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Romantic relationships are full of big decisions. One decision that’s gonna present itself is A) Do we move in together? and/or B) Do we get married? 59% of adults under the age of 45 have decided to move in together at some point. Then there’s the question: What would change if we got married? Is there a difference between living together and marriage?

Yes.

You want to be on one page about what your relationship is and where it’s going, especially when making big decisions. Understanding the differences between living together and marriage can help you decide what best helps you reach the relationship goals you’re hoping for. Ignoring the differences can lead to lifelong, complicated heartbreak. 

What are some differences between living together and marriage? Why do they matter? 

While some states recognize cohabitation agreements, they don’t provide the same protection as marriage. 

Married partners:

  • Can make medical decisions on their spouse’s behalf 
  • Have legal rights to inherit their spouse’s estate
  • Don’t pay taxes on the financial inheritance they receive from their spouse

Unmarried partners:

  • Need a general power of attorney to make medical decisions for their partner. Otherwise, they may have to defer to immediate family members. 
  • Must be a beneficiary in the will to have inheritance rights (income is taxable)

Health and finances affect almost every couple. You definitely want to clarify what you can and can’t do before you face major decisions. Drama, resentment, and pain can add severe stress if you find out you have less power and control than you thought during traumatic situations. This is especially true if the extended family gets involved. 

Clarity on Relationship Status

There’s a greater chance that couples who live together have different relationship goals. 

One may think they’re testing the relationship to see if they want to marry. The other might say, “Why marry? We’ll just live together.” Another might say, “It’s just convenient for us to live together since we spend so much time together.”

Married couples get a license. This is a formal declaration about the status of the relationship. Marriage locks in legal benefits and lessens potential misunderstandings about the relationship’s direction.

70% percent of married couples say making a formal commitment was a major reason they decided to marry. Though some marriages do end, research shows that married couples report greater relationship satisfaction.

Whether you live together or are married, you make tons of decisions: bills, home purchases, insurance, etc. If one of you thinks the relationship is one thing while the other thinks it’s something else, you have a recipe for disaster. Being on the same page about the relationship’s direction can decrease the chances of a painful break-up. 

Effects of A Break-Up

Divorcing and moving out can both be painful. The path out of marriage is quite different, though. It may seem that you can just walk away if you’re living together. But, what if you’re both on the lease, you’re sharing bills, or you’ve jointly bought furniture? When you’ve essentially joined your finances and lives together, separating it all is difficult. Not to mention that couples often don’t end on good terms. Without a formal agreement, one person can easily end up holding an unfair share of the risks. 

Divorces can be complicated, messy, and, unfortunately, nasty. However, the process works toward fairly dividing everything from finances and property to time with kids. And, it can provide closure: the ability to make decisions final.

How Break-ups Affect Children

You can’t tear kids down the middle and divide them in half. Married couples are the presumed parents when there is a divorce. Custody, visitation, and child support are set as part of the divorce. It can get ugly, but in the end, it can be resolved. 

According to Brookings Research, U.S. children of cohabiting parents are twice as likely to see their parents’ relationship end by age 12. If and when that happens, the child is only presumed to be the birth mother’s child. The father must walk through the process of establishing paternity. This can get even messier given the nature in which many couples end their relationships.

Thinking of living together and marriage as the same can lead to disappointment. Reminds me of the time I ate a sweet potato, thinking it was a regular baked potato. Ignoring the differences can increase the likelihood of a future break-up or divorce and complicated messiness related to finances, possessions, and kids. 

Researcher Scott Stanley encourages couples to make clear decisions on their relationship path instead of simply sliding into relationship situations. It’s important to keep your desired goals in mind — then doing the proper research to make the best decision for you.

Other helpful resources:

Is Living Together Bad for Your Relationship?

5 Things Every Couple Should Know Before They Move In Together

Preparing for Marriage Online | Everything You Need Before “I Do!”

Is Living Together Bad for Your Relationship?

Do your homework on the topic and move forward from there.

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. 

