Why do couples live together before marriage?

There was a fascinating article in The New York Times over the weekend titled “The Downside of Cohabiting before Marriage.” It shows that—contrary to popular belief—living together before marriage does not produce better or more stable marriages. In fact the divorce rate is higher among those who cohabit before marriage than those who do not. The reason for this is due in part to the different agendas that men and women have for cohabiting. Here’s an excerpt:

Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean. When researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken — even unconscious — agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse…

Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.

Conventional wisdom often isn’t wisdom at all. That is certainly the case when it comes to attitudes about cohabiting. Women especially need to understand that cohabiting is most often not a step toward marriage, but a step away from it.


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