When I was getting my monthly manicure last month (#treatyoself), my regular nail technician asked about my relationship, as she usually does — and when I explained (much to her dismay) that no, I am not engaged yet, she became very serious. “Do not get an apartment together until you have a ring on your finger,” she warned. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard advice about getting married before moving in together, but typically, I had been told the opposite. As I walked home with my glossy gel mani, (insert "Carrie Bradshaw" voice) I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it really a risky move to become roommates before you become spouses?
It’s certainly become increasingly common to live together before marriage. In fact, the number of women between the ages of 19 and 44 who cohabited with a partner before their first marriage surged by 82 percent between 1987 and 2010, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. As for the consequences, the statistics reveal a mixed bag. One 1992 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggested that there was a link between living together before tying the knot and divorce. Another 2018 study by a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center revealed that more than half of couples who lived together (and experienced some kind of relationship transition) ended up breaking it off before they ever made it to the altar. Still, one could argue that living together forced those couples to face some problems that may have prevented their marriage from working anyway — and facing them before making a lifelong commitment, should they choose to.
It makes sense why a couple might be eager to move in together before marriage. After all, cohabiting is a stellar way to get to know your partner on a different level and see if you’re compatible in a different way. Clearly, research has revealed some conflicting conclusions about whether or not it’s a good idea. That said, according to relationship and etiquette expert April Masini, cohabiting before saying “I do” (should you opt to get engaged) can definitely have some noticeable effects on your relationship.
On a positive note, Masini notes that you may experience an extended honeymoon phase.
“When you move in together after the wedding, you have a romantic beginning to your marriage,” she tells Elite Daily. “A fresh, new beginning is emphasized by the wedding ceremony and the moving in together for the first time.”
You’ll also experience more surprises if you move in together after marriage, according to Masini. Even if you’ve been in a relationship for several years or more, the experience of living with someone reveals habits, behaviors, and other information about your significant other that you simply won’t be privy to otherwise.
“Living together is a big deal, and the transition can be sweet or bumpy, but more likely a combination of the two,” adds Masini. “You may be surprised at how your partner lives if you don’t live together before marrying. These surprises can include benign differences like leaving the toilet seat up or leaving the cap off the toothpaste — or they can be more substantial surprises like not paying bills on time, or not even opening mail. These surprises can be jarring, and if you live together first, you won’t be surprised that this is who you married!”
Speaking of surprises, when you get married before moving in together, you may not be prepared for how often your partner will have friends or family over (whether for a quick visit or a longer stay).
“Having frequent, unexpected drop-ins can be unnerving,” adds Masini.
That’s why she advises having a conversation about who gets a key, and setting some ground rules around how often you have house guests and for how long before moving in together, whether you get married beforehand or not.
Lastly, Masini points out that you may be caught off guard by your SO’s financial habits if you move in together after marriage.
“It’s a lot easier to get to know each others’ financial issues — many of which can be deal breakers — when you live together and have to deal with who pays for what, how you allocate your money, how you save, and how you spend, together and apart,” Masini explains. “Many people can navigate these issues after marriage, but most people need time together to sort through these issues. If you live together before marriage, you’re more likely to go into marriage with more knowledge about your money behaviors.”
First of all, it's crucial to note that it's totally OK to live together and never get married. It's also totally acceptable if you don't want to live together. These choices are yours — the most important thing is that you and your boo are on the same page about what feels right and when. If you're unsure of whether it's a bad idea to get hitched before living together, Masini suggests doing a trial cohabitation run. This means you’d both keep your own separate homes, but one of you would move into the other’s apartment or house for a set period of time (say — three to six months).
And if you’re hesitant to try that, it’s a good idea to ask yourself why.
“Chances are there is a gnawing (and very valid) reason that you don’t want to live together,” adds Masini. “Sometimes people talk themselves into marriage and ignore their instincts. So if you can’t decide whether it’s a good or a bad idea to move in together before marriage, there may be a flaw in the relationship and deep down, you know that living together will expose it.”
If you’re still struggling to figure out whether you’re ready to move in together, Masini recommends putting the decision on ice.
“The pressure of the wedding is making you stress out over whether or not to move in together,” she says. “Give yourselves time and space to make the decision. If the question is academic and there’s no proposal, no ring, no wedding date — it’s just something you’re both considering, then chill. You don’t have to decide now. Let the relationship unfold a little more, and the time will come when you feel more comfortable with the question and the answer.”
Ultimately, it seems there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing the order in which you take these steps — just as there is no right or wrong in terms of whether you take them at all. It all comes down to the nature of your relationship. If two people are compatible enough, it probably won’t make or break their relationship whether they live together before exchanging their vows or vice versa. And whether or not they ever cross these relationship milestones won't make or break their future, either. Remember: Living together can reveal a lot of important information about your partner (like their financial habits, tidiness, etc.), and you’ll have to prepare yourself for some potential surprises if you plan to move in together after the wedding. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Choosing the right timing for both marriage and moving in together truly depends on the specific couple — and rest assured, there are benefits to doing things in either order.