It might seem like everyone and their moms (okay, well, their partners) moves in with their S.O. before walking to the alter. And that’s not too far off, considering the trend in living together before marriage is rising. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 8.5 million unmarried couples lived together in 2018 (they didn’t count same-sex couples in that number).
But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. As with most relationship issues, when it comes to deciding whether you should cohabitate before marriage, it all depends on the individuals involved. So to help you weigh the pros and cons, I chatted with two relationship experts. Here’s what to know.
Living together before marriage definitely comes with some advantages.
“Going from living on your own terms to sharing a place with someone can be simultaneously fun and extraordinarily challenging,” says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sex and relationships expert in NYC. “Sharing a space can bring up a lot of issues and put your relationship to the test: You get a crash course in cooperation, negotiation, your ability to put someone’s needs and tastes above or equal to your own. These are all relationship experiences that you should have prior to getting married.”
Megan Fleming, Ph.D., an NYC-based sex and relationship therapist, agrees, adding that living with someone and spending nearly 24/7 with them means you’ll have a chance to really, truly see their priorities and values, as well as how those line up with yours. It’s like a practice run for what your everyday life might be like if you do decide to get married down the road.
Another important point it brings up: how you align on the topic of sex. “It gives you a sense of how attuned you are to each others’ sexual needs, in terms of both frequency and quality,” Fleming says. “Sex is a small part of a relationship when it’s going well. When it’s not going well, it’s a big part of a relationship.”
One study also shows that people who cohabitated with their S.O. self-reported higher physical and mental health than those who didn’t live with their lover (married couples also reported higher health). So check off the box for cohabitors being happier with their bodies and mind, too.
What are the disadvantages of living together before marriage?
Levkoff doesn’t list any major cons to cohabitating with your partner pre-marriage—she’s a big proponent. But Fleming mentions that marriage usually means more of a commitment than living together, which likely translates to people putting in more of an effort with that level of loyalty compared to simply sharing a shelter.
On the other hand, when you’re dating and you do start to intertwine your lives by moving in together, it’s more difficult to break it off if you need to, Fleming says. This could be one of the reasons research shows that although living with your partner before marriage leads to more success in the first year, down the line, it can actually increase the risk of divorce.
Researchers aren’t sure why this is, but Fleming says it could be that after you move in together, you may realize it’s too tough to cut ties, so you get married instead. Years later, you might decide it’s not for you and bam, divorce. So the key to avoiding divorce down the line could be figuring out your level of commitment to the relationship even before you share a front door.
Fleming also says this research could be outdated, particularly since it’s more acceptable nowadays to live with your partner before marriage than it was years ago (although the research was published in 2018, it’s based on data from 1970 to 2015). So many factors play into these divorce rates, too—including age, religion, whether it’s your first marriage, whether you lived with someone before, and so on.
And to top off the confusion on the science, the research looks at the success of a marriage as simply staying together, when of course what really matters is happiness in the marriage, Fleming says.
“Statistics can be helpful in some ways, but really, you have to know yourself,” says Fleming. “Relationships are an effort, so you have to work at it,” whether you’re living together sans rings or married.
Is there anything else I should know before deciding to live with my partner?
Well, you might want to have a convo about why each of you wants to move in together, Levkoff says.
“It’s always important to know if you are on the same page,” she adds. “And if you are not, at least you can manage your own expectations accordingly.”
Bring up the convo as soon as you feel ready and you’re up for the discussion. It doesn’t necessarily matter how long you’ve been together (though, LBH, month one seems a little early)—just as long as you feel ready to talk about it. You can also make it super-casual, asking things like, “Have you ever lived with someone?” or “Have you ever wanted to live with someone?” These Qs will at least start the discussion.
Keep in mind, you likely want to consider living together a true commitment—a pledge from both parties that you’re in this relationship and ready to work on it—rather than a convenience, says Fleming. In other words, don’t let your bank account drive your decision to cohabitate. “It’s more important to make your decision based on your partner, rather than rent,” Fleming says.
You might also want to chat about a few things before you sign that lease, like your individual expectations of a shared living space—things like who might need more alone time or privacy (say, if you’re an introvert and your partner is not), as well as cleanliness (a common source of tension).
The goal for these discussions: Figure out your non-negotiables—what you can deal with on the daily, and what might lead to a break up, says Fleming.
Ask yourself, “What do I want from my partner and my life?” And then talk to your partner about your answer to figure out if you envision your futures playing out similarly. “You want to help each other grow as a couple, but also as individuals,” Fleming adds. To do that, you need to devote more time and energy to making things work, rather than just moving in together on a whim and seeing how things go.
So, should you live together before marriage?
Ultimately, experts say you and your partner should just do you, because everyone is different.
Just remember: A shared roof may not take the place of a marriage license, says Levkoff. “Moving in shouldn’t be a replacement for marriage, if marriage is what you want. It should be a stepping stone,” she explains. That means if someone is saying yes to living together just to put off marriage talks, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future. So talk about it.
Moving in with someone, especially if you both have hopes of getting married, is all about blending your lives and bringing together things you both enjoy—creating a “couple identity,” as Levkoff says. So just make sure everyone is on the same page about what the next step means, before you sign the housing papers.