship. When you first tell each other you love each other, when you first meet family and friends, and time milestones. Another huge milestone, usually the last big one as a couple before marriage, is living together.

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Living Together - Why Is It A Big Deal?

Living together can be seen as a big deal for some people, while for others, it is just a logical financial step. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, living on your own is becoming more and more difficult. Debt is at an all-time high, especially for millennials that are graduating college with crippling student debt. While once upon a time you used to live with your parents until you moved out on your own with a spouse, young professionals today are staying with their parents after they finish school because they can't afford anything else.

Roommates give a solution to this, but if you are in a relationship with someone, that also seems like the best option for a roommate. Why deal with random people that you found on Craigslist, or old friends whose living habits you may not like entirely when you can just live with someone you love? Plus, it allows you to get a studio or one-bedroom apartment with two incomes, versus having roommates that would each need their bedrooms.

In major cities such as New York, living with someone happens often and many times leads to uncomfortable situations. People sign a lease, move in together to save money for rent, and then end up breaking up but still have to cohabitate. Horror stories of living with an ex and sleeping in the living room because your lease is not up for another three months are not too uncommon. But when this does not happen - when you live with someone you care for, and it all works out - financially, it does help.

Whether you choose to live with someone because it is the next big step in your relationship because you live in an expensive city, it still signifies a change in your relationship.

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Before, you met up with your significant other for dates - the movies, dinner, going out with friends. You would hang out in these public spaces, and go home. Even if you were sleeping over, or going on vacation, you had only a few days together with an overnight bag or luggage. At the end of the day, you had your own space to go home to. Unless one of you lived in your own place, you were never really alone. You either had roommates or maybe parents that were there, in shared space.

Now, you are living with your significant other. There is another layer that gets revealed when this happens. You have a place that you both call yours, and there are no holds barred. Your living habits are revealed to each other - ones that you may or may not have shown before. Maybe you had previously avoided doing things like passing gas in front of them to keep the mystery alive. Now, it is a little harder to escape.

And what about when you argue? These are inevitable in any relationship, and now you have to navigate how to handle that. While before it was easy just to go home, now that is no longer an option. How, as a couple, will you deal with tension? Will you sleep back to back or take a walk? These are things you have to figure out.

And for many, living together is that final step before marriage. It is a big commitment, combining all of your things, sharing a space, and seeing how the arrangement works before you decide if spending the rest of your lives together is something that will work for you.

So, yes, living together is a big deal

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Living Together - Well, Should I Do It?

Whether or not you want to live with your significant other is completely up to you. Sometimes, you can't. There are still religious and cultural traditions that do not allow couples to live together before they get married. If that is you, then waiting until you are married is the only time you can take that step of cohabitating.

But for many people, it makes sense for multiple reasons. As we spoke about above, it helps financially to be able to save money. Paying less in rent than you would on your own helps you save money in the long run. If you want to buy property, having two incomes is always better than one.

Living together also makes sense so that you can see how you will, in the literal sense, live together. For many, it is equated to test driving a car before purchasing it. There could be deal-breakers that you notice once you finally do share the same space, and it is better to find out before getting married.

Living Together - Studies Behind It

Not surprisingly, studies have been done to see how living together before marriage affects emotional distress. In one such study, the changes in emotional distress across various relationship transitions were examined. These changes included moving in together, getting married without living tougher, and getting married after having lived together. The study was done for people in their twenties spanning across the United States. The results found that:

"Entrance into first cohabiting unions and direct marriages, and all second unions were significantly associated with reduced emotional distress."

  1. "Entrance into first cohabiting unions and direct marriages, and all second unions were significantly associated with reduced emotional distress."
  2. "Gender differences were found for first unions only; for men, only direct marriage was associated with an emotional health benefit, while both direct marriage and cohabitation benefited women's emotional health."
  3. "Transitioning into marriage from a first, current cohabitation was not associated with a change in emotional distress; these results held for second unions in that transitioning into marriage with a second, current cohabiting partner was also not associated with a change in emotional distress."[i]

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What this translated to is that moving in together brought a sense of emotional well-being to the couples who decided to do it, and gave an emotional health benefit. The study did not observe the long-term effect of living together before marriage; it only studied two-year increments.

Another study in the same journal offered findings of the quality of relationships overtime after two people decide to cohabitate. They found that:

  1. Dedication to one's partner increases in the lead-up to moving in together but then levels off after the transition. It does not become as high as what you'd expect for those who are going to have a successful marriage.
  2. Different types of constraints-factors that make break-ups less likely regardless of partners' dedication-show large increases upon moving in together and then start to grow more rapidly.
  3. Conflict increases and starts to climb steadily after moving in together.
  4. The frequency of sex jumps modestly after a couple moves in together and then declines steadily to become lower than it had been before the transition.[ii]

These findings married well with the first but suggested that over time, couples that live together without the lifelong commitment of marriage attached sometimes did not want to put in the long-term effort.

Living Together - Is It Worth It?

The answer to this question is up to you and your partner. There are benefits - both financially and emotionally - to living together. It is a good way to figure out if you have a future together as well. But it is something that should probably be discussed and not gone into too lightly. Recognize the milestone that it is, and how it will change both of your lives. It may help to make sure you have a system for having your own time together. You can schedule a weekly night with your friends or be sure to get out of the apartment one weeknight and go somewhere. Think about the obstacles you may run into - maybe one of you is a little messier than the other - and how you will move past this obstacle when you have no choice but to face it. If you need help working through the obstacles or figuring out how to handle it, know that the folks over at BetterHelp are always ready and prepared to listen.

And then, if you do decide to move in together, enjoy it. Enjoy having your partner as a roommate and having a space to call your own!

[i] Sara Mernitz and Claire Kamp Dush, Journal of Family Psychology.

[ii] Galena Rhoades, Howard Markman, and Scott Stanley, Journal of Family Psychology.


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