WOW! Clearly this is a hot topic with lots of emotion attached to it.
A few weeks ago I attended an international conference on marriage and family. One of the plenary sessions featured a conservative, religious, older guy, Dr. Scott Stanley, and a young, feminist, liberal woman, Dr. Galena Rhoades, discussing the latest research on living together. While some of their findings probably won't surprise you, there were several things that were thought-provoking.
Just in case you are wondering: Four to five percent of US households are cohabiting and sixty to seventy percent of couples live together before marriage.
When couples were asked why they chose to live together before getting married, the most popular answer was so they could spend more time together. I thought it was very interesting that most of the couples said they believed in the institution of marriage. BUT many of them are really questioning whether or not they can actually make marriage work over the long haul.
One of the most eye-opening findings was the fact that most people who live together don't realize that once you start living together it makes it much more difficult to break up. Things like signing a lease together, getting a dog, and/or having a child together are all things that anchor the relationship and make breaking up much more complicated. It is harder to walk away even though you may be over the relationship and ready to move on. So, some people marry the person they are living with knowing this really isn't the person I would choose to marry.
The other thing that struck me was the differences in how men and women view cohabitation. When researchers asked couples to talk about how they decided to live together, one couple responded like this - she said, "He was moving to my city and we were already engaged so it made financial sense for us to move in together." He said, "To give the relationship a chance to become very serious. To see if we can live together." Hummmmm. Seems like if you are engaged your relationship is already serious. Clearly they were not on the same page.
Studies indicate that men actually value marriage more than women, but when asked about living with someone prior to marriage, men are more likely to say they feel trapped or that they are living with this woman while they are still waiting for their soulmate to come along.
Bottomline, whether you are religious or not, living together before marriage doesn't appear to have great outcomes. While there are definitely exceptions to this rule, overarchingly living with someone before you marry them does not seem to build a strong foundation for a great marriage. The only exception is if you are engaged and have a date set for your wedding. Even then, research shows that it isn't the best way to get your marriage off to a great start.
Many people think that it is only conservative, religious, narrow minded people who think cohabiting is a bad idea. Actually, if you look at the credible research on cohabitation from the University of Denver, Bowling Green State University and The University of Texas to name a few, you would be hard pressed to make that case.
Dr. Stanley wrapped up the plenary session by asking this question: Is cohabitation a pathway that will get you what you are hoping for - love that lasts with one person?