Celebrating Marriage

Cohabitating Before Marriage: The New Wave

Up until recent years, it was unusual, as well as frowned upon for couples to live with one another before marriage. But, as time changes, so do societal norms and living together before marriage has grown more and more common.

The idea is that people should learn how to cohabitate before marriage to see if they could in fact eventually get married. According to a relationship expert Rachel Sussman, “It’s important to be roommates and see how that impacts your relationship.” She believes couples should learn how to handle arguments over things like finances and cleanliness around the house before getting married.

Dr. Corey Wrenn Ph.D., Director of Gender Studies, said, “The research on this phenomenon is changing. Not long ago, many states had laws on the book prohibiting cohabitation, and cohabitation was statistically infrequent. However, this is changing, and it is now becoming a relatively normal family structure.”

She continued, “As the social requirements for marriage are decreasing (many women can now support themselves financially and have children outside of marriage) and the social stigma is relaxing, cohabitation is growing in popularity. This may change, however, as many cohabitating couples were lesbian and gay, but now marriage has been opened up to them as an alternative.”

“Historically, cohabitation was a strong predictor of divorce, but not necessarily because cohabitation itself created discord, but because people who were liberal enough to cohabitate without marriage tended to be liberal enough to seek a divorce. The research no longer supports that cohabitation is such a strong predictor of divorce, however, since cohabitation and divorce are now becoming more normal,” Wrenn continued.

Amberly Russomano, a 24-year-old psychology student, lived with her fiancé for three years before getting engaged this past January. She said, “I truly believe couples should live together before getting married because it allows you to get to know the person on a deeper level, rather than making sure you always ‘look good’ for the other person. They see the ‘real’ you.” Russomano is 100 percent sure in marrying her fiancé now because she is certain that they cannot only live together, but they can live together happily.

Nick Van Orden, 24, agreed saying, “I plan on moving in with my girlfriend before we get engaged because you really do not truly know a person until you live with them. I think it is important to move in together before getting married in order to make sure that you two are truly compatible.”

While these thoughts certainly make sense, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, discussed an idea known as the cohabitation effect in an article for The New York Times. Jay actually found that couples who lived together before they made the walk down the aisle tended to be more likely to divorce.

She states, “Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabiters were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.”

Psychologist Amie M. Gordon discusses similar ideals on her blog, she said, “Rather than entering into cohabitation after having already decided they want to spend their lives together, some of them are sliding into their marriages. In other words, some couples who would not (and should not) have gotten married otherwise do so because they were living together. Scholars term this ‘relationship inertia.’ Simply enough, it is harder to end a relationship when you are living with your partner.”

If you really get to see your partner’s true colors and can learn to balance bills and all of the other responsibilities that come with living together before that final commitment of marriage, how could you not work out? The fact that research has now proven that these facts can lead couples into feeling that they must now get married is disheartening because in many of these cases it leads to divorce.

PHOTO TAKEN by Shannon Lawrence