Cohabitation for Idiots
OK, I can hear what you’re thinking. This is an opinion section in the Christian Standard, and you’re going to try convinciing me that living together before marriage is a bad idea. Why don’t you stop wasting my time and tell me why I’m right to believe it’s a sin for women to serve Communion?
Well, because I’m not and you’re wrong, but that’s just my opinion and not the point of this opinion piece.
And anyway, I’m the one who was asked to write an opinion article about something I care about and I want to write about cohabitation, which I’m a lot more excited about than what I was previously going to try to write about, which was an article about why we don’t use hymnbooks at Journey Christian Church (where I am the lead minister), which I realized was quite simple to answer: because we don’t want to—and by “we” I mean those in the leadership team who lose sleep over reaching lost people.
So, that’s that, and now I really do want to try to convince you that living together before marriage is a bad idea—and by “you” I mean “you members of the Christian church,” because according to a survey on my blog,1 which more than 1,600 of you answered, the majority of you Christian church people who took my survey (40 percent) believe it’s OK to live together before marriage.2
I do a ton of marriage counseling. Currently I’m working with about a dozen couples from all over the country. In the past 21 years of ministry I’ve worked with hundreds of couples, with most of it being—what I would call—“crisis marriage counseling” with couples who are having huge problems that are directly connected to the fact that they cohabitated before their wedding day.
So, let me “waste” a few moments of your precious time and share why I think cohabitation is an idiotic thing to do.
Bad Stuff—Like Sin
Cohabitation makes it easy for bad stuff to move into a relationship.
Stuff like sin.
Cohabitation is not a sin, but it makes it easy for sin to occur.
Just like every prisoner is innocent, almost every cohabitating couple I counsel is not having sex. They’re like the young man who denied to his visiting mother that he and his live-in girlfriend were sleeping together. His mother had her doubts, but kept them to herself as she went home that evening. A week later her son wrote her this e-mail, “Mom, I’m not accusing you of anything, but we’ve not been able to find our remote control ever since your visit.” To which his mom replied, “Son, I’m not accusing you of anything, but if your girlfriend was sleeping in her own bed you would have found your remote by now.”
I have my doubts, too.
Regardless of whether or not they are engaging in premarital sex, I rarely meet cohabitating Christian couples who are proud of their living situation. Trust me, there are two groups of people to whom Christian couples don’t like to admit they are living together before marriage: preachers and grandmas. Why? Because, especially if they are Christians, they know—for reasons they can’t quite explain—they are doing something wrong.
When I meet a young Christian couple living together before marriage, I see good people who have put themselves in a bad position.
As Christians we are to “avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and we’re to avoid things that make our brothers and sisters in Christ “stumble” (1 Corinthians 10:32), and we’re definitely not supposed to be having sex with someone to whom we’re not married.3
Yes, cohabitation is not sinful, but it looks bad, causes Christian observers to stumble, and—from my experience as a counselor—makes being good really hard to do.
Bad Stuff—Like Insecurity
The Bible teaches that marriage is a covenantal relationship in which God unites a man and a woman so they are as one person.4 Covenants serve to bring stability and security to society and relationships.
Couples who are living together before marriage have, what I call, “convenient love,” not covenant love. Convenient love breeds, among other things, insecurity and instability. Convenient love and covenant love are not the same thing. The chart on this page details the differences.
Those who support living together before marriage preach that it’s the best way to prepare for their future marriage because, while cohabitating, they learn whether or not they actually can stand living together. Well, that’s no fun and it’s definitely not covenant love.
My wife and I were virgins who had never lived with anyone of the opposite sex (besides siblings of course) before our wedding day, so we had no idea whether or not we were going to be able to stand living with each other, but . . . it didn’t matter.
I didn’t know she didn’t like taking out the trash.
She didn’t know that I like griping about her not taking out the trash.
I didn’t know she was serious when she said she wanted to have a cat.
She didn’t know I was serious when I said I think cats are what people are given when they arrive in Hell. “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your cat.”
I didn’t know she slurps while eating her cereal and she didn’t know I burp after eating mine, but that’s what makes marriage fun. Not the slurping and burping, but the adventure of learning to live with and love each other.
It was pure adventure and it was a pure adventure, so it was so much fun. Everything was a new experience to us both as a couple and individuals. Experiencing all of these new experiences together bonded us in a powerful way.
Convenient love (i.e., cohabitation) doesn’t make marriage more secure, but more insecure. Did you know that 40 percent of couples who live together will end their relationships before marriage?5 Did you know that couples who live together before marriage have higher separation and divorce rates? The Journal of Marriage and Family reported marriages that are preceded by living together have 50 percent higher disruption rates than marriages without premarital cohabitation.6 Researchers from Yale University, Columbia University, and the Institute for Resource Development at Westinghouse revealed the divorce rates of women who cohabit are nearly 80 percent higher than the rates of those who do not.7
Which is all to say, I think cohabitation is an idiotic way to start a marriage and I’m pretty sure there’s a good hymn to support my opinion, but I can’t seem to find a hymnbook at church with which to verify that point, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. And by “my” word, I really mean you should take “my” word: the word of a preacher who does a ton of marriage counseling and would prefer to do much less of it.
2According to a survey on this post which has been viewed by more than 24,000 readers: http://mylordandmyblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/seven-reasons-why-living-together-before-marriage-is-not-a-good-idea/.
3Exodus 20:14; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; and Jude 7.
4Malachi 2:14 and Matthew 19:6.
5Larry L. Bumpass, James A. Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, “The Role of Cohabitation in Declining Rates Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53, 1991, 913-927.
7Neil Bennett, et al., “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability,” American Sociological Review 53, 1988, 127-138.
Arron Chambers, minister with Journey Christian Church, Greeley, Colorado, is a Christian Standard contributing editor. His book Eats With Sinners, from Standard Publishing, was named as one of Outreach magazine’s outstanding resources of the year.