Shacking Up Can Raise Divorce Risk

For years there has been an on-going debate about the pros and cons of living together before (outside of) marriage. Many folks believe it gives the couple a chance to have a trial run of experiencing intimacy with someone before they make the biggest decision of their lives. They would see each other at their worst, not just their best. All those annoying habits or “cute quirks” could look very different when they become part of the fabric of one’s daily existence. Potential issues would surface before their lives became bound together by a shared mortgage, children, differing needs and wants, etc. Makes a compelling argument for cohabitation, doesn’t it?

Not so fast….A new study has come out that shines a light on the cons of shacking up- and it offers specifics, mostly from men- that should give pause to anyone considering such a move. The study looks at and compares divorce rates and marital satisfaction of those who lived together before marriage and those who did not. It found that those who did not live together before marriage reported significantly higher rates of satisfaction with their marriages- 7 percent higher than those who got engaged before living together, and nine percent higher than those who moved in with no plan for marriage.

This university of Denver study conducted telephone surveys with more than 1,000 married men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 who had been married 10 or fewer years. Their questions were designed to tease out specific data regarding marital satisfaction and what role living together before marriage plays in predicting happiness outcomes. What they found is that many couples who were living together basically “fell into” marriage because it would have been more difficult to make the break after they had combined finances, households, and social networks.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I was pleased and not surprised by these findings. Too often over the years when working with a couple seeking divorce, one of the spouses has verbalized that they just went along with the relationship for the sake of convenience, money or because they did not know how to back out once they had already made the commitment of living together. In a nutshell, it seemed much easier at the time. I have heard this more often from men, and the study did say that men were more likely to verbalize these reasons.

The bottom line is that many of these couples may have chosen to end their relationship due to problems with incompatibility had they not been living together already and concerned about what they may be giving up or facing with such a decision. What singles should take away from this study is the idea that it is important to move toward marriage in a thinking way, making the decision based on all the right reasons. If you must live together before marriage, discuss taking the step towards engagement first. If your partner balks at this, it may be the first sign that you should continue dating while maintaining separate households- and then re-evaluate your relationship and where you want it to go.

To read more about this study, go to