Dear Terry & Tracy,
Should my boyfriend and I live together? We’ve been dating for about a year and a half. My lease will be up in a couple of months and we’ve talked about moving in. The problem is – I’m nervous! Having seen my parents’ marriage fall apart when I was a child, I’m afraid the same thing could happen to me. Will living together first hurt our chances of having a happy marriage? – Michelle, age 26
Yours is a common and important question. Cohabitation – living together without the commitment of marriage – is on the rise. And it’s good you are examining your fears and seeking support. I make no moral judgments about whether living together is right or wrong. But I can tell you what research about divorce has taught us, and what the hundreds of women we’ve interviewed have shared.
Before you decide to live with someone, it is incredibly important that you and your partner are on the same page. What are your motivations for living together? Based on your question, it doesn’t sound like it’s simply to save money by sharing the rent. You want to develop a deeper bond, and most significantly, you seem to want to marry this man. If you are looking to get married and your boyfriend is not, this is a problem. In my experience, many men say they are open to marriage when they move in with their girlfriends. However, if they have not sealed the deal with an engagement, there’s plenty of room to back out. And there’s plenty of time for him to decide you are not the one he wants to marry. Here is the fundamental difference: many women view living together as a step towards marriage, many men view it as a test drive.
Here are what the statistics have to say. Andrew Cherlin’s landmark work The Marriage-Go-Round, published in 2009, found the following:
- Over 50% of couples who cohabitate before marriage are broken up within five years
- Over 75% of children born to couples who are not married no longer live with both parents by the age of fifteen
It is true that you could marry your boyfriend without living together first, and still get a divorce. And it is also true that you could live together, get married, and be absolutely happy for the rest of your lives and never contemplate a breakup. But what women we’ve interviewed have told us and research has proven is the following – cohabitation increases your risk of divorce. It’s unclear what increases this risk. Is it just greater acceptance of divorce in general? Is it that people who live together just have a weaker commitment to the institution of marriage? It depends on who you ask.
Perhaps the most important part of your story is that you are a daughter of divorce. Sadly, this increases the chance that you will divorce. In fact, you are 59% more likely than females from intact homes to get a divorce. But being aware of the issues that contribute to your divorce proneness is the first step to avoiding this fate. It’s good you’re asking these questions. My best advice is to sit down with your boyfriend and make sure you both have the same expectations about the future of your relationship. I can’t tell you if you should live with your boyfriend. I would simply remind you of the risks involved. Recognize that while life doesn’t give you any guarantees, open communication and awareness of the issues which confront your relationship will give you the greatest chance of success.