Getting married or living together?

My girlfriend and I have a steady relationship. Since we plan to get married in a little more than a year, when we finish our university studies, we are considering the advantages of living together in one apartment before our wedding. This will help us save money, get to know each other better, and allow us to strengthen our mutual commitment. Some of our friends tell us this isn't a wise move. What do you think?

Living together without having formalized a marriage contract may seem practical, especially when there is a mutual commitment to get married at a later time.

However, there are a number of drawbacks that you need to consider. Obviously, you need to ask your girlfriend what she really feels about the idea. The majority of women look at cohabitation with some apprehension. Once they are in this kind of relationship, they see it as transitory, unstable, and insecure. With good reason, they much prefer the security of marriage from day one. Comparisons show that women living together with their boyfriends suffer more from dissatisfaction and depression than married women.

Several studies show a greater incidence of domestic violence toward women and children when there is no legal marriage involved. Furthermore, if and when marriage is entered into, couples that have cohabited in their courting stage experience lower levels of satisfaction during the first years of marriage than those who married without living together first. This was first found in a pioneering study conducted in Canada by Robert Watson in the 1980s, and consistent results have been found in similarly-designed studies elsewhere. Perhaps the most active researcher in this area is David Olsen from the University of Minnesota who has ongoing studies with more than 20,000 engaged and married couples. These studies consistently show that couples who live separately before marriage have the highest level of satisfaction after marriage. Meanwhile, studies also show that couples living in cohabitation before marriage have the lowest level of satisfaction.

A committed, legal marriage, as opposed to living together, has several advantages. Here are a few:

1. A married relationship creates public and private commitment as well as high expectations in the couple. This, in turn, leads to a more stable relationship.

2. When crises arise, married partners display a particularly high level of energy and willingness to resolve conflict. This is because marriage is seen as a stable state of commitment.

3. Abandoning a married relationship is usually considered only as a last resort, whereas breaking a cohabitation arrangement is much easier (about one-half of couples living together out of marriage separate). This is especially meaningful to Christian couples who see marriage as a commitment for life.

4. Marriage is universally respected, while cohabitation often carries a social stigma. The majority of families and societies expect that a committed couple will marry, not simply live together. The latter is likely to bring about alienation from the family and much pain to loved ones such as parents, siblings, and other relatives.

5. When a marriage breaks up, the law makes provision for the children and the spouse. For couples living together, previous verbal promises or agreements are usually of no consequence.

If you and your girlfriend are Bible-believing Christians, you should take into account the high view that God has had on the marriage union from the very beginning. Jesus Himself performed His first miracle to celebrate and give His stamp of approval to a wedding in Cana. In spite of the apparent short-term convenience of cohabitation, it is in reality a poor substitute for a marriage between a man and a woman who truly love each other and who remain chaste until they take their vows before God and in the presence of family and friends. You will never regret it.

Julian and Annette Melgosa are authors of the book To Couples (Madrid: Safeliz, 2004). Julian is dean of the School of Education and Psychology at Walla Walla College (WWC) and Annette is a librarian at the college library, College Place, Washington, U.S.A. His email address: Her email: