Live-in relationships (also known as cohabitation) involve two unmarried partners living in an intimate sexual union, sharing the same household for a sustained period of time. Over the years, live-in relationships have been on the rise, in a way changing the normative family or household structure.
It is in some way inevitable that live-in relationships are often compared to marital relationships, as both involve two people living together and having a sexual relationship. Live-in relationships, although, are always viewed as a step of breaking away from the traditional concept of marriage.
The comparison of live-in relationships with marriage, initially favored marital relationships. Initial research suggested marriage to be better with respect to relationship quality, commitment, and wellbeing. Further, earlier, live-in relationships were often dismissed as non-serious and casual, when compared to marriage.
Later research, however, gave different results. It indicated that live-in relationships tend to be better in terms of individual wellbeing, as it involves equal distribution of household labor, egalitarianism, and less rigidity in terms of exertion of norms. There is still little agreement when it comes to which type of relationship is better, but in recent times there have been more of mixed results.
One of the major reasons for these mixed results is that a lot of research indicates that live-in relationships cannot be considered as a single theoretical framework and that all live-in relationships do not share similar attributes. Live-in relationships are not a homogenous group; there are many variations within live-in relationships. Viewing live-in relationships as a single construct is too simplistic of a way in understanding them. Live-in relationships are complex, vague, and fuzzy; they are anything but simplistic.
Psychologists and sociologists through their extensive research have found typologies of live-in relationships. These typologies give a good indication of the complexity and fuzziness of live-in relationships, and clearly show that live-in relationships cannot be viewed as a homogenous and single construct.
Initially, it was suggested that live-in relationships can be divided into two broad categories of prelude to marriage and alternative to marriage. Although a simplistic view of live-in relationships, unlike earlier perspectives, it does not view live-in relationships as a single conception.
Live-in relationship as a prelude to marriage suggests that some people see living together as a testing ground for their relationship, and see how it goes forward. They eventually have a plan to marry, but would like to see how things work out, before taking the final decision.
As an alternative to marriage, live-in relationships are viewed as a choice that is different from marriage. People in such a relationship, either do not want to get married or do not even believe in the idea of marriage. They have the belief that to be together they do not need to get married.
Later, live-in relationships have not been restricted to just two types. Research has indicated further types in terms how serious the individuals are in the relationship. This may range from whether they are casually involved and are living together, without thinking much about the future and the course of the relationship or if they are seriously committed, but have not yet thought about getting married.  

Moving along with the idea of not having a simplistic typology, Casper and Bianchi describe four different types of live-in relationships - (1) alternative to marriage, (2) precursor to marriage, (3) trial marriage, and (4) coresidential dating.
As an alternative to marriage, the partners are not thinking about getting married and may have no intention of getting married. They just want to live together. As a precursor to marriage, the partners are living together with an expectation to get married some time in the future.
In trial marriage, the partners want to see if they are good enough to get married. They are not sure about their compatibility, and not sure if they really do want to get married. By living together, they are testing their relationship and trying to find out if they are suitable to get married with each other. Coresidential dating is like a serious dating relationship in which the couple lives together, without any intention or expectation to get married. They find living together to be convenient, instead of living apart.
This typology breaks the myth of live-in relationships being non-serious, casual, and may not last long. According to this typology, live-in relationships can vary in terms of expected long-term duration, with alternative to marriage and precursor to marriage being expected to be more long lasting than the other types.   

