Research suggests that when people are older when making their first significant life event, whether that is cohabitation or marriage, then their changes are better to stay together over a lifetime.
More American couples are choosing cohabitation before marriage because it offers a chance to share the bills without the cost of marriage. Critics compare this decision as a way to “play house” or share a bed without the consequences of leaving that a marriage contract requires. The Council on Contemporary Families says that cohabitation doesn’t make a couple an automatic divorce statistic either.
For most couples, cohabitation of any type at the age of 23, when adult life begins and people become financially independent, decreases the chances of divorce. Couples who commit to cohabitation (or marriage) at the age of 18 see a 60% chance of breakup or divorce. That rate drops in half at the age of 23.
Here are some more of the pros and cons to look at when evaluating cohabitation before marriage.
List of the Pros of Cohabitation Before Marriage
1. It is a way for couples to share liabilities while also having more individuality.
Living together in today’s society helps people save money. Without a marriage commitment, there are fewer expenses to consider while planning too. You can live like a married couple if you want without the cost of creating a legal contract. There are no religious laws or ceremonies to worry about either, allowing people to go their separate ways easily enough should the circumstances of life change. There is no legal reason to stay bound together or costs involved with separation.
2. Cohabitation allows you to get to know your partner better.
The choice to cohabitate is rising in the United States and the rest of the world because it offers a chance to evaluate compatibility. Each person gets to frame their opinion about the other with an authentic view of their conduct, character, and demeanor. You know what you’re getting into before marriage because you’re experiencing it on a “test run” of sorts. Research published in the book Cohabitation and Marital Stability found that cohabitation before marriage increased by up to 44% through the 1980s, with 60% of adults saying that it’s the “best” way to understand one another before marriage.
3. Couples who cohabit have more sex than married couples.
Dr. Helen Nightingale suggests that women tend to consent to cohabitation because they hope it will one day lead to marriage. They want their significant other to propose, putting a ring on their finger. When combined with the fewer legal connections involved with a sexual relationship, cohabiting couples tend to have intimate contact with each other more than three times per week, compared to 2-3 times per week for married couples.
There are fewer barriers to intimacy with cohabitation before marriage. There are no issues with the in-laws, fewer family demands, partner care responsibilities, or financial concerns like there are with marriage.
4. There are more bonding opportunities with cohabitation.
Living with someone changes the dynamics of dating. Instead of maintaining two households, you’re only stuck with one. You have more time to spend with one another each day instead of managing evenings or weekends. It creates new bonding opportunities on more than an intimate level because you’re spending more time with one another than a traditional courting relationship would permit. That gives you more time to set boundaries and goals which are meaningful for each person, which can lead to a higher level of success.
Although the divorce rates are higher within the first 7 years of marriage after cohabitation, couples who receive pre-marriage counseling or eventually marry the person they decided to cohabit with don’t share in that statistics. Their rates of relationship success are equal to that of the average married couple.
5. You can still protect your property when cohabitating.
If you decide to move in with someone before marriage, you can still protect your property if something should happen to your relationship. A cohabitation agreement works just like a prenuptial agreement does for a married couple. You can specify which things should be insured, how property division should occur, and most couples won’t have someone on the hook to pay alimony or “palimony” to support the needs of their ex-partner.
6. It will not impact the current status of received benefits.
One of the most significant advantages of cohabitation occurs for widows and widowers. You won’t lose access to your retirement interests in this relationship option as you would if you received a pension from a deceased spouse. Health benefits aren’t impacted with cohabiting as they are with a marriage either because your single income is used for evaluation – not the combined income you’d have when married.
Even alimony continues for some individuals when they choose cohabitation over marriage. That benefit ends if you get married to someone else. That gives you an opportunity to experience a romantic relationship at a level of seriousness which makes you comfortable without worrying about your financial status.
List of the Cons of Cohabitation Before Marriage
1. Cohabitation does not require a permanent relationship.
The benefits of cohabitation often disappear once children become involved in the equation. Pets and shared ownership of significant assets (homes, vehicles, etc.) create challenges during the breakup process, should it occur. Cohabitation doesn’t create the long-term commitments which often encourage people to work out their issues with one another. Most relationships like this end after six years or less, often with greater headaches in parenting plans or asset distribution than a marriage would cause.