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5 Things Every Couple Should Know Before They Move in Together

5 Things Every Couple Should Know Before They Move In Together

Find out if living together will help you accomplish what you want.

Living together is pretty common these days. For many, living together is a natural progression in the evolution of their relationship, which may or may not lead to marriage. But it has its own set of complications, and there are things every couple should know before they move in together. I’m not trying to convince or dissuade you. Instead, I want to give you food for thought so you can make healthy decisions for your life. 

This blog is for you if: 

1. You are not seriously dating.

2. You’re seriously dating and thinking about moving in together.

3. You live together but recognize there are more things you need to discuss. 

No matter your relationship status, talking about significant issues can create the healthiest connections. 

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What’s my long-term plan? Our long-term plan?
  • What’s my level of commitment? My partner’s commitment level?

Here are FIVE essential topics every couple should know about and consider before they move in together.

1. Your reason: Why should we live together? 

Be honest with yourselves and each other. Is it about:

  • Money? 
  • Moving out of your parents’ house or away from that annoying roommate? 
  • The next step toward marriage? 

Continuing blindly down this path can lead to disappointment. Additionally, you should know your partner’s reason for living together. A Pew Research study offers many couples’ reasons, which include:

  • Love 
  • Companionship
  • Convenience
  • Natural next step 
  • Learn more about each other
  • Want to test the relationship

Share your reasons. It’s natural to be hesitant about having this conversation, but there’s no such thing as a risk-free relationship. Talking about it allows you both to be vulnerable and transparent.   

2. Your expectations: What will you (or won’t you) share? 

Now that you’ve shared your reasons, communicate your expectations with your partner. Assuming things can damage your relationship, especially if you think you agree, but you don’t. Your expectations should be realistic. If you have different expectations, you each may have to compromise. Now’s the time to get down to the nitty-gritty. 

Discuss things like: 

  • Who’s cooking and/or cleaning? 
  • Who will shop and/or do the laundry? 
  • Who does the yard? 
  • Are we having meals together every night? 
  • What are your long-term expectations (house, marriage, kids)? 

Talking about this isn’t sexy, but it’ll help your relationship in the long run.

3. Your finances: What’ll it cost you? 

Many couples think living together is cheaper than living apart. This may or may not be true, but they often don’t communicate about finances. 

Talk about: 

  • Who will move in where? 
  • How much will we pay for rent? 
  • Will we get a new place? Will we both be on the lease? 
  • Who pays for what (groceries, car payment, car insurance, rent, cable, electricity, water, internet, phone, etc.)? 
  • What’s our personal debt (credit card, student loan, etc.)? 
  • What will it cost you if you break up? (You may want to talk about a cohabitation agreement. )

4. Your habits: How will they impact your relationship? 

When living together, you become well acquainted with the habits and behaviors of your partner in a whole new way. Knowing that they exercise at 4:00 AM is one thing. Experiencing them exercising at 4:00 AM is something totally different. 

Discuss:

  • Are they a night owl or an early bird? Neat or messy? 
  • Are they an exercise, sports, home improvement, or cooking fanatic? 
  • How do they handle stress? Express emotions? 
  • What’s their work life like? Working remotely, hybrid, or in the office? 
  • Do they bring work home every night? 

5. Your other relationships: How will you interact with your village?  

While focusing on each other and excluding friends and family may be tempting, living together won’t mean you’re on an island. You each have friends and family in your lives that matter; they support and challenge you to be better versions of yourselves. Nurturing those relationships can benefit your growth as an individual and as a couple. 

Living together is not something to do without some considerations. 

Remember to think about: 

  • What do I want out of this relationship? 
  • What’s the end goal? 
  • Do I want to get married? 
  • Do I want to have children who are healthy and stable? 

However you answer these questions, you’ll want to find out if living together will help you accomplish what you desire or if it will hinder you. It’s up to you to decide.

You might also like:

Is Living Together Bad for Your Relationship?

