Relationship Advice: Is Cohabitation Before Marriage a Great Divorce Risk?

May 23, 2012 by

Many young couples receive conflicting relationship advice about cohabitation before marriage. Some people recommend a “trial run” of sorts before tying the knot, but others believe you should walk down the aisle before living together. As a Portland marriage counselor, my clients often ask: does it increase or decrease your chances of divorce if you do ultimately get married? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t completely cut and dry.

Relationship Advice: When Does Cohabitation Work?

In the ‘60s, about 10% of couples moved in together before getting married – and ended up with higher divorce rates. Today about 60% of couples move in first, and it’s no longer a good predictor of divorce. But there is one caveat. There’s no extra risk of divorce when the couple plans to get married before cohabitation.

Couples who are engaged and live together before the wedding are just as likely to be together 15 years later as couples who didn’t live together first. However, couples who lived together but were not engaged were less likely to make it to 10 or 15 years of marriage.

Just how much did the chances of success decrease? Couples who were engaged while living together – or who didn’t live together at all before their wedding – had about a 60% chance of making it to 15 years. But the couples who did not have marriage plans before cohabitation had only a 53% chance of lasting that long.

The relationship advice we can take away from this is that attitudes about commitment matter. For some younger people, cohabitation is a trial run, which usually occurs during college. The couples usually do not have kids during that time, and they often end up getting married in the long run.

For others, usually those not on a college track, they simply move from one cohabitation arrangement to another, often while having children with those partners.

The attitude that people have when they enter these relationships make a big difference. Women who had been married at least 20 years after cohabitation were more likely to hold firm beliefs in a future together.

If you are looking for a long-term marriage, the best relationship advice is to seek a partner who has similar ideas about your future. Having a partner who is committed to your marriage and willing to work things out will make you more likely to have success. Whether you are cohabitating or married, you can always seek the help of a Portland marriage counselor to learn the skills and tools you need to maintain a strong and lasting relationship.