Is living together before marriage just accepted now?

I was surprised that very little was said last spring about Prince William and Kate Middleton living together before getting married. I wondered if it had just become so common place for modern couples to cohabitate before the wedding that no one thought anything about it — except for my mother who commented on it several times.

The other day, I ran across some very interesting marriage statistics in a Wall Street Journal that definitely confirmed my hypothesis but also surprised me.

From The Wall Street Journal:

“Couples’ average age at first marriage has risen by several years, to 28 for men and 26 for women. More than 70% have already been living together by the time they marry, researchers estimate.”

I’m not naive and I knew that couples were living together before marriage – but 70 percent??!! That’s a huge number. Has the tide turned that much in the last 15 years that you are the odd couple if you DON’T live together before getting married?

Although I understand the practicality (and no duhness of “yes they are having sex”) of a late 20-something couple living together, I don’t think I would want my own daughters’ or son doing it. Part of it is my own traditional upbringing. My mother is of the Sandra Dee-you-will-certainly-get-pregnant-if-you-have-sex-before-marriage-generation, and I definitely have had that drilled into my head. But I guess I also think that type of living arrangement is very complicated (financially, emotionally) and needs the commitment of marriage to support it. I guess that’s an old fashioned view of marriage to assume that would prevent a couple from breaking up.

So are you surprised by this statistic that 70 percent of couples are living together before first marriages? Do you think that is good or bad? Do you think it improves their chances for marriage or hurts it (he won’t the buy the cow if the milk is free)? What about the couples not living together? Are they viewed as traditionalists freaks?

– Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, ajc.com Momania. Follow me on Twitter (ajcMomania) and read what I am reading each day. Great stories on family health, family fun, parenting,  fashion, stars, and more. )

131 comments Add your comment

mom2alex&max

June 15th, 2011
7:04 am

I agree with you 100% on this Theresa. But we better brace ourselves: if it’s 70% now, it will more likely be 99% by the time our kids are old enough for this to happen. Shame, really.

first time poster

June 15th, 2011
7:16 am

Eh, with more then 50% of marriages ending in divorce anyway, I don’t see a problem with living together before marriage, or instead of marriage actually. I don’t think you need to be married to be in a committed, long-term, loving relationship.

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
7:40 am

Theresa,

Just because you don’t want your daughter or son to do it, doesn’t mean they will follow your wishes into adulthood. It might not seem so now, but they will formulate their own values, and it just might turn out all right.

My parents didn’t love the fact that I was living with my girlfriend. However, they came to love her very much, just as I do after these years together.
Our “rent to own” experience was not just some flippant thing. We wanted to see if we were right for each other. Dating and then marriage is full of unknowns. We chose to explore the spark that burned…see if it would last. Before then, I was mostly resigned to living the life of an eternal horn dog. Then I met this amazing woman that now completes my soul. I regret nothing in that decision. Yes, the spark still burns.

some guy

June 15th, 2011
7:44 am

it’s a product of the times. people are getting married later and later as more people go to college/graduate school nowadays. my parents had a house and three kids by the time they were 23, while i was in school until close to 30. if youre in a long term relationship, at some point it just makes sense (and becomes much cheaper) to live together rather than keeping up two residences. i see it as more of a giving in to the reality of the world, rather than trying to live up to some unrealistic ideal.

also, there’s a lot to be learned about a person that you can only learn by living together. how many friends did you have in college that were great friends but terrible roommates for one reason or another?

motherjanegoose

June 15th, 2011
8:03 am

I absolutely see your point TWG. When I was in in college, early 80’s, it was not common in our area.

I have friends who are my age that are divorced and now living with someone. I am not judging here as it is none of my business, since it is someone who is clearly an adult and has been married before. Just not something I am used to.

@shaggy….this is true:

Just because you don’t want your daughter or son to do it, doesn’t mean they will follow your wishes into adulthood. It might not seem so now, but they will formulate their own values, and it just might turn out all right.

OR it may not turn out at all…I have seen that happen too.

My nail tech told me that her daughter, who was a senior in HS, moved out of their house and in with her boyfriend. That would NOT fly here.

Jeff

June 15th, 2011
8:20 am

If someone wants to live together, it’s none of my business and not some I have to “answer for”. I question the statistic (as I always do) because, as part of my job, I can make numbers say a lot of different things. Is “living together” meaning you slept over in the same bed one night a week?