Over the last two decades there has been a steady increase in the number of couples choosing to move in together before marriage, and many of them expect to make a commitment to each other. The catch is that a large number of them decide not to marry. The nagging question becomes, does marriage really make a difference in relationship quality over time? 

The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of cohabiting adults ages 25 to 34 increased from 12 percent a decade ago to 15 percent in 2018. Among 25- to 34- year-olds, living together has become commonplace. Among currently-married adults, a whopping 67 percent say they have lived with either their current partner or someone else before they tied the knot. In 1978, however, marriage was more common, with 59 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds married compared to only 30 percent today. 

With the dramatic increase in couples who live together, one might believe that cohabitation is becoming more like marriage (or at least a step toward it). If you think that, you aren’t alone. 

Plenty of researchers across the globe have surmised that over time, cohabitation would become more like marriage. Interestingly though, the latest research indicates that might not be the case.

Researchers from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University analyzed the results of a December 2018 YouGov “iFidelity Survey” of 2000 American adults. The data continues to confirm key differences in marriage and cohabiting relationships. They even found categorical differences between marriage and cohabitation on three relationship factors in particular.

First, married men and women are more likely than couples who live together to report satisfaction with their relationship.

After controlling for education, relationship duration and age, married women (54 percent) and married men (49 percent) were more likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship compared to cohabiting adults.

Second, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship commitment. 

Forty-six percent of married men and women were in the top relationship commitment group. Whereas just over 30 percent of cohabiting partners were in the top group. This finding is consistent with other research that links cohabiting relationships with lower commitment levels.

Third, married adults proved more likely to report higher levels of relationship stability than those who live together.

When asked how likely respondents thought their relationship would continue, 54 percent of married adults were in the top perceived relationship stability group. That is compared to only 28 percent of cohabiting adults. 

Married relationships are much less likely to break up than cohabiting ones. Even in places like Europe where cohabitation has long been an accepted practice, studies consistently show that married couples experience more stability than couples who live together.

Marriage has many other benefits for men, women and children in addition to commitment, satisfaction and stability. There’s plenty of research to prove it. Adults may be looking for financial benefits, better physical and emotional health, longevity or a more satisfying sex life. The evidence shows that marriage offers some things that cohabitation does not. 

Most people are looking for a committed, highly-satisfying and stable relationship. But the research strongly indicates that cohabitation is likely not the best route. Before you decide to move in together, do your homework. Decide if that road will take you where you want to go.  

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 24, 2019.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

Dads don’t matter. Seriously, dads don’t make a difference – unless it matters that children are physically and emotionally healthy and achieve educational success. If those things matter for your children, then fathers DO make a difference.

Dr. Alma Golden, pediatrician and former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family, has a lot to say about marriage and children.

“As Baby Boomers we were told these things:

  • Marriage is old-fashioned and confining;
  • Open relationships are healthier and more conducive to personal development;
  • Fathers are nice but not necessary;
  • It is better to live with a divorced mother than two unhappy parents;
  • The kids will be OK, they are flexible; and
  • Financial disparities are the reason for the differences in health and educational achievement.

“What we believed changed our world and started driving personal decisions. People started getting married later. Women are having fewer children and having them later. Single mothers are giving birth to more children. Fewer children are living with their married biological parents,” says Golden.

So how do these changes affect children?

A study of 294,000 families released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control indicates family structure makes a huge difference for children. 

The CDC study indicates that when children grow up with their two married biological parents, they have a lower rate of delayed medical care. They’re also less likely to have ADHD regardless of income, education, poverty status, place of residence or region.

Additionally, an earlier study found that in sixth through 12th graders, the strongest predictor of getting a diploma and going to college is having a father who attends PTA meetings.

“When dads show a clear commitment to their children, encouraging them in their educational endeavors, children do better,” Golden says. “The research also indicated that a married daddy at home doubles the chances that a child learns self-management.

“Conversely, non-nuclear families seem to struggle with a lot of issues. For example, cohabiting fathers have less than half the income of married fathers. They tend to bring less commitment to the family as a general rule. The implications for the children are they have fewer resources available to them. Additionally, seven in 10 children of cohabiting couples will experience parental separation.”

Findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force in 2003 showed that:

  • Married men and women are physically and emotionally healthier. They are less likely to participate in risky behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Married men and women live longer. 
  • People behave differently when they are married. They live healthier lifestyles and monitor each other’s health. And, the increased social support also increases the family’s chances of success.

“If we look back at the baby boomer list, what we now know is that marriage is actually beneficial for men, women and children,” Golden says. “Cohabitation is often of low-trust, stressful and more prone to violence and dissolution. Fathers are a necessity. Good enough marriages produce better outcomes than divorce. The kids are NOT flexible and may not be OK and family structure and stability are more important predictors of outcomes than finances.”

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Sara and Ethan* started dating in 2012. One year later, Ethan told Sara he wanted to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He was seriously considering an out-of-town move.

“I was attending a community college at the time, but knew I needed to transfer to a four-year school,” says Sara. “I felt like our relationship was strong. But trying to keep things going from a distance didn’t seem like a good idea. Since UTC was close to where Ethan would be, I decided to move as well.”

Money was tight for Ethan and Sara. Living together made sense to them financially, but Sara was concerned about what her family and others would think.

Ethan and Sara are among the more than 70 percent of couples who choose to live together before marriage.

Cohabitation has greatly increased in large measure because, while people are delaying marriage to even greater ages, they are not delaying sex, living together or childbearing,” say researchers Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades. “In fact, Dr. Wendy Manning noted in her 2018 address to the Population Association of America that almost all of the increase in non-marital births in the U.S. since 1980 has taken place in the context of cohabiting unions.”

Stanley and Rhoades note that increasing number of couples who live together before marriage, as well as serial cohabitation, might be of no special consequence except for the many births that now occur in those unions. Some of these couples have a long-term commitment similar to marriage. But on average, cohabiting parents are much more likely than married parents to break up. This increases the odds of family instability for children.

Additionally, a CDC National Center for Health Statistics report found that cohabiting couples tend to be poorer and less-educated than married couples. This creates a greater disadvantage for children. For instance:

  • 47.9% of cohabiting women had household incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s compared to 25.6 percent of wives.
  • 36.1 percent of cohabiting men had incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 21.2 percent of husbands.
  • 25.2 percent of cohabiting women had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 48.1 percent of wives.
  • 32.4 percent of cohabiting men had incomes over 300 percent of the federal poverty line. That’s compared to 52.4 percent of husbands.
  • 25.3% of cohabiting women had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43% of married women.
  • 16.2% of cohabiting men had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 36.5% of married men.

Large majorities of married, non-married and cohabiting couples believe that having and raising children without a marital commitment is fine. They believe that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce.

“This notion has had wide acceptance since at the mid-1990s, when three-fifths of high school students believed that, ‘It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along,’” Stanley and Rhoades say.

Based on their ongoing research on cohabitation, however, Stanley and Rhoades have strong evidence that some patterns of living together before marriage are associated with increased risks for less successful marriages, that experiences and choices impact future outcomes, and that cohabitation is definitely linked to relationship risks.

“What this means is that people who are already at greater risk for worse outcomes in relationships because of things like family background, disadvantage or individual vulnerabilities are also more likely to do any of the following: cohabit and not marry, cohabit before having clear, mutual plans to marry, or cohabit with a number of different partners over time,” Stanley and Rhoades assert.

There is significant research showing that people learn from experiences and that experiences change people’s beliefs, so it’s no surprise that the experiences of couples who live together can change their beliefs about marriage. Consequently, Stanley and Rhoades believe that the increase in cohabitation, serial cohabitation and premarital cohabitation has led to consistent downward trends in the belief that marriage is special.

Another concern is that cohabitation makes it harder to break up.

