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Looks like “I do” offers a whole bunch of important benefits (and not just the tax-break variety).

If you’re dating someone special and talking about living together, think twice. It’s not as good for your relationship as you think.

We’ve known for a long time that a good marriage is better for you than being contentedlysingle. It is well documented that married couples gain significant health, economic, and quality of life benefits. But, we’ve lacked research that documents the difference between being married and living together, regarding those same benefits; at least, not until now.

Here’s what University of Virginia researchers found, and what it means for you.

If you’re “just living together,” your brain knows it’s not the same as being married.

Using functional MRIs (fMRIs), researchers found that people have a decreased reaction to stress when holding the hand of a married partner. But, when the hand they hold is that of a live-in partner, their reaction to stress is significantly higher. Why? Because the brain can’t relax.

One of the most important aspects of a good relationship is that you feel safe with your partner, that you believe your partner has your back and is really there for you. Getting married is the highest level of commitment. It conveys to both of you that you are willing to throw “all in” together—your living space, your assets, your emotional vulnerability, your health and your overall well-being.

Marriage is the highest and most significant love of your lifetime.

There is no other relationship in which you commit to being together, not just for years, but for decades. You commit not to bail, even if it is challenging. You’re in it for the long run.

The research now shows that when you make that level of commitment, your brain gets it and relaxes. You really do emotionally “exhale” in the context of marriage in a way you cannot in a live-in relationship. Your brain knows the difference; it knows that when you are not married, you haven’t yet made that level of commitment.

If you’re considering living together, here’s what you need to know:

You won’t get the benefits of marriage, so don’t expect them. Don’t expect your live-in partner to give you the kind of devotion and commitment you would expect from a husband or wife. Don’t be surprised if there’s an underlying feeling of insecurity that you thought would disappear after the moving truck drove away. It won’t; it can’t.

Ask yourself: why are we moving in together, rather than holding out for marriage? Dig deep and uncover the real reasons. Most couples living together do so for the wrong reasons—to save money on rent, as a test for marriage (if this goes well, then I’ll consider marrying this person), or to avoid making a deeper commitment.

If you’re tempted to settle for a live-in arrangement, maybe it’s time to take a step back and aim higher. Aim for someone with whom the idea of sharing the rest of your life is mutually exciting and desirable. Aim for someone with whom getting married is the step toward which you are dating, and that you can’t imagine anything less.

Get your own act together so that you can hold out for a relationship that offers the whole package—love, devotion, commitment, and a happy life together—for a lifetime.


The Dilemma: Is Living Together As Good As Marriage?  was originally published on