Can Marriage Education Mitigate the Risks Associated with Premarital Cohabitation?

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


This study tested whether relationship education (i.e., the Prevention and Relationship Education Program; PREP) can mitigate the risk of having cohabited before making a mutual commitment to marry (i.e., 'precommitment cohabitation') for marital distress and divorce. Using data from a study of PREP for married couples in the U.S. Army (N = 662 couples), we found that there was a significant association between precommitment cohabitation and lower marital satisfaction and dedication before random assignment to intervention. After intervention, this precommitment cohabitation effect was only apparent in the control group. Specifically, significant interactions between intervention condition and cohabitation history indicated that for the control group, but not the PREP group, precommitment cohabitation was associated with lower dedication as well as declines in marital satisfaction and increases in negative communication over time. Furthermore, those with precommitment cohabitation were more likely to divorce by the 2-year follow-up only in the control group; there were no differences in divorce based on premarital cohabitation history in the PREP group. These findings are discussed in light of current research on cohabitation and relationship education; potential implications are also considered.

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