“Because of the inertia of living together, some people get stuck longer than they otherwise would have in relationships they might have left or left sooner,” Stanley and Rhoades say. “We believe some people marry someone they would otherwise have left because cohabitation made it too hard to move on. While the increased risk can be modest, numerous studies consistently show that those who live together before marriage report lower than average marital quality and are more likely to divorce. This is compounded by the fact that most couples slide into cohabiting rather than make a clear decision about what it means and what their futures may hold.”

Finally, since more children are being born to unmarried parents in relatively unstable relationships, studies indicate that only 1 out of 3 children born to cohabiting parents will remain in a stable family through age 12. That’s compared to nearly 3 out of 4 children born to married parents. This means that many who cohabit are entering future relationships with the challenge of children as part of the package.

Our society is in a complicated reality. A large portion of the population is choosing to live together before marriage.

There’s a lot for all of us to consider. Research shows that emotional, financial, educational and social stability of cohabiting impacts current and future relationships, along with the communities in which we live.

*Not real names.

Image from Unsplash.com

Check out FTF’s Feature Article on

“I do” feels complicated. What can you learn from a focus group of millennial women who live with their boyfriends? You can really find out about their relationships, their thoughts about marriage and how they think cohabitation differs from marriage.

Only one of the six women had ever married. Some had children with their current boyfriend. Others brought children into the relationship. They discussed the following questions, and more.

Do you believe living together and marriage are pretty much the same thing?

Most of the women agreed that living together and marriage were practically the same thing. They said it really boiled down to commitment to the relationship. And, they wondered why someone needs a piece of paper to prove their commitment to each other.

They also wondered if they could make a marriage work. For instance, only one of the women came from an intact family. She said everyone in her family had been successful at marriage so far except her.

Are there any ways that marriage is different from living together?

Regarding the differences in cohabitation and marriage, they discussed missing benefits because they weren’t legally married, even though they thought of themselves as married. They also said people treated them differently when they discovered they were unmarried.

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicates that 41 percent of cohabitors express pessimism about marriage. More than half (64 percent) of Gen-Xers and millennials agree that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce. 

Interestingly, only about 35 percent of individuals who married first believe that cohabitation may help prevent breakups.

If your boyfriend asked you to marry him, would you?

Surprisingly, all but one woman enthusiastically said yes, despite saying they believed there was really no difference in cohabitation and marriage.

While these women and many like them believe living together and marriage are basically the same, consider these statistics:

  • The overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples. Plus, the overall rate for “severe” violence is nearly five times as high, according to the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the nation’s leading institution studying domestic violence.
  • Studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had depression rates nearly five times higher than married women. Those rates second only to women who twice-divorced.
  • Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most of the women in the focus group said they want to avoid the pain of divorce. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases that risk.

If you’re in a serious relationship and wonder if you should take your relationship to the next level, think carefully. Instead of moving in together, consider taking a class that will help you know if you have learned all of the different skills that can help your relationship last a lifetime.

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Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. Kuperberg believes her study shows that couples who cohabit before marrying are no more likely to divorce than anyone else.

Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent global increase in cohabitation. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake. However, there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation helps to create family stability.

It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research.

The University of Denver’s Dr. Scott Stanley, and others, have conducted research on this issue for years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley breaks down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

“At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce,” Stanley writes in a recent post. “She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn’t moving in together at a young age also be a problem?”

Great question.

Kuperberg’s study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

Stanley’s blog describes some of the issues with premarital cohabitation. These matters can cause difficulty forming lasting love in marriage.

If you’re considering living together, you just might want to think about them:

  • Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just your future spouse is linked to poorer marital outcomes.
  • Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage correlates to lower marital satisfaction and higher divorce risk. Couples who currently live together and have clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.
  • Cohabiting without a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. Unmarried, cohabiting women have greater rates of unplanned pregnancies than married women.
  • Living together often creates constraints that make it harder to break up. Yet, the kind of dedication most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

You can read Stanley’s entire blog post here.

If this topic is relevant to you, don’t buy Kuperberg’s research hook, line and sinker. Learn more about all the research related to cohabitation. Then, consider how it might impact your life and the ones you love.

Image from Unsplash.com