Is Living Together Bad for Your Relationship?

Do your homework on the topic and move forward from there.
By Chris Ownby
June 4, 2021

You may be trying to decide: Should we move in together? Or perhaps you already live together and have some questions. Is living together bad for your relationship? Is this going to be good or bad for us? 

You’ve probably heard lots of strong opinions. Let me be straight-up with you; there’s no simple answer. 

I hope to give you information that you may not have known before and let you come to your own conclusions. That’s how we make wise decisions about relationships, right? Find out all you can, weigh the arguments on both sides (even if you lean to one side at first), and go from there. That’s what I hope you’ll do. 

Some of what makes this question not-so-simple is that you’re dealing with likelihoods. What are the odds that living together will be good or bad? I don’t know about you, but I’m not a gambler. I don’t like betting against the odds. Life turns out much better when you know what’s most likely to happen. 

Here’s what we can gather about likelihoods: 

  • It seems reasonable (or likely) that living together should improve the odds of doing well later in marriage. Not only is there little research supporting this belief, but the evidence isn’t that strong. 
  • As a matter of fact, living together before marriage has been most strongly associated with poorer marital outcomes. Experts call this the “premarital cohabitation effect.” Those who have lived together before marriage are more likely, not less, to struggle in marriage. And these marriages are more likely to end in divorce.
  • As living together before marriage became more accepted in society, people thought the association with divorce would decrease, making it less likely. This also has not been the case. 
  • In fact, couples who lived together tend to report having very little struggle in the first year of their marriage. (It makes sense: They’ve already negotiated the initial shock of all the changes that come with moving in.) But in the years after, the cohabitation effect comes into much greater play, making divorce much more likely after their first year of marriage.
  • If you want to compare living together with what marriage may look like, you could be setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations. There are fundamental differences in trust levels and relationship satisfaction between married and cohabiting couples. Couples who live together are much less likely to trust in their partner’s faithfulness, truthfulness, and responsibility than married couples. 

I realize this might paint a bleak picture of living together. I don’t mean for it to; this isn’t my opinion nor anyone else’s. It’s simply the likelihood that research shows us. 

Here’s another thought: There’s a theory out there that says moving in together makes it much harder to break up if the relationship goes south. The evidence tends to back this up. When you share bills, furniture, living space, a pet, and a bed, splitting up isn’t so cut-and-dry. (This is ironic because almost a quarter of people living together report they are testing the relationship.) Even if you feel you’re beyond the testing phase of your relationship, research shows the commitment level of couples living together is typically different than married couples. All this needs to be weighed very carefully before making a major decision. 

Some final questions to consider: If you decide not to move in together, what’s the worst that could happen? Would it deter either of you from considering marriage later on? If it would, what does it say about your relationship? 

And if you decide to move in together, what’s the worst that could happen? Would it deter you from breaking up if you needed to? If so, what would that say about your relationship? 

At the end of the day, you have to come to your own conclusions. Again, I encourage you to step back and consider what’s at stake. Do plenty of homework and move forward from there. Be careful to discern between facts and mere opinions or personal perspectives. The health of your relationship and future marriage just may well depend on it. 

You may also like:

5 Things Every Couple Should Know Before They Move in Together

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