Cohabitation vs. Marriage: What’s the Difference?

We have been asked this question more than once: “Why should we get married? Isn’t living together easier?”

We understand that many young adults are keenly aware of the fragility of marriage today. They see so many people getting divorced (in many cases, their own parents) and they often know firsthand the heartbreak of divorce. So what is their answer? They decide to just live together with the mistaken notion that if it doesn’t work out, they can call it quits and it won’t hurt at all.


Statistics reveal that over half of the population thinks that living together before marriage (cohabitation) seems like a good way to get some of the benefits of marriage and avoid the risk of divorce. Many young couples are saying to themselves, “If we’re going to marry for life, then we need to have a test run first.” Sounds logical, right? More and more, people of all ages are deciding to live together—to the point that today the majority of couples who marry have lived together first.

Cohabiting may seem like a good idea at first, yet the consequences are significant. By just “testing out” whether you can be married, you’re already starting on the wrong foot. You see, marriage is based on a commitment that you’ll stay together for better or worse. By living together with the option to get out if things go bad, you’re not actually trying out marriage at all.

In fact, there’s more than one reason why it’s a bad idea to live together when you’re not married.

  • Maladjustment and high probability of divorce. You get married and then have to work out a whole new way of dealing with each other than when you were just living together. This in itself causes stress on the marriage that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
  • Sexual difficulties. Oftentimes sexual dissatisfaction will develop. In order to live together, couples often use the excuse that they need to find out if they’re sexually compatible. Problem is, they are again “testing” in the wrong venue—with the option to get out, look for others, or even have sex with others during the “living together” period. Marriage changes all that, often for the worse in the minds of cohabiters.
  • Comparison issues. Dissatisfaction begins to haunt your marriage bed, which may explain why married couples who didn’t live together before marriage have more satisfying sex than couples who had lived together before marriage.
  • Eroded trust. If you were both willing to compromise before you got married, that lingers over your marriage. If you both were willing to take short cuts before you got married, what will stop either of you from cutting the corners once or twice after you’re married?
  • Biblical disobedience. We guarantee you: It’s not God’s will.

It is far better to take your time in any relationship. Make sure you have a friendship. Seek advice from trusted friends and guidance from God. Enter marriage with your eyes wide open and the back door closed. Enter marriage with the idea that it is for keeps. Then, as you weather the storms together, you are that much stronger for it.

For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!