Living With Your Boyfriend? Your Marriage Is Less Likely To Work Out. Here's Why

Moving in together appears to be a good way to test a relationship before marriage; however, this is a common misconception.

By Rebecca Hope3 min read
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Shutterstock/Regina Foster

There is no necessity to marry in modern dating. Instead, many couples simply go through the motions. Often, singletons meet, then they date and have intimate relations with one another before even one word of commitment is spoken.

Years pass, and it gets to that time when talks of moving in together arise. It makes sense to live together – it’s the next step, right? You’re spending so much time together, so why pay two rents when you could be saving for your future together? Plus, with divorce rates being so high, you want to ensure that you and your partner are 100% right for each other before saying “I do.”

The reasons for moving in together before engagement or marriage are many. It seems like the logical choice. However, you’re actually more likely to get divorced if you move in together before you get married. Here’s why.

The Cohabitation Effect

Couples generally believe living together before marriage is a good way to avoid divorce. However, studies have shown that couples who live together first are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is called the cohabitation effect.

Even marital researchers are confused by this effect because, in theory, moving in together before marriage should reduce the chances of marrying the wrong person. You’ll learn more about each other, begin negotiating chores, and get a taste of what married life would be like with your beloved. And it’s true to a certain extent. 

For example, a study in 2018 showed that couples who live together first are less likely to break up in the first year of marriage. This is likely because they spend years negotiating and getting used to living together before entering a marriage. However, this happiness doesn’t last long, as couples who live together first are more likely to get divorced later on. In the short term, it seems that living together works, but in the long term, it’s less effective. Why is that?

The cohabitation effect can’t be fully explained through characteristics such as a person’s religion, education, or politics.

What Causes the Cohabitation Effect?

Although some believe this occurs because those who live together before marriage may be more open to divorce in the first place – i.e. they aren’t religious and have no moral reason for not moving in with their partner – research shows that the cohabitation effect can’t be fully explained through characteristics such as a person’s religion, education, or politics.

This is something Dr. Meg Jay covers in her book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How To Make the Most of Them Now. She writes that when twentysomethings are asked how they ended up moving in with their partner, they often say, “It just happened.” This is known as “sliding, not deciding.” Going from dating to cohabitation is often a gradual slope and bears no real commitment. Plus, a real conversation about what it means to move in together rarely occurs.

In fact, moving in together can mean different things to each person – and unfortunately, it’s incredibly common for a couple to have widely different reasons for moving in with their partner. Dr. Jay writes that when women are asked why they want to live with their partner, they are more likely to say they want “better access to love.” However, when a man is asked, he will often say “easier access to sex.” Worse still, even after the relationship progresses to marriage, lower levels of commitment still persist.

People have lower standards for a live-in partner than for a spouse.

Another negative side effect of cohabitation is the fact that people have lower standards for a live-in partner than for a spouse – something which could be detrimental to your future happiness. Time is a person’s most precious commodity, and by lowering standards for a live-in partner, people are simply wasting time they’ll never get back. So, if you do decide to move in with your boyfriend – and you hope to be married with kids one day – it’s important to ask whether or not this is the person you want to do that with.

Indecision Kills

Another reason why it’s important to be intentional is because there’s a psychological process that occurs when you make a decision.

According to Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, “The very option of being allowed to change our minds seems to increase the chances we will change our minds. When we can change our minds about decisions, we are less satisfied with them. When a decision is final, we engage in a variety of psychological processes that enhance our feelings about the choice we made relative to the alternatives.”

It’s almost as if getting married once you’ve already been living together becomes a default mechanism – it’s just the next step. Couples end up sliding into marriage rather than making a purposeful commitment. Plus, without a lifelong commitment, people are able to keep one foot out of the relationship and easily use their get-out-of-jail-free card.

Ultimately, Jordan Peterson defines what cohabitation really is in his book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He writes: “Consider the statement implicit in living together, prior to marriage: ‘You’re good enough to live with, and attractive enough for temporary sexual purposes, but I want to hold open the possibility of trading up if I’m fortunate enough to find someone preferable to you (someone sufficiently deluded to accept me as a partner, under such conditions).’ Contrast that with ‘I am willing to stake my future on our joint integrity, and to risk building a life with you on that foundation.’ If you had to choose between two potential partners on the basis of those alternate explicitly stated principles – one abiding by the former, the other, the latter – whom would you choose?”

Closing Thoughts

People no longer want to live their lives with boundaries. However, withholding some aspects of a relationship, such as moving in together, may lead to a better outcome in the long run.

If you don’t want to wait until marriage to live with your boyfriend, make sure you ask yourself whether the guy you’re moving in with would make a good husband and father. It’s also important to have the right discussions with your boyfriend before you move in together to ensure you’re both on the same page. The last thing you want is to move in with a guy who is only doing so to delay a real commitment to you. But if you’ve already moved in, it’s not too late. Have these conversations with your boyfriend now to save yourself from possible heartbreak in the future.

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