Cohabitation & Divorce

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

If you live together (cohabitate) before marriage, are you more likely to divorce? Put another way, what are the odds you’d be in your relationship if you hadn’t been living with your boyfriend or girlfriend first? The answer is: You wouldn’t be.

In a recent survey, respondents who had a firm commitment to marry before moving in together didn’t experience the low levels of commitment to the relationship. They were “deciding, not sliding.”

Scott Stanley, the co-director of Center for Marital and Family Studies, created a video which describes the joy-inducing chemicals released into the body at the start of a relationship – from dopamine to oxytocin – and how they can actually cloud our decisions.

Sexual activity increases the production of these chemicals, but even just going out to dinner with someone you’re falling for can have this effect. Under the “influence” of these drugs, the video explains, we start doing things that “lock us in” to a relationship. We get a joint cellphone plan, we co-sign a car loan, we adopt a dog together.

But after a few months, things may look different. Suddenly you wake up and realize that you don’t really want to be with this person. “You acted on the belief that you had a timeless love, but in reality you had a time-limited chemical high.” Yet you’ve made it extremely hard to disentangle yourself.

But it’s much more that keeps people in relationships past their expiration dates – including social restraints. People don’t assume the way they once did that shacking up is a step on the way to marriage, but most of your friends will still figure that living with a guy is a step closer to walking down the aisle.

For many women, that’s the point: Talk the guy into living with you, and you’re halfway to a ring. Many men aren’t thinking that. But, according to Stanley’s research, even the ones who do wind up proposing may have more regrets after the fact.

In a random-sample study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010, 20% of people who married before living together had divorced; the divorce rate was notably higher, 28 percent, for those who cohabited before even getting engaged.

The video suggests that people beginning a relationship keep their own apartments, cars and cellphone plans. Instead of a dog, maybe jointly adopt a goldfish.

The more you can get to know your possible life-mate without locking yourself in, the better chance you have of breaking up with the wrong person and finding the right one. This used to be called “dating.”

The New York Post article on the survey is here.