Why Living Together Before Marriage May Sabotage Your Relationship

Living together before marriage has become extremely common, but it comes with hidden consequences that are rarely discussed. In fact, it may even sabotage your relationship.

By Julie Mastrine4 min read
Why Living Together Before Marriage May Sabotage Your Relationship

Living with your boyfriend can seem like a good idea, especially if you’re living in an expensive city and want to cut costs. You can split the bills, enjoy constant access to each other, and never go to sleep alone. And when it’s finally time to get married, you’ll already have some “practice” under your belt. At face value, it seems like a great arrangement — until you look a bit deeper.

In reality, living together before marriage can cause us to end up with the wrong man, or to experience a host of other problems our culture often ignores. Here are a few reasons why living together before marriage may sabotage your relationship.

It Means There’s No Commitment

People often say living together is practicing for marriage. They compare marriage to a car: You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it, right? But this metaphor is a poor one, and totally misses the point of what marriage is really about. Marriage is a lifelong commitment, and you can’t practice commitment by not committing.

Couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce, and half of couples who cohabitate eventually break up. Meanwhile, actual marriage rates are way down, having fallen to their lowest level in 120 years

Marriage is a lifelong commitment, and you can’t practice commitment by not committing.

Cohabitation delays marriage or totally eliminates it. And for cohabitating couples who do eventually marry, many don’t go into marriage with a commitment mindset. They “slide into” marriage because it’s convenient, rather than making the conscious decision to really stick with that person through thick and thin.

Cohabitating gives you some of the surface-level benefits of marriage, but what you’re practicing in cohabitation isn’t marriage — you’re really practicing not committing.

It Places Importance on the Wrong Things

Our generation seems to think it’s really important that our partners don’t have any annoying or “gross” habits that would make marriage miserable. They want to ensure their partner doesn’t leave the cap off the toothpaste or put dirty socks on the floor. The idea is that these little habits could annoy us sooo badly that we’d be totally turned off from marrying them.

This is a very silly mindset, and totally misses what’s really important in marriage. Every single person on earth is going to have some annoying little habits here and there — we’re human, after all, and no one is perfect. Your husband will probably snore or make a mess of the kitchen or forget to hang up his coat. Men aren’t really wired to be homemakers, anyway, so a lot of them are going to be total slobs (that’s part of why women complement them so well).

What really matters in marriage is whether or not your partner is a person of good character.

Advocates of cohabitation often act like everyday habits are crucially important to marriage, but they’re really not. What really matters in marriage is whether or not your partner is honest, virtuous, humble, willing to protect and provide — a person of good character. It’s whether you have the same values and priorities in life. It’s whether you are willing to stick by and sacrifice for the other. These qualities are what make someone marriable — all that other stuff will be happily dealt with when these deeper attributes are present.

It Means You May End up with the Wrong Person

Waiting until marriage to live together creates a firm boundary between the dating/engaged phase and the married phase. This line ensures that both parties really think through the commitment they’re making, and to whom, before they merge their lives and belongings. Waiting to live together lets you focus on whether or not you really want to go through life with this specific person.

On the other hand, a lot of people start cohabitating for economic or logistical convenience, not because they want to commit to that person. If you discover you’re with the wrong person, it can then be hard to leave. You’ve already entangled your entire lives together in the way that married couples do. Leaving means you’d have to figure out who gets the dog and the couch and the books, and you’d have to find an entirely new apartment, and maybe your commute wouldn’t be as easy — and so, screw it, you stay. You figure you’ll stick with them instead of going through a mini-divorce.

Waiting to live together lets you focus on if you really want to go through life with this specific person.

If you want to break up with someone you haven’t chosen as a marriage partner, you should be able to call them up and end it — that’s it. Entangling your lives together before marriage may cause you to stick with the wrong guy.

It Disincentives Him from Proposing

Some women desperately want to get married, but after years and years of cohabitating, can’t figure out why their live-in partner won’t propose. Marriage isn’t a transaction, but it does come with certain expectations and duties. Typically, women take care of the home, food, and children, while the husband takes on the role of provider and protector. But if your boyfriend sees you performing all the so-called “wife duties” without him having to make a promise or fulfill the duties of a husband, he may feel he has little incentive to marry you. 

Think about it — if he’s already getting sex, home-cooked meals, companionship, someone splitting the bills, and waiting for him when he comes home, what would a marriage commitment add to his life? If he’s not a spiritual or religious person, he probably won’t see a reason to make such a big commitment to you.

Marriage isn’t a transaction, but it does come with certain expectations and duties.

Again, these duties are not the whole of what marriage is about — marriage is an obligation to care for one another, and at times to put their needs above your own — but for a guy who has already demonstrated that he doesn’t have much of a desire for marriage, living with him is only going to reinforce his commitment-phobia.

Waiting To Live Together Makes Marriage Distinct and Special

Waiting to live together saves something unique and special for marriage. It makes your post-wedding lives feel special, precious, and distinct from the time you were dating or engaged.

Actress Katherine Heigl reportedly explained why she didn’t move in with her now-husband Josh Kelley until after they were married: "I think I just wanted to save something for the actual marriage... I wanted there to be something to make the actual marriage different than the dating or the courtship.”

Waiting to live together can actually give you something to look forward to and make marriage feel distinct from the courtship phase.

It Makes It Harder To Say No to Sex

There are lots of good reasons to wait until marriage to have sex, and cohabitating makes it really hard to hold your sexual boundaries in place.

Sex cements your relationship and holds you together. It’s the consummation of a relationship, not the basis of it. A 2010 study of over 2,000 married couples found that waiting led to more satisfying sex lives after marriage. Couples also reported that their marriages were more stable and satisfying than couples who had sex early in their relationship. 

One study found that waiting to have sex led to more satisfying sex lives after marriage.

Sharing a bed together every single night before marriage basically causes you to act married without the underlying commitment that you’ll stick together, even when things get hard. It can also cause you to bond to the wrong man.

It’s Bad for Children

Children of cohabiting households are at a disadvantage. And even before kids are in the picture, women need the security of knowing a man isn’t going anywhere if they get pregnant. Children fare much better when they have both a mother and a father, on nearly every metric. 

But simply living together makes it too easy for a man to leave in the event of a pregnancy. He hasn’t made a commitment to you, so he always has one foot out the door. Ending a lease is way easier (and cheaper) than going through a divorce, after all. This can leave women and children in a really vulnerable spot if he decides he doesn’t want the responsibility in the event of a pregnancy.

Closing Thoughts

Cohabitation before marriage used to be extremely taboo. As it turns out, older generations weren’t trying to oppress us by telling us not to live together before marriage — they were trying to protect us. Saving shared living space for after marriage allows us to be sure we picked the right man and that we’re actually committed to one other — not just there out of ease or convenience.

Marriage is going to be challenging — you don’t know what life is going to throw at you. Sharing a closet beforehand isn’t necessarily going to make you more equipped to meet those challenges. What will equip you is going into marriage with a mindset of commitment — that you’re going to love, sacrifice for, and stand by your partner no matter what happens.

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