Making the decision to cohabitate--or not

Your relationship has been gaining momentum for months. You have gone from seeing each other a couple of times a week to sleep-overs almost every night. You are paying for two perfectly nice condos, yet are only using one. Add to that the time spent running between his and hers and the hassle of having your things in two locations--and it just feels like a good time to have that talk about moving in together, right? Not so fast.

Living together can solve several problems, but create many more. You will save time and money and life will be easier at least for a while. But then what? Do you just continue living together with no real incentive to get married or have children? After all, you will have all the trappings of marriage except one important element, real commitment and all that goes with it.

Of course, if neither of you has any desire or need for marriage and don't want children, then making this decision is much easier. You should begin with discussing how you will handle finances, upkeep and maintenance of your home and any responsibilities related to your shared life. Should you want this to be a long-term or even permanent arrangement (without marriage) you could purchase a home together, have wills made up, and get your affairs in order to reflect your long term goals, plans and needs.

However if one or both of you desires marriage and family life, you may have more to lose by living in a committed but unmarried arrangement. As time passes, your lives will become more entwined and interdependent as your friends, leisure time pursuits, and primary supports will most likely be very much the same. You will have made not just an investment of time, but a financial one as well. Decisions regarding employment, education, and where you live will be influenced by the relationship. You will not be free to date others and/or explore life changes that don't fit into your domestic agreement. It's a big commitment indeed.

However, at any time either of you could decide you want to split. If you own a home together, there will be financial and legal issues. Your friends may become his alone (or vice versa). You will be starting over again with establishing a home, a social network that doesn't include your ex--and most likely you will want to start dating. All of these may be happening five to ten years after they might have if you had not decided to move in together in the first place; and instead dated and moved through the relationship stages, finding that you just weren't ready for that last big step of getting engaged/moving in together.

It's these very ties that contribute to a higher divorce rate for those who cohabitate before making the decision to marry. It's much harder to walk away from a relationship you have invested so much in. You have more to lose and are motivated to make it work even if your head and/or heart are telling you it won't. If you are not living together and you break up you will have to deal with the loss of someone you love or once loved and hoped to have a future with. If you are living together, you will also suffer losses connected to your home, lifestyle, and support system. Too often folks stay because they can't face those losses. Then they marry feeling it is the next logical step and wonder how they ended up in such an unhappy marriage.

If you want to increase your chance of relationship success, don't rush the process of choosing your partner and making a commitment. Dating is designed to be a process of learning about one another and deciding whether this person could be the real deal. Then with a healthy, well-paced courtship you get to slowly reveal yourselves to one another--and in time you can decide if this person is truly the one, warts and all.

Want to read about the current research on divorce rates for couples who lived together before marriage? Go to my blog entry on this at:


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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