By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2009 ( – A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that couples who live together before getting engaged and/or married are more likely to get divorced than those who don’t move in together until engagement or marriage, and that couples who live together before engagement report lower satisfaction in their marriages.

Using a random telephone survey of 1,050 men and women married within the past 10 years, the current study replicated previous findings regarding the timing of engagement and the “premarital cohabitation effect” which generally indicated a higher subsequent divorce rate. Those who cohabited before engagement (43.1%) reported lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence as well as more negative communication and greater potential for divorce than those who cohabited only after engagement (16.4%) or not at all until marriage (40.5%).

The study was conducted at the University of Denver and led by Galena Rhoades, senior researcher for the Center for Marital and Family Studies in the Psychology Department, Scott M. Stanley, research professor, and Howard Markman, professor of psychology.

“We think that some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabiting,” Dr. Rhoades said.

“It seems wise to talk about commitment and what living together might mean for the future of the relationship before moving in together, especially because cohabiting likely makes it harder to break up compared to dating,” said researcher Scott Stanley.

To measure the potential of a couple to divorce, study participants were asked, “Have you or your spouse ever seriously suggested the idea of divorce?”

About 19 percent of those who cohabited before getting engaged had suggested divorce compared with 12 percent of those who moved in together after getting engaged. Only 10 percent of participants who did not cohabit prior to marriage said they had ever suggested divorce.

In a related study led by Rhoades and published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Issues, the researchers studied the reasons why couples chose to live together.

Citing statistics that reveal almost 70 percent of US couples are cohabiting before marrying, the research team found that more than 60 percent gave spending more time together as the reason for cohabiting, with 19 percent saying “it made most sense financially,” and 14 percent saying they were testing the relationship.

Couples who listed “testing” as the primary cohabitation reason were more likely than others to score high on measures of negative communication, such as, “My partner criticizes or belittles my opinions, feelings, or desires.”

“Cohabiting to test a relationship turns out to be associated with the most problems in relationships,” Rhoades said. “Perhaps if a person is feeling a need to test the relationship, he or she already knows some important information about how a relationship may go over time.”

Read related LSN articles on the problems associated with cohabitation:

Cohabitation is bad for men, worse for women, and horrible for children

Reality Says Cohabitation a Disaster for Marriage but Poll Shows Public Believes Otherwise

Cohabitation Ends in Separation 90% of the Time

Living Together Before Marriage Has Disastrous Results Study Finds