People choose to live together before they get married for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s a financial decision, an easy way to reduce the financial strain of having two sets of bills and living apart. Other times, they just want the ease of living together without all of the ceremony — and cost — of a wedding.
One other reason people do it, though, is to “test” their marriage before they actually get married. They don’t want to spend years of their lives and $30,000 on a wedding if it’s quickly going to become clear that they shouldn’t be together. A quick divorce means they wasted all of that money and time. They figure that they can live together in advance and then, if they choose to get married, they will have a much stronger marriage as a result. They think it will last longer. But what do the statistics tell us?
It helps at first
Interestingly, this does appear to help at first. In the first 12 months of their marriage, couples who lived together before tying the knot had lower divorce rates. This suggests that couples who break up quickly, maybe discovering they can’t stand living with their partner after a few months, do it during the cohabitation period. Those who never tested out the marriage in advance make the same discovery, but they just have to go through an official divorce to end the relationship.
So, it seems to work. Interestingly, though, the benefits fall off very quickly. After five years, there’s virtually no difference. When you get up into greater numbers — 10 years, 20 years, etc. — the odds of divorce go up. Suddenly, it seems, cohabitation did not do any good and may have made divorce more likely than it would have been without it.
What this suggests is that cohabitation only helps with personal issues that people cannot know about each other until they live together. Maybe it’s the way that one person spends money or abuses alcohol. Maybe it’s some level of sexual incompatibility. No matter what, it’s something that they don’t know while they’re dating but learn very quickly when living together.
After that, though, other factors come into play. These include things like children, careers, long-term financial stability, sickness and disease, and the like. These things usually do not impact that first year, but cohabitation does not prepare couples for them anyway, so they can lead to divorce in later years.
No matter when you decide to get divorced, and whether or not you lived together in advance, make sure that you are well aware of all of the legal rights that you have.