Dating / Marriage

Is Living Together a Good Test for Marriage?

woman in blue denim jacket standing beside woman in black shirt

A lot of people like to test out a relationship by living together. Makes sense, right? You can see all of their strengths and weaknesses up close. It’s harder to hide anything when you are living together. But living together also comes with several risks. These risks are:

  1. The lack of commitment changes the relationship dynamics – especially during fights and arguments,
  2. You are at a greater risk of falling in love with a jerk,
  3. It is harder to measure your partner’s level of sexual self-control (ability to be faithful to you after marriage),
  4. And you may get into a situation where the man never wants to commit to marriage.

Let’s explore each of these reasons today.

Commitment Affects the Relationship Dynamics

When you live together, you are essentially doing all the same things as being married. You share a house. You have sex. You see how your lives fit together in the day to day routine things. Is there any difference then between living together and being married? The only differences are psychological – which means pertaining to the mind, thoughts, and emotions.

When you are living together (especially as a test run for marriage), neither person is fully committed. They are both trying to see if this would work out, and they probably have some doubts. This lack of commitment changes the relationship dynamics.

For example, let’s say you get into a big fight. A fight where there are big emotions involved and it’s a sensitive topic for one or both of the people. If you are married and fully committed, you would probably go into the fight thinking “How can we work this out? How can we solve this problem so that it doesn’t get in the way of our relationship?”

In contrast, if you are living together and not fully committed, you might go into the fight thinking “Should I work this out? Is this problem too big for us? Is this a sign that this relationship isn’t going to work out?”

(Now, of course there are marriages where the people aren’t fully committed and there are cohabiting couples who are very committed, but in general, people living together for the purpose of testing it out will think more like the second example above.)

person in black long sleeve shirt holding white ceramic mug

Your level of commitment affects the relationship dynamics during an argument.

So why do your thoughts going into a fight matter? Because your brain is a huge, highly efficient computer. It gives you answers to the questions you give it. So if you ask your brain: “How do we solve this problem?” it will start brainstorming solutions. But if you ask it: “Should I solve this problem?”, it will probably start giving you reasons why it (the brain) shouldn’t work on solving that problem. Why? Because your brain is naturally efficient… aka lazy. It doesn’t want to work when it doesn’t have to! So if you give your brain an option to not work on something, it will always take it.

The second reason why your mental perspective or commitment matters in a relationship fight is because your brain filters information. Your brain is consuming thousands of bits of information every second. In order to not be overwhelmed, it filters through what is important and what is not. How does it know what is important? You tell it what is important. Your thoughts tell it what to look for.

So if you think “My partner is a slob, they never clean up after themselves”, then your brain will try to find evidence to support that thought. It will pay attention to things that support the fact that your partner is a slob and it will ignore things that go against your assumption.

So if you go into a fight thinking “Is this a sign that the relationship isn’t going to work out?”, your brain will probably try to gather all the evidence that shows the relationship won’t work out and ignore the evidence that it could actually work out.

In this way, our realities are fairly biased and contorted. But once you understand how your brain works, you can begin to use this in your favor. You only ask it questions that are useful and get you the results you want in your life. You can also train your brain to look at your spouse in a positive way instead of a negative, fault-finding way. And you can accurately question your assumptions before they lead to too much trouble.

Risk of Falling in Love with a Jerk

Another reason why living together is risky before marriage is that if you start living together BEFORE you know the person well enough to want to commit your entire life to them, it is easier for you to fall in love with a jerk. You see, kissing and having sex and serving them and sharing vulnerable information about yourself bonds you to the other person. Living day to day normal life bonds you to the person as well. So if you do all those things with someone you don’t know very well (who may be a jerk), then you are at high risk of falling in love with jerk.

Dr. Van Epp says that it takes at least three months for red flags to appear in a relationship. THREE MONTHS until you start noticing dangerous patterns that indicate major red flags about that person. So you had better not be moving in with them before three months! Otherwise you are at a total risk of falling in love with someone who isn’t worth your love!

Dr. Van Epp describes how to avoid falling in love with a jerk with the RAM model.

