Living together may be better than getting married after all

Deciding to move in with your significant other is a huge step in any relationship. In fact, some might say it’s a bigger step than taking the matrimonial plunge.

When my boyfriend (now fiancé) and I made the decision to move in together, I knew it was the ultimate acid test for us as a couple. If we could survive cohabitation, I was pretty sure everything else would be a breeze. Because of this rationalization on my part, the event was filled with a truckload of anticipatory anxiety. However, the result ended up being more than worth it. We discovered we were great roommates, and now that the hard part was over, the move to engagement was almost effortless.

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Most of our friends who lived together before marriage agreed — if you live together first and do that well, getting married changes very little about your relationship happiness. It makes sense when you think about it — what does a piece of paper really change about your daily cohabitating dynamics and emotional health? According to a study that was recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology, not much.

The study, which was conducted by the University of Ohio over a span of almost 20 years, looked to understand the difference between the emotional health of couples who just live together versus couples who got married. The researchers started collecting data back in 1997 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth which included over 8,700 people born between 1980 and 1984. Then for 10 years, between 2000 and 2010, they kept tabs on these people’s relationship statuses and emotional well-being by asking them specific questions. The trend that started to develop was especially interesting in terms of men versus women.

They found that women overall received the same emotional benefits from living with their first serious partner as they did if that relationship resulted in marriage. Men, on the other hand, received a significant emotional upswing when they married their first serious partner, rather than just lived with them. However, that upswing went away if the cohabitation didn’t happen until the subjects’ second serious relationship. In that case, both the men and women were just as emotionally satisfied with living together as they were if they eventually married. So in case you get asked by relatives over the holidays when you and your live-in boyfriend are tying the knot, here’s your scientific evidence to back up your decision to wait.

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Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of this study, said in a statement, “At one time, marriage may have been seen as the only way for young couples to get the social support and companionship that is important for emotional health … [But] it’s not that way anymore. We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together.”

The fact is more young couples today are perfectly happy to live together indefinitely without going through the whole marriage/wedding rigmarole. This may be directly contributing to the record low number of people getting married these days, which, while bad for the wedding industry, is doing wonders for the institution of marriage overall. Even though it may be giving parents of millennials panic attacks, waiting to get married until you’re financially and emotionally ready ultimately gives your relationship much better odds of lasting a lifetime.

So moms, if your kid comes home for the holidays with her live-in boyfriend of three years but still no rock, she may be doing a whole lot better than you fear.

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