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Marriage vs. moving in: Which is better for your family?

Posted April 7
Updated April 8

Does “testing out” your relationship by living together make you less likely to divorce? Is living together the same commitment as marriage? Studies reveal these answers and more. (Deseret Photo)

"Will you move in with me?" seems to be the other question couples are asking instead of "will you marry me?". Before you answer, make sure you know what you’re really getting yourself into and what it means for you and your children’s future.

Here are some important things to consider:

Does living together before marriage decrease your chances of divorce?

Many couples are worried that they might separate if they got married, so they test their relationship by moving in together first.

“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,” said Meg Jay, author and clinical psychologist. “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.”

Additionally, many people don’t realize that cohabitation is now the largest reason for unstable families in the United States, even passing up divorce. About 65 percent of children born to cohabiting parents will experience a parental divorce by age 12 compared to 24 percent of children born to married parents.

Several studies indicate that cohabiting couples are more likely to divorce compared to married couples, but other variables provide an interesting insight to the truth.

“What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone – with or without a marriage license – before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship,” Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D told TIME.

Whether you decide to move in together first or get married, it’s best to date for a while before taking that next step.

How much education do most cohabitors have?

The amount of cohabiting mothers with some college education increased 22 percent between 1994 and 2014. However, the amount of cohabiting mothers with a high school diploma or less is also increasing, with 42 percent in 2014. Only about five percent ever obtain their bachelor’s degree.

Despite the low education status, studies show 63 percent of mothers and 81 percent of fathers in cohabiting relationships were employed in 2015, compared to 66 percent of mothers and 91 percent of fathers in married couple households.

How well off are most cohabitors financially?

Cohabitors are more likely to live in poverty compared to married couples, but the reasons have less to do with your relationship and more to do with your individual lifestyle.

Unmarried couples who move in together tend to have less education and are more likely to divorce, making them more likely to live in poverty. Cohabiting couples and single mothers have the highest rates of poverty, with 47 percent and 48 percent respectively. Married couple households have the lowest poverty rate at 11 percent.

Before you move in together, talk finances (whether you’re married or not). It’s a sensitive topic, but is vital to discuss financial goals, bills and income before bringing over your suitcases. Seek a good education and job to provide a more stable future for you and your family.

Do unmarried couples who live together experience more or less abuse?

Studies show children in cohabiting households are four times more likely to be emotionally, physically or sexually abused compared to children in married parent homes. This doesn’t mean that every home with unmarried parents is an abusive household, but statistics show that these children are much more likely to experience abuse compared to other households.

Protect yourself and your children by knowing the signs of abuse such as getting jealous easily, threatening you and not respecting your opinions.

Is living together the same commitment as marriage?

Moving in together is a way for people to commit to each other without fully committing. Interestingly, how you view your commitment level in your relationship significantly affects your health, according to researchers.

Jim Coan, professor at the University of Virginia, studied cohabiting and married couples’ brains to see how they reacted to stress while holding their partner’s hand. Threat cues and safe cues appeared on the scanner to test their stress levels.

After collecting brain wave data from 54 couples (half who were married and half who were cohabiting) Coan found that married couples felt significantly less stressed when the threat cues were signaled.

Coan concluded that marriage is like a signal that shows dependability and predictability in your relationship. Our brains respond to the people in our lives who provide us those things.

"Asserting cohabitation is basically asserting that one is not 'locked in' to a commitment,” he said.

However, even married couples can experience troubles with commitment. “Threatening divorce when you have problems or refusing to face issues and work through them throws cold water on trust and intimacy,” said Jimmy Evans, founder and CEO of MarriageToday.

If you know your partner cares for, understands and appreciates you, Coan said your relationship will make you a much happier and healthier person.

Should you move in together?

Three-quarters of men and women in the United States believe that living together and having children before marriage is OK. Though you might not be a part of these statistics, it’s still a good idea to be aware of the correlations found between cohabitation, divorce, poverty, education and abuse.

The decision is ultimately up to you, but make sure you know the facts before you make your choice. Someone once told me deciding who to marry should be the most selfish decision you make in life, and staying married is the most selfless thing you can do. The same goes for cohabitation. Be selfish when your partner pops “the other question” — do what you believe is best for you and your family’s future.

Shaelynn Miller is a journalist who has a passion for photography, video production and writing.

Contact her at smiller@deseretdigital.com.

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