Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cohabitation is Not Practice for Marriage

Some people think that you have to know everything about someone and try them out (including in bed) before making a marriage commitment. They think it’s safer, more loving, and more practical to live together before marriage. After all, knowing the other person intimately beforehand should make sure you don’t get any unpleasant surprises after the wedding, right? However, a closer examination shows that it doesn’t really work that way. Aside from the fact that cohabitation (i.e. an unmarried couple living together) is morally wrong, there are a number of practical reasons that it doesn’t lead to safer, more secure, and more loving marriages.
Some say that cohabitation is practice for marriage, but this does not hold up logically or observationally. Studies have shown that  cohabiting couples are actually less likely to marry than those who do not. Even if they do marry, they are more likely to have marriage problems and more likely to divorce. This is simply a natural result because the nature of cohabitation is dramatically different from that of marriage. In reality, cohabitation is the antithesis of marriage.
Commitment is the very essence of marriage. Many types of relationships contain elements in common with marriage, including companionship, sharing of living space and/or finances, and sexual expression, but only marriage is based on a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman. Because cohabitation is not a committed relationship, it cannot be practice for marriage. There is no way to practice making a commitment. You either make a commitment or you do not. Because cohabitation includes many of the elements of marriage without the essential one, it instead makes a mockery of marriage. It is a cruel parody that places the supposed lovers in the position of exposing themselves to each other without the supporting framework of commitment that a sexually intimate relationship was meant to have.
Marriage is meant to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman in which they physically, spiritually, and emotionally bond to become one. This bonding of the entire self only works properly when all other options are permanently rejected. It is the nature of erotic love to include only two people. Each person has only one self and can only give that self wholly to one other. In order to bind oneself so tightly to another, it is necessary to forego binding in that way with any other at any time. Thus true love requires commitment. Cohabitation is not a loving relationship because it does not permanently exclude all others. When two people are  cohabiting before marriage, they are putting off commitment because they are waiting to see if anything better comes along.  Cohabiting couples want to have their cake and eat it too. They want sex and companionship now, but with the easy option to get out when things get tough. A person who is “keeping their options open” is not exhibiting love.
Marriage is designed to be a safe and loving environment for the sharing of self. When two people commit to each other before sexual intimacy, they affirm that their love for the other person is not contingent on bedroom performance (or anything else). True love says “I love you, whatever the cost may be, no matter what I may find out about you in the future, and nothing you do will ever change that.” When two people who have remained sexually pure commit to one another in marriage, they show the ultimate expression of love. They commit to one another without reservation, without exception clauses, without knowing everything, but having decided that whatever they may learn will not induce them to reject the other person. It takes courage and sacrifice to love like that. But anything less than full commitment is not true love.

Conversely, cohabitation before marriage is not an environment that builds love and trust. Cohabitation, as a “trial period,” says to the other that they better measure up or else. It is an inherently selfish relationship that objectifies the other person. The emphasis in cohabitation is on getting what you want out of the relationship, which is the exact opposite of the emphasis in marriage, which is giving of yourself for the good of the other person. What is loving about taking pleasure in another’s body with the understanding that you may simply walk away if they don’t please you enough?  Cohabiting couples end up evaluating each other’s merits rather than giving of themselves. Their relationship is based on scrutiny rather than acceptance. Such an environment is not likely to build a healthy and lasting relationship.
Cohabitation before marriage also takes the joy of discovery out of the first part of marriage. The first few months of marriage are meant to have a lot of surprises. The newlyweds should have fun finding out what the other likes and how to please one another in an environment of mutual trust and commitment. There should be an air of excitement as they try new things together for the first time. Experiencing new and intimate things with the other person under the umbrella of a marriage commitment takes much of the performance pressure off and is crucial in building a strong and lasting bond between them. It allows both partners to be themselves without fear of rejection since the other person has already committed to them for life. On the other hand, marriage between two people who have cohabited has no spark of excitement, no thrill of discovery, nothing new to learn. The wedding, meant to be a new beginning, becomes a mere formality. How is their wedding night different from any other? She knows how he snores. He knows what her hair looks like in the morning. They’ve already done it all. It’s just official now. Cohabitation before marriage robs marriage of much of the excitement it was meant to have.
In so many ways, cohabitation is sorely lacking as an alternative or precursor to marriage. It shows superficial similarities to marriage, but on closer examination, they are dissimilar in every way that matters. Cohabitation is not practice for marriage and does not build the type of relationship that leads to a successful marriage. It is a cheap counterfeit that should not be peddled as a valid step in building a strong relationship.
So, for those of you who may be contemplating moving in with your girlfriend or boyfriend, please don't. Wait for marriage. It's well worth the wait.

10 comments:

  1. I really like your line that there is no practice for commitment, you either do it or you don't. Absolutely! I think cohabitation before marriage is kind of a weird idea in general just because statistics show it doesn't really work and yet people seem to swear by it. I just try to remember that just because my beliefs are what they are doesn't mean that everyone believes as I do, especially people who aren't Christians. I can't expect people who don't believe the way I do to act the way I do, you know? But we can always present facts and encourage kindly and I think you do a great job of that.

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    1. Thanks for the comments Katie. You're right that we can't expect non-Christians to understand or agree with Biblical principles. The interesting thing is that the Christian worldview usually makes sense even without appealing to Christian morality. In other words, God tell us not to do certain things and when we study those bad behaviors, we find that they are really harmful to us anyway. His word and His design for our lives go hand in hand.

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  2. Oh, this is the best treatise on marriage vs. cohabitation I have ever read! Bravo!!! And Amen to all of it. Thank you for sharing on NOBH!

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    1. Thanks Diane! Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. Unfortunately, our society has really embraced the idea of free love. You've pointed out the many solid reasons why cohabiting is a bad idea and actually erodes the chance of a life-long and healthy marriage. Thanks for voicing an often controversial message, Lindsey, especially since it's one that needs to be voiced over and over until our society listens!

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  4. Our culture has done a very successful job of marketing cohabitation as a great thing, but you nailed it: It is a cheap counterfeit, indeed.

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  5. Fantastic article on why living together before marriage just does not pay off!

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  6. As a non-religious person I really appreciate this article. There is a lot of protection, security and freedom to be found in marriage that I don't believe you get with cohabitation. I was Christian at the time my husband and I dated and therefore we did not live together or have sex before marriage, and I still look at that as the best choice and don't "regret" it at all, even if my perspectives on a variety of other issues have changed.
    I also want to say I really hope that this article simply speaks to people, and plants seeds, and they don't feel the need to come hate on you. Because some very provocative and inflammatory things were said and I just really hope you come out on the other side without your feelings hurt. People on the internet can be outrageous to say the least, I just know it's being shared already and I just urge you to stay strong and carry on.

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  7. Thank you.....my bf wants me to move in and doesn't quite get what I am trying to say ......that I don't believe in it for all the reasons you mentioned. He tells me that he wants me to move in because he's lonely and because he loves me also, but I believe, in my heart, that living together is unhealthy........it just doesn't feel right.

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    1. Good for you for sticking to what you believe. Don't give in.

      To your boyfriend, I say:

      If you love her, really love her (not just wanting her body), you will not pressure her to do what she believes to be wrong. If you love her, you will not try to live with her before marriage because that puts your relationship at a much greater risk of falling apart. Doing what is wrong together will seem to bring you together temporarily, but in the end will only pull you apart. And, lastly, if you love her, you will wait for her and you will commit yourself to her for a lifetime in marriage before living with her. If you don't do these things, you don't really love her, and she is better off without you.

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