Why Shouldn’t Couples Live Together Before They Are Married?

RESPONSE: The most obvious reason to not live together from a Christian perspective, is that you can’t live together without sleeping together and God reserves sexual intimacy for the committed oneness of marriage. I address the specific issue of why and where in the bible God reserves sex for marriage here.

Regarding the specific reasons for not living together, the case is a strong (if the goal is lasting marriages) even putting the “fornication” issue aside. Cohabitation is a big deal these days – the national rate is literally sky rocketing. In fact, some family experts were getting excited to see that the divorce rate seemed to be dropping quickly a few years ago. Then they found out that the reason the divorce rate was dropping was not because people were more committed to their unions. The reason was that people were simply delaying marriage, and opting to live together instead.

But contrary to popular myth, this does not help a couple prepare for a life of marriage. Instead, these cohabiting couples break up MORE frequently than married couples, yet they often share assets, homes and even children. Thus their breaks up are every bit as heart wrenching and damaging to themselves, others and society as a divorce, but it just doesn’t show up in the divorcee stats, because technically they weren’t married.

Let’s look at the common wisdom which says, “you wouldn’t buy a car without first taking it for a test drive, right?” This has a ring of truth, but the facts don’t bear it out. The reason, is simply because you cannot “practice” commitment.  Marriage is not a car, it’s not a product you can “test” because at the heart is not services you consume, it is a promise you fulfill.  In fact, a consumerist view of marriage is very much at the root of marriage breakdown, since it puts the emphasis in marriage on what I get out of it.  The Biblical picture is the opposite: the emphasis is on what you put into it.

Think about the ironic contradiction of a trial marriage where you are specifically and intentionally NOT committed, and yet you are trying to practice commitment.  Like all married couples, a cohabiting couple does not call off the “trial” when they reach a problem.  They try to work these through.  Despite not being legally ‘committed’ to each other, they practice ‘commitment’ by sticking it out despite the flaws that are uncovered.  So they are truly pretending to be married in every way, EXCEPT for the ACTUAL commitment part. They always have the escape hatch.

And that “hand on the door” nature of the relationship may explain in part why in a majority of cohabiting relationships, after a few years, the trial marriage turns out to be a trial divorce.  These are break ups every bit as awful as a real divorce emotionally, financially and relationally. Turns out, this wasn’t a test drive at all. Test drives don’t hurt like hell!  Cohabitation often does because it throws much greater insecurity into the normal ebbs and flows and conflicts of marriage. Christian courtship without cohabitation can end without soul rocking, life long consequences. Couples might think this potential cost worth paying if the ‘test drive’ increases the chance of an eventual marriage lasting and being happy. But it does not, as several studies have graphically shown.

What these stats prove, is that there is nothing to be discovered or proven during living together that magically increases the soundness or longevity of marriages. In fact, ironically, no matter how long a couple lives together, marriage often alters a relational dynamic in a way that cannot be tested in advance.

Testing sexual compatibility is seen as a critical reason for premarital sex and cohabitation. But this is an idea borne of an age were people expect to have a dozen or more sex partners in their lifetimes. In that kind of a world, comparisons about sex are terribly important to a relationship. But if a person has a monogamy mind set, then the only really important thing about sexual compatibility that needs to be known before marriage is fundamental attraction. If the attraction is there (and this can be known easily without sex) then everything else necessary to great sex is simply mechanics and selfless attitude. These can be LEARNED.

In fact, these are best learned not by firing through sex partners, but in an stable, exclusive environment where I’m not comparing my partner to 5 past lovers to see if I can be compatible with that person for a lifetime. And let’s be honest: one could be a great and selfless lover, but their partner’s past with multiple sex partners sets them up to be dissatisfied with the one great lover, simply because it’s ONE lover and not a variety of lovers!  Couples who cite sexual incompatibility as reason for their break up may often mean, “incompatibility with monogamy.”

This exposes the contradictory expectations that most cohabiting couples are not willing to admit to each other.  Rather than a “test drive”, what cohabitation is really offering to the woman and the man is something quite different and may be mutually exclusive.  The man is promised more regular sex without having to bother with altering his long term plans.  The woman is promised a step towards a real marriage which she may never get.

What we’re finding is simply this:  real commitment again is the key to long term happiness and fulfillment, not a “trial run”. Whatever needs to be “test driven” before you “buy” can be tested easily and best without cohabitation and even without premarital sex.

If the goal is a marriage that lasts, not only God’s Word, but also the best data shows that cohabitation is not the way to go.  You might have heard new studies said this was not the case, but after analysis by Jessica Cohen, the latest reports again indicate: “premarital cohabitation was not linked to marital stability for women or men