I had coffee with a friend recently. She was excited her boyfriend would soon be moving in with her. She wanted my input.
My friend and her boyfriend enjoy being together. And now circumstances are such that it makes moving in together expedient. Her previous roommate had just moved to another city and my friend needed help paying the rent. Conveniently, her boyfriend’s lease on his apartment was up at the same time. “So we’ll move in together,” my friend said. “And besides, what better way to find out how compatible we are?”
Research on moving in together
I told my friend about the research on couples who lived together before marriage. All of this research*—and there is lots of it–consistently associates living together before marriage with more divorce later, as well as lower marital quality overall.
My friend was surprised to hear that living together before marriage is generally associated with a worse marital outcome later. She, like many, assumed that living together before marriage would help incompatible couples figure out that they shouldn’t be married, after all.
I also told my friend about an important caveat in the research. Couples who were engaged before they moved in together did as well at their eventual marriages as couples who married without living together. In other words, the key to success for those living together—as well as for those who marry—is commitment to each other for the long term. Committed people, whether they are living together or married, are statistically much less likely to report lower marital satisfaction and divorce.
So I asked my friend about their commitment to each other for the long term. “Well, it’s really more about convenience than commitment,” she admitted. She was quiet a bit. Then, “Sounds like you’re telling me that moving in with another person as a marital experiment makes for a lousy experiment,” she said.
Now it was my turn to pause. Because the truth is, not many couples consider the research when they make decisions about moving in together and I was sure my friend and her boyfriend weren’t any different. What was I going to say to her?
I recalled a time in my life where I made a decision for which I sought input. The input I received clearly called my decision into question, just like the input I had thus far given my friend was calling her decision into question. I know now, like I knew then, the input I received was valid. And I recalled, with a shudder all these years later, the judgment I felt.
In the end
I told my friend she wasn’t a statistic. I gave her my blessing and encouragement. I told her I trusted her ability to get along in life. I told her I’d support her no matter what her decision, both now and in the future. I told her she was special.
Yes, commitment is key when it comes to romantic partners making a decision to move in together. But even more significant is the support all of us need, no matter what our decisions.
* A good summary article of the research: Smock, Pamela J. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States: An Appraisal of Research Themes, Findings, and Implications.” Annual Review of Sociology 26 (1): 1-20.