Dear Dr. Jory,
My boyfriend Jacob and I met at the beginning of graduate school, just over a year ago. We want to get married after we finish graduate school, but that will be another two years. We’re thinking about moving in together, but I’ve heard that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce than couples who don’t. Can this statistic be true?
Signed, Don’t Want to Wreck a Good Thing
First of all, you and Jacob are not a statistic—you have a unique relationship with your own strengths and vulnerabilities. So you have to decide what’s right for you; some couples become statistics while others beat the odds.
It is true: Couples who live together before marriage have roughly a 20% higher divorce rate than those who don’t. This means that for every 100 couples who marry having lived together, about 48 will eventually divorce, while only 40 couples who lived separately will divorce. Couples who graduate from college increase their odds of staying together, so you and Jacob are already likely to do better than average.
You can learn something by considering why these statistical differences exist, though, and I would encourage any couple to think about two things before moving in together.
- It’s harder to get out of a relationship once you’ve lived together. Expectations for marriage rise in one another, and in your family and friends. So the pressure will be on, and many couples end up sliding into marriage not because it’s a good choice, but because it’s the path of least resistance. Some of these couples wouldn’t have married if they hadn’t lived together. A casual decision to cohabit now could make it harder to change your mind later, and make a bad marriage more likely. So think it through carefully, and be clear about what you are committing yourself to before you hire the moving truck.
- A strong, stable relationship requires strong, stable individuals who have functional boundaries and a good sense of self. In other words, if you desperately can’t live without someone you probably can’t live with them either. Moving in together because one of you is dependent, emotionally-fragile, or afraid to live on your own, is a red flag for marital problems later on. Sharing the same address can mask unhealthy dependencies and the inability to establish individual identities. Taking time to establish yourselves as confident individuals might be worth the cost and inconvenience of keeping your own place.
Living together is normal these days and not the sign of impending marital disaster some people make it out to be, but it does require a clear head and honest communication before you take the plunge.
— Dr. Jory
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About Brian Jory, Ph.D.
Brian Jory is the Director of the Family Studies Program at Berry College, near Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and has dedicated his career to counseling couples, teaching about intimacy, researching relationships.
He is the author of “Cupid on Trial – What We Learn About Love When Loving Gets Tough,” and has been featured on numerous television shows, blogs, and podcasts including Bustle, Romper, Elite Daily, NBC, PBS, and Good Sex, Bad Sex.