Statistics are worthless.

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
8:29 am

MJG,

“My nail tech told me that her daughter, who was a senior in HS, moved out of their house and in with her boyfriend. That would NOT fly here.”

What would you do if your adult son or daughter decided to live together with their partner? Cut them off? Withdraw your love? Become a thorn in their side to break them apart?
I am curious, because of your “will NOT fly here” thingy.

JJ

June 15th, 2011
8:30 am

I lived with my ex for two years before we were married.

My best friend has lived with her boyfriend for over 17 years now. He just refuses to marry her. I don’t know why, but then again, they are happy and who am I to say anything????

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
8:32 am

MJG,
No, I don’t condone seniors in high school doing this. I do condone them learning more about history.
The question posed to you is about your adult son or daughter.

Stanley Kowalski

June 15th, 2011
8:32 am

Oh don’t you know, everything is always sunny and perfect in Mother Jane Goose’s world… more lecturing and statements about her children every day, wonderful stories…. if we only knew the real story for there are cracks in the foundation hidden very well.

Fire Rodney Ho

June 15th, 2011
8:35 am

My goodness you people are losers.

Fire Rodney Ho

motherjanegoose

June 15th, 2011
8:35 am

Adults are adults….a senior in HS is a different thing and IMHO not yet an adult. Perhaps I am the only one on this blog who feels this is true and if so, I will stand alone.

I have parented two who were Seniors in HS and that would NOT fly here. Mine pretty much know what I will tolerate and, most days, they comply. If not, they will give me some good reasons why I am wrong ( they are right) and then we sort it out. Yes, I have learned new things and changed my opinion.

I spoke with my son yesterday and told him,” I have NO idea on this one and would be stupid to tell you that I know more about it than you do…I will let you make the decision,”

HB

June 15th, 2011
8:35 am

All of my friends who married more than a year after finishing school (either undergrad or full-time grad) lived together first. Some felt they needed to like Shaggy described before making a commitment. Others were engaged and didn’t plan moving day around the wedding — moved into their joint home a few months before. 70% sounds right to me.

mystery poster

June 15th, 2011
8:36 am

So what if they “won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”
Are people really naive enough to think that people who live together without marriage do not have a commitment to each other? You don’t need some piece of paper to be in a committed, monogamous relationship.
To be honest, I didn’t care if my husband and I ever got married. We had a home and two beautiful children together, we certainly had a commitment. We would have been better off financially had we not gotten married. Our kids would have gotten financial aid for college, and if we filed taxes individually we would be in a much lower tax bracket. There is a HUGE marriage penalty in this country.
BTW, when I got pregnant, my future in-laws said, “don’t you want to get married, just for the insurance?” Great reason to get married, eh?

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
8:38 am

MJG,

Your avoidance of answering the question is understandable, as you still have a high degree of control over their lives.

mystery poster

June 15th, 2011
8:40 am

BTW, I am part of 3 generations of living together.
My mom lives with her “boyfriend” (she’s widowed)
I lived with my husband before marriage.
My daughter (almost 25) just moved in with her boyfriend.

motherjanegoose

June 15th, 2011
8:41 am

Stanley…OH…things are not sunny here every day. We have cracks just like everyone else. We even have a messy house, dog poop in the yard, a broken garage door ( a few weeks ago), crazy grandparents ( all the time), empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, a GPS that switched into HINDI
( while I was on a business trip) etc. Did you just hop on today or have you forgotten?

motherjanegoose

June 15th, 2011
8:44 am

shaggy…when my kids are fully on their own, they will need to make there own choices…I am not avoiding you. If I am not happy with their choices, I will have to choose what I need to do and since I love my children ….I will not cut them out of my life.

NikNak

June 15th, 2011
8:48 am

I saved $12,000 in a year by living with my husband during our 1-year engagement. It’s just stupid to pay rent on 2 different places. Now we are happily married (just celebrated our 1-year anniversary) and are building a house. I have a feeling that 12k will come in handy.