Each section has a slider like on a sound system equalizer. The bottom is low, the top is high. When you look at the concept of love with the RAM model, you will see that there are 5 different aspects of love: how much you know a partner, how much you trust them, how much you rely on them to meet your needs, how much you commit to them, and how much you touch them/or have a sexual relationship.

In order to keep your relationship safe and healthy, you need to have all of the knobs on the right lower than the preceding knobs on the left (like the picture above). So, you shouldn’t trust your partner any more than you know them. You shouldn’t rely on them for things any more than you trust them. You shouldn’t commit to your partner any more than you rely on them, and trust them and know them. And you definitely shouldn’t touch them any more than you are committed to them. Make sense?

An unhealthy or unsafe relationship is where these knobs are not in balance. Maybe the “touch” knob is really high but the “know” knob is low. This is risky because you are becoming sexually involved with someone you don’t know well. Dr. Van Epp says that this is a recipe for getting involved with a jerk. Having sex without knowing a person really well and having a permanent commitment is unhealthy because you are at risk for “creating a false sense of intimacy, minimizing and overlooking warning signs, and staying in a bad relationship too long” (p. 84, “How to avoid falling in love with a Jerk, Dr. Van Epp).

Another example of an unhealthy or risky relationship is where you are high on the “touch” knob, but low on the “commitment” knob. This is again unhealthy or risky because the lack of commitment means that your partner could leave you at any time and break your heart.

You need to measure your partner’s level of self-control

When you wait for sex until marriage, one of the biggest things you are measuring is your partner’s level of self-control. There is no better measurement of self-control than seeing if they can abstain from having sex with you when you are both very attracted to each other. It is dang hard!! But this is just the kind of self-control that makes for a great relationship and marks the character qualities of an excellent person. No jerk is going to be able to control themselves like this. Jerks often have very low levels of self-control. They want to be good, but they can’t get themselves to do what they say they are going to do. So telling your partner that you don’t want to have sex with them anymore until we are married is the ultimate character test.

Because what do you want when you are married? Complete fidelity? If you want complete fidelity and you don’t want your partner cheating on you after you are married, then you need to test their level of sexual self-control. You can’t measure that when you are having sex with them.

In his book, Dr. Van Epp gives a good example of what to say to your partner if you want to stop having sex with them but still want to keep getting to know them. Read this blog article under the subtitle “Testing Out your Sexual Restraint” for more information about that.

He won’t marry you

The last reason why it’s risky to live with someone before you are married is because there is a chance that they won’t be motivated to ever marry you. For some people, this is totally fine. They don’t want to get married. They see it only as a piece of paper. But there are some people (mostly women) who desperately wish that their partner would propose to them. However, the partner (usually the man) has no motivation to marry the woman. He is already living with her, having sex with her, having her do the chores…why should he propose? Why should he legally tie himself down to this one woman when he is already reaping all the benefits of marriage?

This reason also applies to women who aren’t living together with their man, but are having sex with them. If you are having sex with him, what is going to motivate him to propose? He might be very happy with the status quo. Think about the costs and benefits of marriage in his eyes. He already has you, sex, and no commitment. Why would he want to change this?

woman in black jacket and black pants standing beside woman in black jacket near body of near near near near

If you want your partner to propose to you and they are dragging their feet, it’s time to stop having sex and focus on developing other parts of your relationship.


So is living together a good test for marriage? I’ll let you decide. I think there are some definite risks associated with living together as a test run. Of all the research I have seen on living together, it only works well if you have a REALLY high level of commitment from the start. Like if you get engaged to be married and then you move in a couple of months before the wedding. Still, engagements can be broken pretty easily. If you want to be safe and have the healthiest possible relationship, I would wait to live together and have sex until you are married.

But what about testing out the sexual compatibility? I honestly think if you are super attracted to each other and have great chemistry when kissing, then you are sexually compatible! Any other sex skills can be learned. A person is who not very good at sex in the beginning can become better with practice and research and learning. So keep your heart safe and save sex for marriage.

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