2. There is always uncertainty with cohabitation.
Every relationship offers a level of uncertainty which must be evaluated. Every husband, wife, or individual decides each day in their relationship to stay or go. There is less certainty with cohabitation because there are fewer restrictions in place to leave. That creates less satisfaction in all aspects of life for some couples, including their emotional and sexual connections, because the future does not offer as much clarity. Marriage offers a potential destination and final goal, which makes the decision to stay easier because it takes more work to just leave.
3. Couples who cohabitate have less fulfilling sexual lives.
Marriage creates a foundation of loyalty, real or perceived, that gives men and women intimacy opportunities which they find to be more fulfilling. Only 17% of Americans admit to having an extramarital affair. Even for those who do cheat on their spouses, most consider their choice to be morally wrong. 91% of adults say that extramarital sex is wrong, which is higher than it was 40 years ago by over 20 percentage points.
Then there’s the fact that New York University found that women who are married are twice as likely to experience an orgasm compared to those who seek out a casual hookup or maintain a cohabiting relationship.
4. It isn’t a guarantee that marriage is going to habit.
About half of couples who decide to cohabit will eventually get married. Even though 54% of first marriages from 1990 to 1994 began with cohabitation, living together is more stressful for the average person than being married. It requires 7 years of marriage to offset the higher risk of divorce with cohabiting couples compared to married couples because of the stressors involved. Even the reconciliation rates are 33% lower for couples who live together before getting married compared to those who don’t start living together until marriage.
5. Cohabiting couples earn less money than married couples.
People who choose cohabitation over marriage might save on the legal contract costs of getting married, but it also causes them to miss the financial advantages which come when they formally tie the knot. There are several financial advantages to think about if someone weighs the benefits of cohabitation over its disadvantages.
- Spouses do not pay an estate tax.
- Most married couples save on their taxes by filing jointly because of the tax-rate differences with the income brackets in the United States.
- Married couples can gift money to one another with limited consequences.
- Medicare, Social Security, and veteran’s benefits transfer to spouses.
- Health insurance costs are lower for married couples compared to cohabiting couples.
6. It doesn’t change the trauma of separation.
One of the advantages that cohabitation offers is the chance to move on from the relationship with fewer legal consequences. Courts aren’t required to get involved as they are with a marriage, even if there are no assets or parenting plans involved. According to Psychology Today, the reasons why couples break up when cohabiting are the same as they are in any other relationship.
Although infidelity is a top reason for all relationships to end, partners who have outbursts of anger or rage, don’t make their relationship a priority, or prioritize selfishness will cause breakups too. Cohabiting partners can hide these issues just as well as a married spouse.
7. Cohabitation agreements sometimes have limited value.
When children are involved during a breakup when cohabitation is involved, then the court prioritizes what it perceives to be the best interests of the child over everything else. If you’re not married in this situation, you must confirm the paternity of the kiddo before having standing before the court. Then you must prove that your agreement doesn’t conflict with what the child requires. Married couples are always presumed to be the legal child of a spouse in this situation unless evidence is presented to suggest otherwise.
8. You must take extra steps to secure your estate.
If you decide to cohabit instead of getting married, then you must take extra steps to ensure your estate goes to your partner if something happens to you. A valid will, with your partner identified as your primary beneficiary, must be filed to create this shift in assets. Your property would go to your next of kin otherwise. Spouses will generally inherit all property without the need of a will.
9. Marriage laws are based on the contract date of your decision.
Marriage laws override cohabitation agreements for the purposes of disbursement. If you get divorced after you’re married, the time involved is based on when the marriage contract was signed. It doesn’t matter if you signed a cohabitation agreement 10 years before you got married. That means a divorce after 12 months, even if you’ve lived together for 15 years before that, means you can’t collect alimony in most states because you don’t meet the 36-month marriage threshold. If you cohabit, there is no option to collect alimony unless you agree to it within a contract or agreement.
These cohabitation pros and cons suggest that it could be a suitable decision in the relationship developing process for some couples. It is an easy way to evaluate what life together would be with fewer roadblocks in place and a chance to experience life together. There are always risks involved with any relationship, but it is the cohabitation couples which struggle with overall satisfaction. There are good reasons to get married, just as there are reasons to cohabit, which is why the individuals involved, not the statistics, matter the most.