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
8:49 am

Oh, and let me punctuate my “shacking up” past.
We did get married, in our own time. We eloped from our friends, meaning we only told our direct family that we were going to do it. I know that is backasswards eloping, but we wanted it that way. We ran off to Helen and got hitched in a little wedding chapel that I think is still there.
We told our friends, in weeks later, no hurry necessary, because we were already spiritually married, and you can’t hide that from your real friends.
We love our non-traditional “shack up and end up hitched” story, and really don’t care what anyone else thinks. It is, after all, about us and our happiness.

markie mark

June 15th, 2011
8:50 am

My wife and I lived together before we got married….why? We had one date and wanted to be with each other so much we never were apart again….true story. 24 years now. It took us about 18 months to decide to get married.

DW

June 15th, 2011
8:53 am

Get over it Theresa….. its 2011, not 1911.

Olderandwiser49

June 15th, 2011
8:53 am

There are no guarantees of a successful marriage, but I think living together improves the odds. When dating, partners are usually at their best (manners, dress, eating habits, etc.), but after the comfort of co-habitation sets in, each becomes more who they truly are. You get to see each other at your worst, not just at your best, and it allows each partner the opportunity to make a more informed decision about their long-term prospects as a successfully married couple. When you marry someone, you should marry all of them, not just the parts you like.

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
8:54 am

MJG,

Thanks. Yes, love usually prevails, even when you don’t like it.

Georgia Girl

June 15th, 2011
8:57 am

I lived with one other boyfriend before living with my now-husband. Lived with the ex for about a year before breaking up and moving out, and lived with now-husband for about 4 months before our wedding. (I bought the house, the next month he bought the ring.)

I can say, from my experience, living with the ex and even living with now-husband as then-boyfriend, living together is not the same as being married. Yes, there was a commitment. And yes, things were a little more complicated when we broke-up. But it’s nothing like I imagine divorce would be.

I know my parents probably weren’t thrilled that I was living with someone else before being married, but they were wise enough to know that I would learn a big life lesson from the experience. Perhaps if they had been more forceful with their opinions, I would’ve made worse decisions (marrying the wrong guy, kicking the right guy out, etc.)

My parents got married young, had kids young, and had a tough time making it all work in their early years of marriage. I know that they did not want me to necessarily follow that same path, and if I chose to live with someone to get a better understanding of the relationship and life, then that would be the lesser of two evils.

I would add though, that I think there is a really big difference between living together and having children together before marriage. While it can be a little messy splitting up and deciding who gets what in terms of property, it is another thing entirely to forever be bound to another person by a child.

Reasonable Doubt

June 15th, 2011
9:00 am

I think it would be foolish to marry a person without living with them first. Just as foolish as it would be to purchase a house before having an inspection and subsequent walk-through. Can we be really honest for 3 seconds….it’s 2011 and not 1935. Things are way different in today’s world and media. We are NOT a traditional society, so why try to fake traditional values where they don’t exist. I personally don’t think marriage is necessary, but I don’t shun those we want that for themselves. I know that you have live happy, healthy and whole in a unmarried committed relationship. I see it everyday. In my opinion, marriage is usually the demise of an otherwise great relationship….I’m just saying…….

ATL Guy

June 15th, 2011
9:01 am

I’m going through this reasoning at this time with my girlfriend. I’m 28 – been dating her for 2.5 years and once her residency is finished I want to be engaged to her next year. She has a Condo in Buckhead and I own a Townhouse in Brookhaven. We commute back and forth all the time and laugh that it would be so much easier if we just lived together! She is very traditional about Marriage before Living (which I can respect), but I have more space and its so much more practical sometimes. My Neighbors love her and she loves my home. Her A/C unit went out last week so she spent the week at my place so first time I ever came home and there was my girlfriend preparing chicken dinner in the kitchen. It was surreal, but felt nice instead of having to be on the go so much. Thoughts on what I should do ??

Johnny Quid

June 15th, 2011
9:03 am

Hate to break it to you, but I bet they see each other naked, too. (where’s my fainiting couch?)

What?!?!?

June 15th, 2011
9:03 am

“Please marry this person and spend the rest of your life with them without any idea what sharing a household with them will be like.”

Good parenting.

