On Moving In Together

[Guest Post by Arleen Spenceley] – If, or when is it appropriate for a committed dating couple to try moving in together?

A young woman stood behind my seat, combed my damp curls and lifted her shears to cut my hair.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No,” I said, over the buzz of the blow dryers and the pop music piped into the salon.

“That’s ok,” she said. “You’re young.”

Then the stylist, only a few years my senior, shared a relationship story with me. It ended with a word of advice:

“Don’t marry a guy if you haven’t lived with him for awhile.”

Moving in together first is a good idea, she said, for a few reasons.

Reason #1: You can’t truly know a person until you’ve lived under the same roof.

Reason #2: It’s easier to move out before you’re married than to get a divorce afterward.

Reason #3: If you don’t like living with him before marriage, you won’t like living with him afterward.

For my then-stylist, cohabitation is a litmus test.

If it works, you get married.

If it doesn’t, you don’t.

Because it’s better to say “I’ll love you if…” instead of “I’ll love you despite what’s yet to come…”

For others, cohabitation is like a practice run.

If you like it, you commit.

If you don’t like it, you call it quits.

Pre-marital living together isn’t just a good idea, the stylist said.

It’s how a man or a woman discovers whether he or she is compatible with his or her partner. And, she said, it’s essential. I – then in my early 20s – wholeheartedly disagreed. And I didn’t tell her that, because she had scissors in my hair.

But if I could go back, I’d speak up.

Our culture has concluded that how easy it is to live with people predicts how easy it will be to be married to them.

Which is sensible, if marriage is supposed to be easy.

But it isn’t.

Marriage is supposed to result in the destruction of self absorption. This is why a wedding involves vows. We need vows because marriage is hard. Because stuff’s going to happen that will test your commitment. Because it is never easy to live with other people.

“I’ll commit to you if I’ve lived with you first and I like it” undermines the purpose of vows.

The logic that underlies it is this: If living together doesn’t work, nor will your marriage.

But how well can living together really work when there isn’t commitment?

My stylist’s quest implies that there are relationships that work independent of effort. That commitment is for relationships that work.

But that’s a lie.

Commitment is not for relationships that work. Relationships work when the people in them are committed to each other.

Reason #1: Because we accept that attraction is conditional, but love isn’t.

Reason #2: Because when we die to self like Jesus did, we are in favor of what’s best for the beloved.

Reason #3: Because commitment is “I’ll love you despite what’s yet to come…” and not “I’ll love you if…” (which isn’t love).


Arleen Spenceley is a Roman Catholic Christian, a freelance writer, a counselor and a grad student studying rehabilitation and mental health counseling at the University of South Florida. Click here to read her blog and click here to like her on Facebook or connect with her on Twitter.

[Photo: MyLifeThroughPhotography, Creative Commons]


  • Elise Daly Parker

    Excellent. We really do have a mixed up view of relationship…It is not just self-serving and narcissistic (I’d be lying if I told you it’s never about me; it is sometimes!). A relationship is a give and take. And marriage, well it’s hard and full of self sacrifice and also wonderful. And there have been times in our 28 years that we’ve had to “make it through.” But I’m so glad we have. I don’t think living together truly prepares you for marriage.

  • Ruth Rutherford

    So beautifully written. This line really struck me: “Marriage is supposed to result in the destruction of self absorption. This is why a wedding involves vows.” Kinda says it all regarding the living together question. Thanks for sharing!

  • Corinna

    Great article, Arleen. But what about couples who live together, get married, and are together the rest of their lives? Couldn’t you argue that it works some, but not all, of the time?

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Thanks, Corinna! I am sure that happens, but I’m not sure the “living together before marriage” is the “it” that works when a marriage lasts for a couple that cohabited before marriage. Love is the “it” the works. Some who live together first have it, and others (I’d argue most) don’t.

  • Jesus Christ

    IF you want green grass than you better be ready to take care of it,water,ferterlizer,weed killer,mowing,and it’s got to be done at the right times and season’s, so LOVE is give and take,compramise,and putting yourself not ahead but not behind,plus it’s easy to love someone that’s loveable, but the true agape love is loving unconditionally and loving that person for who they are now,who they might have been in the past and who they could still become…as long as your not judging them and putting them down…it takes lots of hard work and forgiveness to get married,stay married and live together till death do you part…

  • Alexandrea J.

    This was definitely a beautifully written article! I mean you made such beautiful points that I really liked reading and thinking about.

    One thought came to mind though and it’s the issue of thinking, that people live together as a litmus test. They do it and then if it doesn’t work-they quit and move out.

    But I just wanted to ask because it just ran across my mind as I was reading…don’t we do the same thing in dating?
    I know that in living together even more is intertwined but in dating we kind of are “trying out” marriage. We may kiss the person, hold hands, share deep emotions, create powerful memories and create an emotional intimacy that may later on be shared with many different girlfriends and boyfriends and then eventually a spouse who now is just apart of a list of other people who have also shared a deep part of their lives and yet we still date. Even though it is a litmus test for marriage and even though there is a high risk of getting very hurt….
    I’m not saying this to sound antagonizing so please believe me when I say that. 🙂 I just thought about, how can we respond to this type of thinking because it was a thought that came to my mind that, “what’s the huge difference?” and I don’t really know the answer to it, so I thought I would throw it out there. 🙂

    (Other than the obvious difference being that when you live together the temptation for premarital sex is stronger, BUT we do know that premarital sex can certainly occur even when people don’t live together AND we know that no living together before marriage is not merely so we don’t have sex but it’s deeper than that. 🙂 )