The XX Factor

Should Couples Be Wary of Cohabitation? 

Does premarital cohabitation lead to divorce down the line?

Bernd Juergens /

Hanna, I’m going to have to disagree with your claim that “everyone” is cohabitating these days.

In our first year of marriage, my husband and I have fought our way through various household skirmishes over the minutiae of married life—his tendency to leave piles of to-file papers around the house, for example, or mine to leave closet doors open and chairs pushed out. 

The reason we didn’t smooth out these little domestic wrinkles prior to getting married is because we were not among the “everyone,” or, more accurately, the 7.5 million unmarried couples who lived together as of 2010, many of whom might say we missed out on a compatability trial-run. But it’s the couples who fall into cohabitation out of convenience or without considering their ultimate relationship goals—marriage or not—that should be worried about the “cohabitation effect,” according to Meg Jay’s New York Times column.  


Jay argues that the problem with cohabitation comes when unmarried couples are “sliding” into living together, instead of making a conscious decision.

“Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation,” Jay wrote in the column. “Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.”

It would have been a whole lot more convenient for my husband and I to live together before marriage, especially after we got engaged and moved across the country less than a year from our wedding date. We spent a lot of time schlepping from one neighborhood to another to see each other and paid double-rent while trying to save for the wedding.


Yes, we avoided “shacking up” because of religious beliefs, but we also just wanted marriage to feel completely different. We wanted our first home together not just to be a carryover from dating but symbolic of our new commitment. The household fights we have now are worth it, too, as irksome as they are. We approach them differently than cohabitators trying to figure out compatibility might do. It’s not: “Can I live with your mess?” It’s: “Let’s figure out a system that meshes our personalities.” We have to fight fair and figure them out, because we’re in it for life, all tooth-paste squeezing and cover-stealing annoyances aside.

Whether you agree with premarital cohabitation or not, Jay’s point is well-taken. Before you combine utilities or your coffee mug collections, how about a little discussion of where this all is leading? If you both see wedding bands in your future or are fine being boyfriend and girlfriend indefinitely, you’ve made a deliberate and joint decision. But rolling into cohabitation and maybe eventually marriage because it just seemed like the next best step won’t be so easy to roll out of in the end.