Sambo

June 15th, 2011
9:04 am

There are relevant statistics that should have been included in this article. While the divorce rate for first marriages has hovered around 50%, the divorce rate for first marriages of people who have cohabited is much higher. Also, studies show that overall couple satisfaction within a marriage is much higher in couples who do not cohabit before marriage. So, while the increasingly common thought is that couples should try things out first, that is not the best way to land yourself in a happy, successful marriage (I’m not saying it never happens, but it is not as common). The reason for this is that people who move in together first to see if they fit are looking for ways that they are not compatible and finding flaws in their partner. When people get married for life before moving in together, they have intentions to work out any issues that arise and find ways to compromise to make things work. It is out of a desire to have the best marriage possible that I will not move in with my fiancee until we get married (in only 10 more days!).

Georgia Girl

June 15th, 2011
9:09 am

Sambo,

You can certainly do both-live together and “get married for life…[with] intentions to work out any issues that arise and find ways to compromise to make things work.” My husband and I both believe strongly in our vows, and while we disagree on occasion, we understand compromise.

mystery poster

June 15th, 2011
9:10 am

@Sambo
Please cite your studies.

shaggy

June 15th, 2011
9:11 am

Sambo,

Ain’t statistics great? I shacked up, have a wonderful mariage to a fantastic, smokin hot babe. It has lasted 20+ years, with no forseeable end in sight. I guess the “expert” statisticians forget to ask us.

IMO

June 15th, 2011
9:15 am

i feel living together before marriage is not a good thing. kind of takes the excitement away. ‘like been there done that’ versus if you move in after the marriage, then it’s fun planning, plus you’ll learn new things about your partner once living together. just visit a lot while dating. we’re in such an age that most things are instant, rush, hurry. this generation needs some patience. word.

mike d

June 15th, 2011
9:15 am

I have lived in a one bedroom with my girlfriends 15 year old daughter for over a year and it is wonderful.

kbp

June 15th, 2011
9:17 am

Sambo . . . WELL SAID!

mompossible

June 15th, 2011
9:23 am

Hebrews 13:4 – “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” The marriage bed can only be kept pure when the sexual relationship is kept within marriage. Anything else brings God’s judgment. Do you love your partner? Then why would you invite God’s judgment into their life? Why would you willfully rob them of God’s blessing?

catlady

June 15th, 2011
9:24 am

I did not live with the man who became my husband until after the wedding. But I was very young: graduated from college a week after I was 21; got married 2 months before I finished college, when I could afford to do both.

My three kids all lived with their spouses before they were married. Was I happy about it? Not especially, but it wasn’t my call; they were adults. I tried to bring them up a certain way, model certain behaviors. Their dad has lived a different lifestyle–lived with his girlfriend for years before they married (and then she gave him an ultimatum!)

I am also not in favor of having children before marriage. From my point of view, it adds to the burden for the children. And I know raising children alone is no picnic! (Being married doesn’t guarantee you won’t raise the kids alone. I know that.) I have too many kids at school who only have one “adult” at home regularly, and I can pretty well tell you who they are after a week of school. What is really tough is those who have had a series of “daddies” or “mommies.”

A committed marriage or relationship is a great thing! But, if you are committed, get married and afford your spouse the few legal benefits there are, understanding that there may be financial repercussions as well.

As an older, long-divorced woman, I can say it is possible I would live with someone before marrying him, but it would be a big decision, not easily entered into. It is obvious I have really mixed feelings as far as my willingness to live with someone.

mompossible

June 15th, 2011
9:26 am

1 Corinthians 6:18 – “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” Living together almost always involves premarital sex. By living together before marriage, you dishonor both yourself and your partner.

mompossible

June 15th, 2011
9:27 am

Ecclesiastes 3:1,5 – “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven … a time to embrace and a time to refrain.” As the following Scriptures indicate, the right time for living together is after marriage — not the year before, not the month before, not the night before. There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain.

Reio

June 15th, 2011
9:28 am

mike d, You Lived With Whom?

Statistics can be misleading

June 15th, 2011
9:28 am

I think these statistics are a bit misleading. I lived with my husband before we got married, but we were engaged and had the wedding fully planned. His house sold before our wedding date. So, we moved in together earlier than planned. A good friend who had already been engaged a long time did the same when their (separate) leases ended not long before the wedding date. Modern engagements are often pretty long and weddings are planned way in advance. In addition, people get married later and are therefore sometimes living far away from immediate family, and finding a short lease isn’t always feasible. I suspect that’s a lot of the increase.

mompossible

June 15th, 2011
9:30 am

Rationalization is a dangerous thing.

