Cohabitation: What to Consider Before Moving-In Together
Part of what we like to do is *debunk all the relationship myths*! Well here’s one for ya.
You may have heard that living together before marriage is a surefire predictor of divorce.
That would be a real bummer because nowadays two-thirds of couples getting married have already been living together .
According to the early research, sure – but today we know that it isn’t as simple as that.
Cohabitation in itself does not cause divorce. Cohabiting is associated with other factors that can add to divorce risk, such as non-religiosity, unplanned pregnancy, lower income and education, unemployment, and financial problems. Hence, we can’t put the blame on cohabitation. And using divorce as a fear-tactic to discourage cohabiting is just straight up uncool.
The current research suggests that marital quality and success (which is what we call not getting divorced) isn’t just dependent on whether the couple cohabits [2, 3]. Like many things in the social sciences, it’s much more about the process.
So what should you consider before taking that next step and moving-in together? First....
WHY MOVE IN TOGETHER?
Asking yourselves this will help you categorize your reasons. Would it be for the sake of frugality, convenience, financial necessity, or taking the next step in the relationship? Would it be out of a deeper commitment? Moving towards marriage?
The recent research on cohabitation in America would suggest that some reasons are more low-risk than others . For example, cohabiting out of financial necessity or unplanned pregnancy is not ideal for making the relationship last. This has to do with how dedicated couples are as they move in together.
So what if it’s to test the relationship and see if you’re compatible long-term?
Cohabiting isn’t always a the best way to “test” a relationship. A “let’s see how this goes” mentality might already imply a lack of commitment to the s.o. and the relationship. Constraints that come with moving in together, like sharing a lease, sharing expenses, friends, maybe a pet, only make it more difficult to break up if it turns out that the union’s not working out as you hoped . There are plenty of other, possibly more efficient ways to test a relationship, like talking about it with trusted folks who have your back, planning a trip together, meeting the parents, hanging out with them in many different settings, and taking a couple relationship education class together .
The important thing you want to remember is being conscious of the why. If you do move in together, research shows that it’s better to consciously decide to do so, especially as part of taking the next step together in planning to get married, rather than (WHOOPS!) sliding into it.
SLIDING vs. DECIDING
One is where you slide into the cohabitation – gradually and without much of a plan, whereas the the other is where you decide to move in together – having discussed and planned for it together with both partners on the same page. Here’s what these might look like, cohabitation captured in two very different pictures:
You spend the night together most of the time. Gradually, there’s more and more of your s.o.’s stuff at your place (started with just a toothbrush, but now there’s even the enormous beanie baby collection). It’s time for them to renew their lease, but the rent just went up and they can’t afford it. Besides, this is convenient. So, there – you live together. One or both of you might be wondering, “Woah, how did this happen!?” and you might not share a similar picture of where the relationship is headed.
You and your boo have been together for a while now. You’ve decided you want to stick together for the long haul. Through the good and the bad. You believe that you’re better together than you are apart. So, you talk about moving in together, pick the place, plan for how you’ll split up the costs and chores, and take that next step. It’s exciting and makes you feel closer and more committed than ever before.
This is the how in cohabitation. Is one better than the other? According to relationship experts, oh yes. Deciding wins.
All of this is based on research by Dr. Scott Stanley and a relationship theory which states that relationship transitions that are unplanned, or not clearly discussed and decided upon, can increase “constraints” in the relationship without necessarily increasing the couple’s commitment or dedication at the same time . This can lead to a misbalance and feelings of suffocation in the relationship. For those with commitment issues, this sounds like a nightmare right? Throwing “hey, we might as well get married” in there certainly throws off the statistics about cohabitation and divorce.
According to empirical research by Dr. Stanley and his colleagues, those who reported making a conscious decision to move in together and were already committed to one another had higher rates of satisfaction in the early years of their marriage . Another study found that this can also be associated with stronger dedication in the relationship and a lower likelihood of cheating . So really, those are some pretty great research-based bonuses to deciding!
If you do decide to move in together, one tool to boost your deciding-factor that we’d like to share with you is...
THE COHABITATION AGREEMENT
There are plenty of free versions available online with just a quick little google search. They can be as legally valid or as casual as you make them to be. Here’s one we found that has a simple format and we'd recommend.
Alternatively, here’s an Adventure Time -inspired sample cohabitation agreement if you’d like to check it out.
What’s the point of this? If you’ve already decided to move in together, the cohabitation agreement is just an extra step to show that you’re serious about the relationship and about treating your s.o. with respect. It’s also a chance to bring these important conversations to the surface. After filling out and signing one of these, it’s legit. No sliding. A DTR of sorts.
And have fun with it! Get posted up at a cozy coffee shop to put your budget together and fill out your own version of the form. You can even personalize it with things like, “Jake will cook up some bacon pancakes at least once a month. If this quota is not met, Finn is entitled to a 10 minute scalp massage performed by Jake.”
Woah, that’s like an official legal form! Don’t want to get into anything so serious? You don't have to do it, of course. But if writing up and possibly signing one of these makes you uncomfortable, it may be that you’re not quite ready to enter into a cohabitation. Living together is no easy thing. There’s bills, the lease or mortgage, shared belongings and responsibilities, less privacy, not to mention potential social and emotional consequences… all of which should be taken seriously and with the right person.
To summarize, it’s best to consider the why’s and how’s of moving in together; that’s what makes the difference in terms of predicting positive outcomes. You know what also boosts satisfaction in your marriage? Premarital education. Lucky for you, we got you covered. While most premarital programs in Texas will likely tell you not to cohabit, we know that’s just not realistic or even reasonable to expect from most couples today. And that’s great! You do you.
On Sunday, June 10th, we have a totally free cohabitation workshop for you at the Denton North Branch Library. Yeah we said it, FREE.99! RSVP on our Facebook event page and bring a s.o. or a friend! You can pick up a free cohabitation agreement while you’re there.
If you’d like to learn more about healthy relationship habits, communication, conflict management, etc., you can take a look at our calendar of premarital and relationship education classes and register HERE.
If you’d like to ask our social scientists and relationship educators a question, or if you need more information about a topic regarding relationships and families, please let us know. We’re here for your needs!
For further reading, we recommend The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together by Dr. Daphne de Marneffe and Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships by Drs. Sharon Sassler and Amanda Miller.
Owen, J., Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2013). Sliding versus deciding in relationships: associations with relationship quality, commitment, and infidelity. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 12(2), 135-149. doi: 10.1080/15332691.2013.779097
Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2014). Before “I Do”: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults? The National Marriage Project [Report]. Retrieved from: http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NMP-BeforeIDoReport-Final.pdf
Dr. Arielle Kuperberg (2014). Does premarital cohabitation raise your risk of divorce? The Council on Contemporary Families. Retrieved at: https://contemporaryfamilies.org/cohabitation-divorce-brief-report/
Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships by Drs. Sharon Sassler and Amanda Miller. Presentation of research findings available at: http://www.cornell.edu/video/cohabitation-nation-book-talk-sharon-sassler