Is Living Together a Risky Proposition?

Living together is a popular stepping stone for today’s couples.

Just 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 439,000 unmarried couples were living together. In 2010, that number has skyrocketed to 7.5 million cohabiting couples.

The reasons couples live together range from convenience (“we spend all our time together anyway”), to financial (“why waste money on two apartments”), to pragmatic (“we were both looking for a roommate”).  But, does it help couples take a step in the direction toward a healthier, safer and more permanent relationship?  And if kids are involved, what kind of impact does a cohabiting relationship have on them?

Research shows cohabitating couples are twice as likely to split as married couples. And now, 18 scholars, including W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, are warning cohabiting couples of the negative impact kids face in these living arrangements.

In the recently released report,  Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, findings show that kids raised in unmarried partner households fare worse than being children whose parents divorce.


NPR interviewed Wilcox and Gottman, on the topic of cohabitation. “We’re moving into a pattern where we’re seeing more instability, more adults moving in and out of the household in this relationship carousel,” said Wilcox.

Gottman indicates that the harmful impact cohabitation on kids includes, “externalizing disorders, more aggression, and internalizing disorders, more depression. Children of cohabiting couples are at greater risk than children of married couples.”

This third edition of Why Marriage Matters was released in mid-August (2011) and lists several conclusions from the research that people in cohabiting relationships or contemplating a live-in relationship need to know.

  • Cohabitators report more conflict, more violence, and lower levels of satisfaction and commitment in their relationships than married couples.
  • Married adults have lower rates of alcohol consumption and abuse than cohabitating adults do.
  • 50% of children born to cohabitating parents see their mother’s start or end of a relationship before age 3, compared to just 13% of those born to married parents
  • Nearly one in six children (15.7%) in cohabitating families experience serious emotional distress compared to 3.5% of children with married parents (including adoptive parents).
  • Cohabiting mothers have higher rates of depression than married mothers do.
  • Adolescents in cohabitating households are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior than kids raised in a married household.
  • Preschoolers in a cohabiting household are 47.6 times more likely to die from abuse compared to child raised in an intact, married household.

Gottman says that the biggest problem with cohabitation is “if you get into trouble, baby you’re on your own; I’m not there for you.”  He advises all couples, married or not, to pick a partner carefully and stick through the hard times together.

Instead of sharing an apartment, couples should attend a Premarital Relationship Education class together.  “Many couples choose to live together to test out how marriage-ready their relationship is, and in some way, attempt to ‘divorce-proof’ their future marriage,” says K. Jason Krafsky, author of Before “I Do”.  “But how can you test drive a lifelong commitment? How do you conditionally test unconditional love? How do you try out a lifetime relationship?”

According to  The State of California’s Unions survey report, a majority of Californians (87%) agree that “all couples considering marriage should be encouraged to get pre-marital education.” Of those married adults who ever attended a Premarital Relationship Education, an astounding 88% found the information they received helpful.

Whether a couple is officially engaged or not, churches, counselors and community organizations throughout California offer Premarital Relationship Education for couples. These services are even more important for couples if kids are involved.



If you are in a serious relationship and thinking about taking your relationship to the next level, consider the following:

  • Take the Couple Checkup to find your relationship strengths and growth areas.



Written by Lucinda Loveland – Copyright (C) 2011 Healthy Relationships California



Are you considering moving in with your partner? What are some of the reasons why you’re considering cohabitation? After reading this article, have any new ideas or perceptions come to mind? (Share with us below)




One Response to “Is Living Together a Risky Proposition?”

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  1. Phylis Lewis says:

    Absolutely love this quote: “But how can you test drive a lifelong commitment? How do you conditionally test unconditional love? How do you try out a lifetime relationship?” mhm deep!”

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