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Couples who cohabitate before marriage more likely to divorce: psychology professors

Settling the marital intention question is key to avoiding divorce risk, authors wrote 

Couples who moved in together before getting married or engaged were nearly 50 percent ore likely to divorce than couples who waited, according to a new report.

“Although many believe that living together before marriage will lower their odds of divorce, there is no evidence that this is generally true and a lot of evidence that it is not true,” according to the April report’s executive summary.

“In relative terms, the marriages of those who moved in together before being engaged were 48% more likely to end than the marriages of those who only cohabited after being engaged or already married,” it continued.

“Our findings suggest that one key to reducing the risk of divorce may be either not to cohabit before marriage or to have settled the big question about marital intentions before moving in together,” the authors wrote.

The full report explains:

Using a new national sample of Americans who married for the first time in the years 2010 to 2019, we examined the stability of these marriages as of 2022 based on whether or not, and when, people had lived together prior to marriage. Consistent with prior research, couples who cohabited before marriage were more likely to see their marriages end than those who did not cohabit before marriage….

For decades in the U.S., living together before marriage has been associated with greater odds of divorce and/or lower relationship quality in marriage, and not just in a few isolated studies. …

One explanation is that cohabitation changes how people think about marriage and divorce. The best example in this line of thought is research showing that having more experience over time with cohabitation before marriage decreases positive attitudes about marriage and increases comfort with divorce. …

A second explanation is our theory of inertia. In physics, inertia refers to how much energy it will take to move an object or move it in a different direction than it’s already going. We apply this concept to cohabitation. Our theory is that moving in together can prematurely increase the inertia for remaining together prior to a couple making a clear commitment to a future in marriage. In other words, the inertia caused by moving in together will create resistance to someone moving back out.

The report was published by the Institute for Family Studies, a conservative nonprofit that aims “to strengthen marriage and family life, and advance the well-being of children through research and public education,” according to its website.

University of Denver psychology Professors Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades co-authored the report.

MORE: Universities should encourage marriage and family: Notre Dame researcher

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