Cohabitation might not be out of the ordinary in countries around the world, but this isn't quite the case in Arab nations.

To many in the region, a couple living together outside of marriage is deemed "living in sin," accused of going against tradition and religion. 

Even though in recent years, an increasing number of Arab couples have been making the decision to live together without marrying, the issue is still controversial, and also in many places illegal

We spoke to four couples who lived through the experience in countries including the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. 

Here's what they had to say: 

Haytham and Rana (Egypt)

"I am pro-cohabitation before marriage because it allows partners to realize whether they're serious about marriage or not. But, unfortunately, it's haram (unacceptable). 

"When we first moved in together, things were extremely difficult. Even our closest friends asked why we just didn't get married instead, but honestly we just weren't ready for that," Haytham told StepFeed. 

"I personally felt like I needed to experience this with Haytham before I could even think of marrying him," Rana added. 

The young Egyptian couple's personal decision to move in together two years back didn't come easy. They've both faced backlash over it and have yet to tell their parents about their current living arrangement.  

"We’ve both been accused of going against our religion and being bad Muslims. Many friends keep telling us: 'What you're doing is haram (unacceptable),'" Haytham said. 

"I see nothing wrong with it though. We love and respect each other and know we'll eventually get married sometime in the future. For now though, we're happy with the way things are," he added. 

When asked about the main struggles they've faced since moving in together, Haytham said: 

"As a couple everything is going great, but having to face society every single day is an ongoing struggle. Cohabitation is simply not accepted in Egyptian society. Our neighbors give us looks and we always worry that someone might report us to authorities."

Under Egyptian law, women found to be having "illicit relationships" with men face up to two years in jail. However, there's no legal article that criminalizes single men who commit the same "offense." Therefore, if the couple is reported to authorities, Egyptian law would only target Rana.

"The way both the Egyptian legal system and society treat women who choose to live with a partner before marriage is completely different to the way they treat men who do the same. To so many people here, it's permissible for a man to do whatever he wants. Sex outside of marriage, going out with girls, staying out late, you name it. But, for women, things are completely different. We're constantly judged and stigmatized for our choices. It takes so much more to stand up and do what you believe in when you're a woman here," Rana explained. 

Leila and Basem (Lebanon)

Speaking to StepFeed, Leila and Basem, an unmarried Lebanese couple who have lived together for the past four years, also shared their experience.

"We decided to move in together around 4 years back. It wasn’t a decision to really move in together. I just started spending more time at her place and she was doing the same at mine. It felt like the right moment to take a step forward in our relationship," Basem said. 

"We honestly didn't think of the legality of our situation at first.  And since we're both agnostic, religion was never an issue," Leila added. 

When asked how friends and family reacted to their moving in together, Leila said:

"We were very honest with both our families right from the start. It was difficult for both our parents at first, they are after all products of a different era. Even though they seem to have accepted it now, they still don't get too excited when we tell extended family members that we're living together. This says a lot about how our society views cohabitation in general, it's something that many still think is shameful."

Even though cohabitation before marriage isn't technically illegal in Lebanon, existing laws that govern it are based on an individual's sect. 

This is because each of the country's 18 religious sects has distinct personal status laws governing marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance, and even child marriage.

"We asked around at first and realized that no one had solid information about cohabitation in Lebanon. Some people told us it's illegal, but then it turned out that it wasn't. It's just simply frowned upon by all major religious sects," Basem explained. 

"The fact that cohabitation isn't illegal in Lebanon doesn't mean we won't face major problems if we decide to start a family outside of marriage. If we do have a child at this point, it would be considered illegitimate," he added. 

Annie and Jad (Saudi Arabia)

Annie, who's Moroccan, moved to Saudi Arabia along with her Lebanese partner, Jad, in 2015. 

Shortly after we spoke to the couple, they moved to work in France and now share an apartment in Lyon. 

Speaking to StepFeed while still living in the kingdom, the duo shared details of an experience that put them at risk of being jailed. 

"It's absolutely illegal for unmarried couples to live under one roof here [Saudi Arabia], so we had to rent out two separate apartments and live in one. There was no other option for us," Annie said. 

"It isn't easy and we're constantly stressed out about it. You worry about someone reporting you to authorities, because the consequences can be severe," Jad explained.  

When asked how they made the bold choice to move in together in the ultra-conservative kingdom, Annie said: 

"When we moved here, we'd been living together for over 5 years and didn't see a need to change a lifestyle we're completely comfortable with. We've come to know so many other unmarried couples who live like this in Saudi. It's mostly in compounds, but it does exist." 

What’s absurd to me is that we have to do this behind everyone’s back when it's really none of anyone's business what we do with our lives. As long as we’re not harming anyone with our actions, I don’t get why this is a problem," she added. 

"We knew there would be risks, but we're managing fine so far. As long as you know someone who can help you out and cover for you, cohabitation can work out here," she went on. 

Reem and Omar (UAE)

Cohabitation is strictly illegal in Dubai and across the UAE. However, many unmarried couples who live in the country still choose to move in together. 

These include Australian-Lebanese couple Reem and Omar, who have been living together for over a year. 

Speaking to StepFeed, Reem said:

"We were told this was illegal in Dubai, but we were already living together before we moved here and just felt that any other living arrangement wouldn't really work for us. We did ask lawyers, all of whom advised us against taking the risk, but after asking several friends who had been living here before, we eventually decided to go ahead with sharing an apartment." 

When asked how they got around the logistics and paperwork in a country that bans such a living arrangement, Reem explained: 

"The company we work for provides accommodation for us both. I was given an apartment and Omar was given another. We've basically made the best of this and live at his place. I go back and forth to my place every now and then."

"Before we arrived in Dubai, I was shocked to learn that it's illegal for unmarried couples to live together here. I mean, this is a very personal decision and has no effect on anyone other than the couple choosing to go ahead with it. However, after I arrived in Dubai, I got to know this society better and now understand their perspective on cohabitation. Regardless, I still think that every person should have the right to freely choose how they want to live."