Moving in Together isn’t the Next Big Step. Marriage is.

So there I was, engaged to a woman I loved. Her roommate was getting married too, so my fiancée needed to move or find another roommate. Meanwhile, I was month-to-month in a less-than-ideal living situation. So we did the obvious thing and moved in together, right? Wrong.

It is counter-intuitive, I admit. Living together requires big adjustments, so why not test it out before “I do”? And there are the practical benefits—saving money and not having to find other roommates. If nothing else, it would have been nice to eliminate the 20-minute drive between our homes. But we were convinced it was in our best interest to avoid living together until we were married. I’m even more convinced now than I was then.

“I’m not ready for that sort of commitment”

Once upon a time, I was sitting across from Connor, and I asked him when he and Tasha were getting married. They had dated three years already and lived together, so it seemed a natural question. I’ll never forget his response. “I already know she’s the only one for me,” he said. “What do we need some expensive ceremony for?”

It seemed hard to argue against his position—until she dumped him a few months later. Turns out she wanted to get married, and he wasn’t ready for that sort of a commitment.

What changed? Nothing. But as time went on, it became clear that marriage was too permanent for him. While he liked to think he was committed to this woman, when push came to shove, he just wasn’t.

Living together before marriage is tricky. It offers some sense of commitment; it even seems like a logical step in preparation for marriage. It often seems like the practical thing to do. What’s more, it feels significant—like a next step. But when it comes down to it, without a marriage to back it up, it is superficial and temporary. What sort of sacrifice is involved? Not much of one. What sort of commitment? As Connor and Tasha learned, a 12-month lease, often less.

“It’s what we both want.”

From a guy’s perspective moving in together can seem too good to be true. So let me get this straight, he’ll say: A woman wants to move in with me and sleep in the same bed with me, and yet I don’t have to commit to marrying her? What’s the catch?

Many couples who move in together might think they are on the same page, but often they are not. Studies have shown that women and men move in together with varying levels of commitments. I’m no social scientist, but I am a man. So if I had to guess how they vary, I’d say: Women are primarily motivated by commitment, men by sex. Since the commitment is only temporary, women stand to lose the most by living together.

To put it bluntly, men get out of the arrangement what they are primarily looking for—sex—while women get a 12-month lease. It’s a commitment of a kind, but probably not the commitment they are really seeking.

“It will be fun, and we will grow as a couple.”

Flicker/Leni Tuchsen
Flicker/Leni Tuchsen

I don’t know about you, but there are few people in the world who I could live with. I often find myself tempted to kick a new roommate out before the first rent check is due. Something about living with someone brings out the worst in me. It tends to bring out the worst in others as well.

Living together as a couple is even more difficult than living with a roommate. You have to nurture a relationship as well as figure out who is in charge of the dishes. Does finding it difficult to live together mean you’re not a good match? You’re not meant to be? Heck no. It just means you’re two distinct people with separate styles and preferences.

But that is all the more reason to hold off on living together until you have made a permanent commitment. Think about it. You run into a disagreement. If you’re married, you have an incentive to work through it together. After all, you’re in this for the long haul. If you’re not married, you are free to leave. Or maybe you’ll make a half-hearted compromise, counting on the fact that you can bail at the end of the lease if things don’t get better. Either way, since there’s no real commitment, loving compromise—absolutely essential to a successful long-term relationship—is not a necessity.  Under those circumstances, challenges often become a reason to quit, instead of an opportunity to grow.

“But we already live together…”

Remember that fiancée of mine I mentioned earlier? Well, we never married. We broke up after three years of dating and 15 months of engagement, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But it was the right thing to do.

Why was it so hard? Well, we loved and cared for each other deeply. Since we shared so much in common, it was terribly difficult to separate. We shared our closest friends. We shared an extensive history. We even shared a cell phone plan. Living together would have made it much harder to break up, and breaking up is excruciating as it is. While it’s unpleasant to plan a relationship around the possibility of a break up, the fact remains: Until you say “I do,” the future of a relationship is uncertain.

Brit_Marriage piece of paperAs I said before, making unnecessary and questionable “commitments” like living together before marriage might make you more likely to break up before marriage. It also may make it less likely you will break up when you should. Living together can put pressure on a couple to stay together for the wrong reasons. Being able to let go of a person is an important part of a healthy relationship before marriage. Living separately before marriage gives you the space to be honest about whether you are right for one another.

If you don’t believe me, ask my ex-fianceé. She married another guy last month. If we had opted to live together, it would have been much harder to let go, maybe impossible. Instead, because we were not tangled up in a shared living situation, we were able to find the courage to do what might have been impossible under other circumstances—to let our love go and move on. We are both much happier for it.

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1 Comment

  • Dear Isaac,
    I just want to say, thank you, THANK YOU!!! for writing and sharing that awesome, Spot-On article!! At different times in my past, I have tried to explain the many reasons why I believe living together is the wrong choice, but it’s been such a struggle. You nailed it! Thanks again!! 🙂

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