Rachel was one of the trainers at the gym where I worked out, and I often asked her for exercise advice. She would say such things as, “Tuck that tummy. Get your elbows in. Your breathing is backwards!” And my favorite: “How long have you been working out?” My progress has not always been evident to the masses.

While exercising, Rachel and I would often carry on conversations about anything and everything. Over the course of our three-year “gym friendship” we had many interesting discussions about school, careers, money, marriage and God — you name it, we probably talked about it. Rachel was an easy person to chat with, and she must have felt safe around me. She often opened up, sharing a lot about her personal life.

At 23, Rachel was near the end of her college years. She was still living at home with her parents, and she was looking forward to the day when she would be out on her own.

On one particular day when I asked, “How ya doin’?” Rachel initially gave me the stock reply, “Great!” That is what people usually say when someone greets them with that question. But then Rachel added an unexpectedly emotion-filled statement.

“Dave,” she said, “I’ve been dating my boyfriend now for almost two years.”

“Wow, it’s been that long?”

“Yes,” she replied. “He’s a wonderful person, and I’m hoping we’ll get married someday.”

I casually added, “Great! I’d like to meet him.”

I went back to another agonizing set of bicep curls. Just as I pulled up my last one (every curl is painful for me and it always feels like my arms are about to fall off!), Rachel spoke again. “It’s still kind of hard to believe, but my boyfriend and I have decided that we are going to live together.” The enthusiasm in her voice projected how thrilled she was. She wanted me to be one of the first to know.

Rachel explained that neither of them had ever planned on living together. But after talking about it for quite a while, it just seemed like the right thing to do. In her mind, it was a surprising new direction for their lives.

To be honest, I was surprised, too. Really surprised. Given what she had said all along about marriage, I had no idea she would even consider living with someone before walking down the aisle.

You might think, Whew, are you out of touch, Dave! OK, I am no longer a wide-eyed youth; but I am a Baby Boomer, I lived through the 1960s, and over the years I have talked with literally hundreds of couples. I certainly had clues about the trend but was surprised to discover just how common the to-live-together-or-not quandary had become.

What the Facts Reveal

Things have radically changed over the last 30 years. Before 1970, most couples married before they lived together. Today most couples live together before they marry. And now many couples who live together never even intend to marry. As shown below, the number of unmarried couples who live together is increasing at an alarming rate.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
Get more — Free! e-booklet — Les Parrott's Making Happy

–11 percent of couples lived together before marriage in 1970. –50 percent or more of couples lived together before marriage in These numbers are not surprising when you poll today’s teenagers. Although 90 percent of them say they believe in marriage, 74 percent say they would live with someone before marriage or instead of marriage. They say, “If things don’t work out, we can chalk it up to experience and move on. At least we will have learned something about ourselves and marriage.”

Are you ready for another big surprise? For the first time in sixty years of data collection, the United States Census Bureau found that the majority of firstborn children are now born out of wedlock. Back in the 1930s the figure was only 18 percent.

Today there are more than 1.4 million unmarried couples living together with children under the age of 15.  This number has been steadily rising since 1980.

Of these couples living together with children: –One-third have never been married. –One-half were previously married.

The way things were is no longer the way things are. Today it’s love first, then child-bearing and then marriage — maybe. How Religion Affects the Decision Perhaps the most surprising change among unmarried couples is found among those who claim to be religious or born-again. Now two, and sometimes three, out of every five couples who claim to be religious are living together unmarried.

While the percentage of couples living together is higher when the pair does not have strong religious beliefs, the gap is narrowing. What the Bottom Line Is Today more couples are living together than ever before. It does not matter whether or not they hold religious beliefs. Nor does it matter whether they have children or intend to marry someday. All kinds of people are living together before marriage.

When Rachel told me that morning at the gym that she was going to be moving in with her boyfriend, I asked her why they had made that decision.

While we halfheartedly continued our workouts, she talked about her reasons for moving in with her boyfriend. For the next 10 minutes, Rachel’s enthusiasm gushed out. She could hardly wait to make the move.

Today, one out of two couples cohabit before they say “I do.” Most who cohabit think they will get married — someday. But, for various reasons, they believe that it makes sense to live together first.

Even though there is no until-death-do-us-part commitment, living together before marriage is still a huge step. This big decision will impact the rest of their lives: regardless of whether they marry, they will never be the same.

Unfortunately, most couples do not take the time to research whether they are sure they should live together to find out whether they are sure about marriage.

Perhaps you are thinking about living with someone. You could be at the point in a relationship where you are considering marriage. Maybe you have a friend or family member who is struggling with this decision. Possibly you are already living with someone you hope to one day marry. Or it could be that you are living with someone you never plan to marry.

Whichever the circumstances of your life, I hope to help you sort through your feelings and the myriad opinions about what is best for you: living together before getting married, or getting married and then living together. From Before You Live Together, Copyright © 2003 by David Gudgel. Published by Regal Books, www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.