Don't Live With Your Boyfriend if You Want to Get Married

01/30/2014 08:07 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT

I see a lot of single women in my office, women who -- despite being smart, successful and attractive -- complain that the dating world isn't being kind to them. To be sure, both single women and men must navigate a dating world that often seems long on narcissists and nutjobs, and short on nice and normal.

When it comes to women, their complaints are threefold:

1. They can't meet a good man

2. Men treat them with disrespect or indifference

3. They get stuck in dead-end relationships

Of course, men have their complaints too, and these will be addressed in an upcoming blog.

When I first sit down with a single woman who is looking for dating advice, I ask her a simple question: "What are you looking for?" A no-strings relationship? A co-habiting or common law arrangement? A husband and legal marriage? If her answer is the latter, we take a critical look at her dating habits. What is she doing? Are her choices leading her to the life that she wants for herself?

Over the past decade or so, I've found there are a few common pitfalls that women who want to get married inadvertently fall into, and which decrease their chances of getting married while they're still young enough to walk down the aisle without stopping for breath. One of these pitfalls is living together before marriage.

I don't come at this issue from a moral or religious standpoint. A woman is and should be free to decide what is best for her without being judged, controlled or condescended to by others. My advice is only for those women who want to marry, and is based on studies as well as my professional experience.

These are eight reasons I believe living together is a bad choice if a woman wants to marry:

1. Men and women have very different ideas about what living together means. Women typically see it as an almost inevitable step toward marriage, while men see it as a no-obligation "test drive." Couples who initiate a live-in relationship under the fog of such contradictory assumptions are already in trouble.

2. You've heard the old expression, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" It's an ugly phrase, but there's some truth to the message. Living together results in regular, no-strings sex for a man, thus removing the sexual motivation that is part of a marriage proposal. And don't worry about his proposing just to bed you -- there are too many sexually available women out there for a man to propose marriage just for sexual release.

3. Living together means that a man doesn't have to pursue his girlfriend any longer. And if something is too easily acquired, it just doesn't hold the same value as something that is more challenging to get. I have seen many men in my office who are apathetic about their partner, and I have noticed this to be more true with couples who are either co-habiting or who lived together before "sliding" into marriage. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a man say, "Well, we're not married so it doesn't really matter," or "I just married her because she wouldn't shut up about it," or "I only proposed because everyone expected me to." Their lack of enthusiasm and passion toward their partner is as depressing as it is discouraging.

4. Because it removes much of a man's motivation to make the formal commitment of marriage within a reasonable time, living together often causes women to feel frustrated and get stuck in a cycle of hope and disappointment. Christmas comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her birthday comes and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. Her sister gets married and she hopes for a ring, only to be disappointed. You get the idea. Even worse, this cycle often leads to ultimatums -- Marry me or it's over! -- which, in turn, can lead to a reluctant and passionless groom or, just as bad, a woman who tries to fool herself into believing that "marriage is just a piece of paper" so that she doesn't have to break up with a man who calls her bluff.

5. Couples who live together are less likely to get married. Why? Well, for the reasons I've mentioned that remove the motivation to marry. Co-habiting couples also tend to have a more lax attitude toward commitment and don't work as hard to stay together. When their relationship goes through a rough spot -- as all relationships do -- it is all too easy to just walk away. The legal and public commitment of marriage motivates couples to work through conflict, strengthen the relationship and stay together.

6. Living together is not a reliable way to predict long-term compatibility or marital success. In fact, couples who live together before marriage divorce at higher rates. There are other ways to set yourself up for a happy, healthy marriage. Serious dating allows two people to get to know each other as loving friends and determine whether they have a reasonable chance of being a faithful, respectful and cooperative couple with shared values and vision. Spending time at a boyfriend or girlfriend's house will reveal many personal habits and quirks, while a practical pre-marital class that teaches communication, interpersonal and life skills can give couples the tools they need to help avoid common problems and resolve those conflicts that will invariably arise.

7. Very few unmarried couples who have children end up staying together. In other words, a child's chances of living in the same home as his or her biological but non-married parents until he or she is a teenager is negligible. Of those couples that do keep their relationships intact until their children are grown, 93 per cent of them are legally married. This is important, since children who are raised by both biological parents in a low-conflict home are more likely to be emotionally and psychologically healthy than children whose parents are co-habiting or divorced. They are less likely to experience mental health or behavioural problems, or to live in poverty.

8. Living together takes the excitement out of being newlyweds. Being a new bride and moving in with your husband to start a life -- and perhaps a family -- with those shiny new rings on your fingers to show the world your commitment, is a wonderful experience that many women still hope for. Put the cynics and haters on ignore -- their bitterness reflects their own choices and reality, not yours. Many, many couples still live "happily ever after" after marriage, and you can, too. You just need to know where you want to go in life, and what choices are most likely to get you there.

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