Why should or shouldn`t couples live together before they are married? People (even Christian friends) have made it sound like it`s perfectly acceptable to do this. I won`t do this, but I`m not sure what the reasons are.
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: Is it Permissible for Christians to Engage in Premarital Sex?
LIVING TOGETHER ON THE RISE
Regarding the specific reasons for not living together, the case is a strong one even putting the fornication issue aside. Cohabitation is a big deal these days because cohabitation is literally skyrocketing. In fact, some family experts were getting excited to see that the divorce rate seemed to be quickly dropping 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 cohabitating 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.
EXAMINGING THE “TEST DRIVE BEFORE PURCHASE” WISDOM
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. Yes, there are things you might discover during cohabitation that you didn’t know before. But just like a married couple, a cohabiting couple tries to work through these. They try to be ‘committed’ to each other 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. They don’t use it right away when trouble comes because they are “practicing” commitment, but in actuality they are not REALLY committed.
So after a few years (that’s generally how long couples cohabit before marriage) the trial marriage turns out to be a trial divorce; a break up 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. Normal courtship without cohabitation can end without soul rocking, lifelong consequences. Couples might think this 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 (see below).
MARRIAGE ALTERS RELATIONAL DYNAMICS
What that means, 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 COMPATIBILITIY
Testing sexual compatibility is seen as a critical reason for premarital sex and cohabitation. But this is an idea borne of an age where 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 attraction is there (and this can be known easily without sex) then everything else necessary to great sexual intimacy is simply the development of emotional intimacy, along with some mechanics and technique. These can be LEARNED. In fact, these are best learned not by firing through sex partners, but in an environment where I’m not comparing my partner to 5 past lovers to see if I can be compatible with them for a lifetime.
Not to mention the development of emotional intimacy so necessary to great sex is ironically CUT OFF by premature premarital sexual activity, which short circuits emotional bonding. How so? By covering over conflicts with easy and powerful sexual experiences. This means resolution skills, communication skills and truly in-depth knowing never has to happen. Until when? Until actual marriage, when sex is no longer powerful enough to cover up the lack of emotional and spiritual intimacy never developed beforehand. And this may be one of the reasons cohabitating couples do worse as marrieds than others.
INCOMPATIBILITY WITH MONOGAMY
A final observation about the “all-important” need to determine sexual compatibility. One could be a truly selfless and generous lover, but if their partner has a past with multiple sex partners, they may be dissatisfied with this selfless and generous current lover, simply because it’s only ONE lover! Singles who cite fears of sexual incompatibility as reason for cohabiting before marriage may often mean, “incompatibility with monogamy.” In these scenarios, test driving sex is a smoke screen to avoid the perceived buzz kill of exclusivity and commitment. Here too, 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 if you want a happy, lasting marriage. here’s one of many articles you can read on the subject:
STUDIES: COHABITING NOT LINKED TO MARRIAGE SUCCESS
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“
Another article making the same point from a faith perspective:
The Myth of Cohabitation: Cohabiting couples lack both specialization and commitment in their relationships. | America Magazine