Movin' In Causes Honey Problems

A young couple with wine and moving boxes.
Relationship quality falls when couples move in together, a new study suggests. Good news, though: It does improve your sex life (temporarily). (Image credit: .shock | Shutterstock)

Quickly moving in with your honey may be the kiss of death for some couples. New research indicates that couples who move in together before they get engaged or married are less happy and less likely to stay together than couples who wait.

The researchers contend that couples who eventually get married after living together are armed with a double dose of arguments — those from the early relationship (like jealousy) and from the marriage (household chores and bills) — that eventually can tank the relationship.

"In lots of ways, moving in together makes sense; why wouldn't you want to live together and test it out? But the process to test makes it harder to end the relationship," which in turn makes it more likely that the unenthusiastic couple will just slide into an unhappy marriage, study researcher Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver told LiveScience. "We need to find some ways that couples can have that test without making it harder to break up."

Cohabitation conundrum

The researchers used survey data from 1,294 individuals, ages 18 to 35, who were unmarried but in a romantic relationship. Of the participants, 880 were not living with their partner; the other 414 were.

While the cohabitating couples showed more commitment, they also showed less satisfaction, more negative communication (such as yelling or name-calling) and more physical aggression than couples who didn't live together, the researchers found. [7 Personality Traits You Should Change]

A second study followed up on 161 of the living-by-themselves group (103 women, 58 men) who later moved in with their partners. These participants were surveyed six times over 20 months to see how their relationship changed during the move-in process.

The responses showed that the couples' frequency of sex increased for a short time after they moved in together, but the responses also showed overall declines in relationship quality and commitment.

Trapped and in trouble

The researchers said cohabitating couples may feel more trapped in their situation, because they've signed a lease, share the bills or co-own a pet. This can lead to them marrying because it's the right thing (or the logical thing) to do, but such couples tend to divorce quickly.

"What I imagine, those who get a divorce relatively early in marriage, the conflict got to the level where they feel they couldn't manage it anymore," Rhoades said. "That conflict gets to the point where it outweighs the positives in the relationship or the constraints that might have kept the couple together."

Not all cohabitation relationships go this way, the researchers acknowledge. Still, as these intermediate relationships become more common, it's important to understand the impact on happiness and commitment, they said.

"It's important to think about the reasons why people are living together," Rhoades said. "And maybe we need to come up with some better ways to negotiate that transition to living together."

The researchers suggest that when a couple moves in together, they should have the same social and emotional support from their community as newly engaged or newlywed couples do — which may come in the form of counseling and classes to teach them how to better communicate.

"I think that we should try to think of other ways besides living together to figure things out about one another" — perhaps taking a vacation away together, Rhoades said. That could serve "as a trial for their relationship but wouldn't mean signing a lease with that person for the next year."

The study is detailed in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.

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Jennifer Welsh

Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor and a regular contributor to Live Science. She also has several years of bench work in cancer research and anti-viral drug discovery under her belt. She has previously written for Science News, VerywellHealth, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, WIRED Science, and Business Insider.