The Carr Report: Avoid shackles if you’re shacking up

When I was growing up if you lived with your intimate partner prior to marriage we referred to it as shacking up. Nowadays, it’s referred to as cohabitating. The number of unmarried partners living together has nearly tripled in the past 20-years—going from 6 million to 17 million. Shacking up used to be frowned upon. Today, it’s the new normal.

In fact, 37 percent of couples move in together after they’ve been in a relationship for a mere six months. Guess you can say, it’s a lot easier to pose the question, “Will you move in with me” instead of, “Will you marry me?”

Common reasons our younger generation is opting for cohabitation in lieu of marriage:
Fear of divorce: With the divorce rate being upwards of 50 percent, our younger generation is saying why bother with tying the knot.

Easier exit: If things don’t work out, you can exit the relationship without the emotional, financial, and legal hassle of divorce.

Uncertainty: People are not certain if they want to spend the rest of their life with the person they’re currently romantically linked to.

Financial Reasons: Cost of living is HIGH. It’s cheaper when you have someone helping with the bills, so why not share the cost with the person you spend the bulk of your time with.

Test Drive: Many young couples want to experience what it’s like to live with this person before they commit “til death do them part.”

With each passing generation, it’s been my observation that we’re becoming more and more transparent and outspoken. I respect this generation’s honesty. But is it wise to play house or take on marital actions and marital responsibilities without marital commitment? What older generations and older people in general have over younger people is wisdom. Life experiences and a more family centered culture during their time helped them to see and experience things that generations after them tend to overlook or shrug off. There’s a reason why grandma’s food tastes better than our own. Grandma tends to know best.

Good news turns bad than worst:

More than 50 percent of couples who move in together prior to marriage, marry within 5 years. Hmmm, perhaps merging households before merging last names works out after all? 40 percent of couples who move in together prior to marriage calls it quits. Looks like, after kicking the tires or simply being tired of each other, the test drive proved not to be worth it for this group. The remaining 10 percent of these couples are still shacking up. There’s no “commit or quit” ultimatum with this group. They appear to be content being buddies.
Researchers conclude that couples who live together before they tie the knot are less likely to be satisfied in their marriage and are more likely to divorce. In fact, there’s a 33 percent higher divorce rate among those who cohabitate prior to marriage than those who waited to marry first then move in together.
Full disclosure! I shacked-up before I married. It was over 20-years ago. It was for financial reasons. We were both a long way from home and we were too broke to be on our own. Heck, financially speaking – we were barely getting by together. Somehow, someway we made it work. But we’re the exception not the norm. Here’s the real. Men and Women think differently. Spoken or unspoken, Women see cohabitation as a step towards marriage. She thinks, if this man is willing to move in with her, he’ll surely marry her. Men on the other hand are thinking – why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free. In other words, men see it as a way to postpone real marital commitment.

You can see it at weddings. Women will fight each other at the opportunity to catch the bouquet of flowers thrown by the Bride. The thinking is, the woman who catches the bouquet, is the next to marry. The tossing of the garter belt has the same meaning for men. Whoever catches it, is the next to marry. I have been to several weddings. I have yet to see men fighting at the opportunity to catch the garter belt.

When considering the reasons, people cohabitate prior to marriage: Fear of divorce, easy exit, uncertainty, financial reasons, and test drive you see a couple of things: 1: Love isn’t a core consideration. 2. Cohabitants are more concerned about planning their exit strategy than they are planning to build a life together.

Nonetheless, I consistently advise people who have made or soon to be making major financial commitments with a person who they are not comfortable making life commitments with. That’s a ticking bomb waiting to explode. Think about that for a second, people making major purchases with people that they’re contemplating and unconsciously planning on not being with for the long the long haul. Cohabitants are merging bank accounts, cosigning leases, co-signing car notes, personal loans, and mortgages together. When you commit to financial obligations together, you are in effect creating a bind on each other that can have a lingering effect after you sever personal ties. I’ve observed people dealing with financial ruin because of taking on expenses with their cohabitant. It’s like having shackles connected to this person long after you have gone your separate ways.

To avoid shackles and a financial mess that often happens with cohabitants, “Do not” do the following until you both say “I do” in marriage. It will allow a cleaner exit should things not work out.

Do not:

• Take on any loans in both cohabitants names including car loans, student loans, credit cards, personal loans and mortgages
• Pay for the other person’s bills
• Open joint checking, saving, and investment account
• List cohabitants as primary beneficiaries on insurance and retirement accounts
• Base budget on both incomes. Ensure that you can afford expenses and lifestyle on your own, should the worse was to happen
• Purchase any shared valuable items together worth over $1,000.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached at or call him at 412-216-1013.)


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