Should You Get Married If You Haven't Lived Together First? An Expert Weighs In

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Living with someone before you got married used to be really taboo. Judgy people all up in your business would call it "shacking up" or "living in sin." (Super heteronormative, just sayin'.) Fortunately, that's not really the case anymore. Unmarried people living together hardly raises eyebrows, so you’re free to live your truth with little judgment. However, just because it's socially acceptable, does that automatically mean it's a good idea for the relationship long term? And if you want to get married someday, should you get married if you haven’t lived together?

I've always believed the best policy is to live with someone even before you consider marriage, because before taking that step, you need to ensure that you're even compatible. So, it was really surprising to learn that living together, and how it affects your relationship, is actually a lot more complicated than that. In fact, in looking at studies, it seems that living together could actually have a negative impact on the long-term success of your relationship. What? But these studies aren't definitive, so rather than panicking and packing all my things to save my relationship from an untimely cohabitation-related demise, I reached out to online dating expert Julie Spira, who had some really helpful insights on when to move in, and why it matters. Here's what she had to say.

Living together before you get married can be a good idea for couples.

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The first thing Spira says is that living together before marriage is perfectly fine. Whew. However, she does have some caveats, namely that when you decide to move in together, that it be because the two of you are intentionally moving toward a commitment. She points out the benefit of living together is that it “can be a good way to see what cohabitation would be like before you get married." However, she thinks it's better to make the move after “you’ve made the decision that marriage is the ultimate end goal, rather than testing out the relationship first.”

That might be the ideal scenario, but let’s be real here: For some couples, looking so far in advance is just not realistic, so in that case, Spira says there are some foundational things to do before you get matching house keys.

“Before you decide to move in together with your partner, you need to discuss short term and long term goals, agree on finances and household chores, and on the amount of space that you will give each other as a couple,” Spira tells Elite Daily. This is important, she adds, because if you don't set boundaries beforehand, “resentment will build and your relationship can suffer.”

Beware the commitment slippery slope.

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If you do decide to move in before marriage, one thing studies show to look out for is sliding into a commitment, rather than actively making that choice. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, calls this the cohabitation effect, which means that couples stay together longer than they would when they live together because it's harder to leave a relationship once you’ve enmeshed your life. In The New York Times, she wrote “couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not.”

There is also the risk of slowly sliding further into a commitment and marriage with someone you might not otherwise commit to. “I have clients who say ‘I spent years of my 20s living with someone who I wouldn’t have dated a year if we had not been living together,’” Jay wrote in the Times, adding, “Once you buy dishes, share a lease, have a routine, and get a dog, it can be difficult to cut your losses and accept that the relationship isn’t working.”

All that being said, Jay also wrote that living together before marriage is far from being an automatic death sentence for the relationship. “Living together doesn’t charm or doom you; it is not whether you live with your partner as much as how you live with your partner,” she wrote. “I am not against living together, but I am for young adults being more aware that it is an arrangement that has upsides and downsides.”

Timing may actually be the most important factor.

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So, that’s all kind of a downer, but I have some more positive news. Perhaps even more important than if you should live with someone before marriage is when you make that choice.

In a recent study conducted by the Council on Contemporary Families, age was the biggest factor in the success of your relationship. Regardless of if you live together or not, choosing to commit to someone at the age of 18 can put you at a 60 percent chance of divorce. However, if you wait until the age of 23 or further, chances of divorce drop to 30 percent. Big difference! But not totally surprising.

We do a lot of maturing in those years. We discover more about who we are and how to better communicate, which Spira says is the most important indicator of relationship success. “The best relationships have open communication, where two halves don’t equal a whole for relationship to be complete,” she explains. “Having the semicircles overlap as a couple shows that each person has individual qualities they bring to the relationship, without losing themselves in the process.”

So, what's the answer? Should you marry someone you haven't lived with? It all really depends on the relationship. While that might not be the most helpful answer, at least now you know living together first is far from a prerequisite.

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