Heuvaline and Timberlake gave more variations in types of live-in relationships. They suggested that live-in relationships vary on the basis of how much it is institutionalized as family formation within the region/culture in which the partners are living together. Through their research in different countries, they concluded that live-in relationships can be divided into six types. Based on their research, they suggested that depending on the country or culture in which the partners are living, live-in relationships can be seen as (1) marginal, (2) prelude to marriage, (3) stage in the marriage process, (4) alternative to singlehood, (5) alternative to marriage, and (6) indistinguishable to marriage.
When live-in relationships are viewed as completely inappropriate with respect to the culture of a place and it is not institutionalized as a way family formation then it is categorized as marginal. Due to this, very few people are involved in live-in relationships, because they feel that they will be looked down upon and will be heavily criticized. In such instances giving birth to children becomes very rare.
In prelude to marriage, live-in relationships are seen as a testing ground for marriage. People indulge in such a relationship if it is culturally supportive and if there is access to affordable housing. If the relationship continues for some time, especially after giving birth to children, and then norms are not very supportive, then they are expected to get married or end the relationship.
In cases where partners in a live-in relationship decide to have a child but are not concerned about the timing and order of marriage and childbearing, live-in relationships are seen as a stage in the process of marriage. They eventually get married when they realize that there are institutional incentives to have children within marriage, and that their culture may not approve of having children out of wedlock.
Live-in relationships are seen as an alternative to singlehood, when partners want to postpone forming a family and at the same time do not want to live separately. The partners feel that they are too young or that it is too early to seriously consider being married, and prefer to live together, with no immediate intention to get married. This also depends on having increased access to affordable housing.
Partners often consider a live-in relationship as an alternative to marriage. Depending on greater cultural approval and institutional support for having children out of wedlock, partners feel that it is better to remain unmarried and still form a family just like a married couple. Perhaps they do not believe in the concept of marriage and feel that they do not need to get married to live together.
In indistinguishable from marriage, partners are indifferent to marriage because there is a high cultural approval for live-in relationships. There is a high level of acceptability for living together, without marriage, and there is also institutional support for having children out of wedlock. In such cases, live-in relationships are not viewed as something antithetical or like an alternative lifestyle. It is simply a way of living that is embedded in the culture. Partners may get married later on, but even if they do not get married, it is not culturally frowned upon, as they can live like married couples, without wanting or thinking of getting married.
This typology again indicates that live-in relationships have nothing to do with being a casual, frivolous relationship. People who are serious in their relationship and give value to their partner can also be involved in a live-in relationship. The typology gives a lot of emphasis on institutionalization and cultural norms in determining the number of people getting involved in a live-in relationship. Depending on that, partners may remain in a live-in relationship or end up getting married.
More recently, Hiekel, Liefbroer, and Portman, on the basis of their research, described five types of live-in relationships. These five types are grouped in two broad categories – live-in relationship as a stage in the marriage process and live-in relationship as an alternative to marriage.
Live-in relationships as a stage in the marriage process includes four subtypes - prelude to marriage, trial marriage, and living together for economic reasons. Prelude to marriage is a form of engagement. The partners have a firm intention to get married; they see moving in together as the last phase before marriage.
Trial marriage is somewhat similar to prelude to marriage. The difference between the two is that in trial marriage, the partners are not yet sure about getting married. They view living together as a test or an evaluation of their relationship.
Living together for economic reasons, the third subtype within this category suggests that the partners want to get married, but cannot afford it. It is the economic concerns that make them take the decision to be in a live-in relationship. They intend to marry once their economic conditions become better.
Live-in relationship as an alternative to marriage includes two subtypes. First, the partners decide to be in a live-in relationship because they feel that marriage is an outdated concept/institution. They have an ideological refusal of marriage. In this, the partners are in stable, long-term relationships, they believe in personal autonomy, and are liberal towards gender roles and division of labor.
Second, the partners do not feel the need to get married; they do not view marriage as relevant. Unlike, the first subtype, the partners do not have an ideological refusal about marriage; they just do not view it as important. They feel that getting married will not make any difference to their relationship.
This typology also breaks the myth that live-in relationships cannot be long-lasting and are just casual relationships. The typology gives further variations of the initial broad categorization of live-in relationship (prelude to marriage or alternative to marriage). According to this typology, as well, live-in relationships can be serious and long lasting relationships. This is clearly reflected, especially, in the subtypes of prelude to marriage, living together for economic reasons, viewing marriage as outdated, and not viewing marriage as relevant.

Apart from the aforementioned typologies, another subtype of live-in relationships known as part-time live-in relationships has emerged. In this, the partners are in a serious relationship but due to some reason like work or staying at different cities, they do not always live together and share the same household. They are live separate, individual lives, and live together only during weekends or holidays or vacations. After that, they get back to their individual life and then get back together whenever they get the opportunity.  

Live-in relationships are often construed as frivolous, non-committal relationships that have little chance to be long lasting. This, however, has been found to be a big misconception and a highly simplistic view about live-in relationships. Research by psychologists and sociologists indicate there are many variations in live-in relationships.
These variations have led to the development of many typologies of live-in relationships. The typologies not only suggest that live-in relationships cannot be viewed as homogenous and a single construct, but depending on the typology, they can be relationships that are long lasting, highly committed, have high relationship quality, and associated with high levels of wellbeing.       

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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