Deep Dive: Is Moving in Together a Death Sentence for Your Relationship?
On the surface, living together sounds like a great idea: if you love being with your special someone part-time, being with them all the time will be so much better. It’s estimated that two-thirds of Americans will cohabitate at some point, and half of all marriages arise from couples who shared living space before walking down the aisle. But just because it seems like everyone is shacking up and living in sin, does that mean it’s beneficial for you and your partner? In this deep dive, we’re looking at studies, stats, and common sense to answer the question: Is moving in together a death sentence for your relationship? The answer might shock you.
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Cohabitation makes financial sense.
Especially now, as our economy takes a downturn, you’re probably looking for ways to save money. Cohabitation is a great way to do that, slashing your rent in half and providing incentive to stay home, cook, and Netflix-and-chill rather than have expensive dates out.
Men and women see cohabitation differently.
Women are more likely to assume cohabitation is a premarital stage, with marriage as the ultimate goal, while men are more likely to consider cohabitation the end-all-be-all of the relationship. This disconnect on expectations can cause friction in a relationship, with the female half wondering, “Why aren’t we moving towards marriage?” and the male half wondering, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Cohabitation means less sex – and less satisfying sex.
A study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that heterosexual married couples that cohabitated before marriage had less sex during the first year of marriage and less satisfying sex lives overall than couples that did not live together before marriage. This was true up to the four-year mark of marriage, after which, the divide disappeared. Why this happens isn’t clear, but just look to any self-help sexpert who will tell you that familiarity breeds a low libido. The more time you spend with your partner, the less alluring they’ll be. Maybe occasional sleepovers are the way to go after all.
Cohabitation increases the risk of unplanned pregnancies.
Cohabitating women are more likely than non-cohabitating women to get pregnant. It’s no wonder, really. If you live together, you get lazy, even with contraception. Child-bearing is perhaps one of the most serious (and unintended) consequences of cohabitation. If you think marriage represents a lifelong commitment, kids are even more so. You can divorce a spouse and forego contact with them indefinitely, but you can never, ever not be someone’s parent. If you aren’t prepared to raise kids or potentially pay child support for 18 years, you might want to reconsider cohabitation (or get a vasectomy).
Cohabitation makes it harder to break up.
You can apply a simple economic concept to the conundrum couples find themselves in when they cohabitate. It’s called “sunk cost.” The longer the relationship, the more time, money, and energy you invest in it and the less likely you are to break up. Why? Because you’re in deep, and the deeper you get, the harder it is to climb out of that cohabitation hole. When you live together, you not only have to grapple with the emotional fallout of a breakup but you also have to find a new place to live and adjust your finances accordingly. For many, the obvious answer is to stay in the relationship, no matter how unhappy you are.
Cohabitation leads to marital “slide.”
Couples who cohabitate often marry, but when they do, it’s not with an enthusiastic “I do!” It’s more of with a resigned, "OK, fine." It’s a sad, unstable base for a relationship. If you’re going to commit ’til death do you part, you might as well mean it.
Divorce rates are higher for couples who cohabitated.
It’s called the “premarital cohabitation effect” and there are statistics to back it up. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that after the first year of marriage, the incidence of divorce increased for couples who cohabitated before taking vows as compared to couples who did not cohabitate before marriage.
Cohabitation might be right for some couples, some of the time. But before you commit (because it is a commitment), make sure you and your partner are on the same page about what cohabitation means to each of you. Is this just the next logical step before marriage? Or is this the mountaintop? What will happen if the relationship doesn’t work out? Who will leave? Who will get custody of the pets, not to mention the kids? Sure, in the short run cohabitation might save you some money on rent, but if you end up with a couple of children you didn’t plan on, all those savings go right down the crapper (along with sleep and your social life). A more cautious approach might involve asking: Do I want to marry this person? If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t live with them, either – unless your partner is dead-set against marriage, too.