Sambo

June 15th, 2011
9:35 am

MP: I don’t know of a way to link journal articles on here. Any textbook of marriages and families would tell you this as well. Some researchers are trying to find different ways to explain the lower marital satisfaction for cohabiting couples, but the only commonality is that they cohabited.

Shaggy: Notice that I said that satisfying marriages never happen for cohabiting couples; almost half of them are that way.

mike d: You would do well to clarify your statement; right now, it sounds a little creepy.

Statistics can be misleading: I think the instance you described is a little different because the full commitment was already made; it was not a trial period for you.

IMO

June 15th, 2011
9:37 am

Thanks MomPossible! Nothing can ever, ever touch the Word of the Creator ! :)

AtlSouthside

June 15th, 2011
9:46 am

I have mixed opinions about this topic. But I feel like moving in with a woman “forces” my hand… I cannot simply leave if things dont work out… its almost like playing married, before you even know if the person is right for you.

I DON'T EVEN LIKE MILK

June 15th, 2011
9:47 am

Do you want your kids running off to get married or would you rather be a realist and have them ACTUALLY get to know eachother?

People that live together before marriage don’t do it for sexual reasons. ***Chances are they’ve already had sex. Shocking!!! They do it because they love eachother and want to see if marriage can work. Paying rent on two places is idiotic in this economy when they spend every night with eachother anyway.

Something I’ve never understood is why you would spend more time apart than together if you love someone? Spending time apart opens up a can of worms in today’s age.

My fiance’s parents knew we spent the night with eachother. She moved into a house, by herself, that her parents owned in a not so great area. I proposed 2 months later. Her mom is very traditional, but admitted that she was glad I was there to protect her youngest daughter. After a year engagement AND LIVING TOGETHER, we are getting married next month. All parties involved are happy. Also, we saved close to $10,000 living together. Its 2011 people. It is foolish to not live together before you get married. Many of us have learned from our parents mistakes. ie: Getting married young, having kids young. People should not get married before they are mature enough to live together.

DB

June 15th, 2011
9:48 am

I’m not surprised, but I don’t think it’s a good idea and I have been firmly vocal in my opposition to the idea. Especially from a woman’s perspective: There is absolutely NO advantage to living with a man before marriage. All of the responsibilities of marriage, and none of the legal protections or emotional commitments? No, thank you? A woman moves into a living together arrangement thinking that the next step is married. A man moves into a living arrangement heaving a sigh of relief that they have avoiding the commitment of marriage for a while. There are two vastly different agendas being played out here and again, the mentality is hard to shake if the relationship moves into marriage.

There is a mindset when you are living with another person, a sort of “try it on and see if it fits” mentality that is VERY difficult to drop. What is it that is “revealed” by living together that doesn’t quickly become obvious after knowing and dating someone for 2-5 years? I think the thing that bothers me is that people move in so quickly and early in relationships — before the relationship has even had a chance to develop — and the relationship is thus “force fed” by intimacy. Marriage becomes a “wedding”, a great party to celebrate — what? Joining together? Already done that. “Committing” to each other? Well, didn’t you do that when you moved in?

And I would argue that it is almost as messy for a co-habiting couple to break up as it is a married couple, especially if the arrangement has been on-going. There is still hers/mine/ours, there may be shared real estate, and emotionally, no, it’s not any different.

So, am I surprised? No. Would I support it? No. But do I have a vote for my ADULT children? No. But I do have the ability to talk to them, discuss my views and discuss theirs. Just because they do it doesn’t mean I have to like it or approve of it! But, “this is how we learn.”

Bindol

June 15th, 2011
9:50 am

I don’t have a problem with people living together before marriage, and yet,. I am unwilling to do so.

For me, it has more to do with giving up my freedom without a binding committment. If I need to make the adjustments that living with somebody requires, then I want to be married first. It’s a sense that if I’m willing to give up some flexibility and having my space the way I like it, then I want to know that the other person is fully committed.

It strikes me odd how illogical that sounds, but hey, that’s how I feel. This coming from a 40ish person.

Bindol

June 15th, 2011
9:51 am

@DB I think you articulated what I think better than I. Thanks.