Cohabitation – types of couples

Research on the outcomes of cohabitation has yielded different findings, suggesting that grouping all cohabitating couples into one broad category may not accurately reflect the diversity and dynamics of cohabitating relationships. A study by Willoughby, Carroll, and Busby (2011), examined the differences in types of cohabitating couples by proposing a typology based on a couples’ trajectory towards, and perception of marriage. This study sampled over 1000 never-married cohabitating couples, and used latent class analysis (a research method used to identify unobservable subgroups within a population) to create a model of five types of cohabitating couples – the type of cohabitating couple was found to be associated with relationship dynamics and outcomes.

For many adults cohabitation is a stage of the coupling process, where individuals explore love, commitment, and potential life partners (Willoughby et al., 2011). This coupling process can vary across individuals, cultures, situations, and relationship types, as cohabitating relationships are entered into for many different reasons such as; freedom, economic benefits, love, testing a relationship or partner,and convenience (Willoughby et al., 2011). Whatever the motivation is to enter a cohabiting relationship, marital plans and engagement status have been found to be important indicators of both current and future relationship outcomes for cohabitating couples.

The typology of cohabitating couples developed in this study is based on engagement status and marital plans; Incongruent – Engaged couples, Engaged – Slow couples, Engaged – Fast couples, Non-Engaged – No Marriage couples, and Incongruent – Non-Engaged couples (Incongruent refers to couples who’s attitudes/plans are not corresponding). Couples in the engagement subgroups (slow and fast marital plans) report higher levels of relationship satisfaction and stability, as well as positive communication and lower levels of conflict with their partner; reported levels are comparable to reports by married couples (Willoughby et al., 2011). The sub group of non-engaged cohabitating couples with no marital plans appeared similar to dating couples on levels of satisfaction and stability (Willoughby et al., 2011). The most significant effects were found with the incongruent subgroups of cohabitating couples, who have been found to experience several negative effects including; higher levels of disagreement and conflict, and poorer relational outcomes.

The research in this study illustrates that cohabitation is a dynamic and diverse form or relationships. Engagement status and marital plans appear to be related to factors involved in relationship satisfaction, as well as short term and long term relationship outcomes. The research presented by Willoughby, Carroll, and Busby (2011), suggests that entering into a cohabitating relationship without understanding the meaning  of the decision for the relationship and future intentions may have negative consequences, so before deciding to move in with your partner couple’s should discuss their thoughts and feelings about their relationship and future intentions.


Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2012). The different effects of “living together”:     Determining and comparing types of cohabiting couples. Journal of Social and Personal          Relationships, 29(3), 397-419. doi:



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