Cohabitation continues to rise in popularity as approximately two-thirds of couples now live together before marriage; this number is compared to one-half of couples 20 years ago. Some couples living together today were raised by parents that lived with their spouse prior to marriage, so pre-marital cohabitation is encouraged and embraced within the family. Although living together is not the same as marriage and doesn't necessarily lead to marital satisfaction, it is a lifestyle that helps couples feel less lonely and more secure. However, one of the concerns experts have with cohabitating before a commitment lies within each partner's expectations of what living together means. Women's expectations are usually very different from men's; that is, women tend to believe living together shows lasting commitment while guys may not.
Rand Sociologists are devoted to scientific studies on human behavior, and have surveyed 2,600 couples who live together. Their results are intriguing due to many factors, but perhaps one of the most interesting findings was that cohabitating young adults had a significantly lower level of commitment than their married peers. This finding was especially prevalent in men. In their survey, 52 percent of cohabitating men between the ages of 18 and 26 years of age were not completely committed to their live-in girlfriend. By contrast, 26 percent of the women were not completely committed. Married men and women fared much better on their commitment to one another.
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This study's findings of mismatched expectations place more emphasis the need for couples to be direct and understand both partners' reasons for wanting to live together. Below are six suggestions to get you and your partner thinking — and talking — before taking the plunge.
1. How well do you know your partner, and how close are you? By "close", I mean values, background, aspirations, goals, weaknesses, and needs. How well do those considerations align?
2. How well do you communicate? Do you know how to work through conflict together, and have you ever had to? How do you both handle anger and how honest are each of you with one another? Communication spans good and bad emotions and feelings, so be certain you can handle them all.
3. How committed are you? Are you willing to work through problems with your partner, or are there still things you are uncomfortable with? Are you in it for the long haul, or are you still undecided?
4. Do you want children? Merely cohabiting is not as stable or secure an environment to raise children as is a healthy, loving marriage. Couples who feel trapped to marry or commit after a child is born have difficulty letting go of their resentment.
5. Are you moving in with your partner as a way to "test them"? Bad idea. If you have to test them, why are you seriously involved with them?
6. Are you or your partner mentally ill? If so, how well do you or your partner manage your illness? One of the biggest predictors of how well a person manages their emotional or physical health is their ability to take responsibility and be compliant with their doctor's advice. Going off and on medications, or dropping in and out of therapy without talking to your or their health care professional is a sign of irresponsibility. I would not advise moving in together unless you know your partner takes responsibility for managing their emotional and mental health (and that you do, too).
Research continues to support the notion that living together before a commitment does not help the longevity or contentment of the couple if they eventually marry. In fact, for many, it has the opposite effect of actually lowering the chances that their marriage will survive. However, research has showed that living together does not affect the married couple negatively if the couple is engaged when they move in together. Most likely, this is due to the matter of commitment. Cohabiting pre-marriage is not a commitment, and that is precisely why many choose it as a lifestyle: it is less "pressure." If you want to get married, then do not live with someone in an effort to trap or coheres them. State what you want, and if it's a real commitment, then be ready to move on if they are not ready for marriage.
— Mary Jo Rapini
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