If you live together before you get married, you are putting your future marriage in danger, so says recent studies on the exploding cultural practice of cohabitation.[i] The number of people living together before marriage has skyrocketed over the past 40 years, and it seems to be established as a “wise” first-step before marriage. George Barna noted that 60% of Americans believed that the best way to establish a successful marriage is to live together before marriage. With such a prevailing mindset, maybe you have given way in your thinking to the flow of the culture on this one? If that is the case, I want to reason with you concerning the danger and devastation of bypassing marriage for a live-in relationship.
Please don’t picture an angry moralizer as you read this appeal. I am writing as one who has seen many families live out the nightmare of marital failure, and when you consider the harmful effects that cohabitation has on the well-being of marriage and family, it should give great pause before jumping into such a relationship.
The Numbers Are In And They Are Not Good
In a very helpful article entitled “Cohabitation and the Bible,” Kerby Anderson noted a number of studies which give the following statistics:[ii]
*As many as 50% of Americans cohabit at one time or another prior to marriage.
*40% of cohabitating relationships involve children. Cohabitation was identified as especially harmful to children leading to behavior problems and lower academic performance due to the tenuous arrangement of the home relationship. In many instances, the child is not the result of the union of those living together which increases the instability of family life.
*66% of high school senior boys agreed or mostly agreed with the statement “it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along.” This mindset seems to have become conventional wisdom much like test driving a car before you buy one. Kerby Anderson aptly challenges this prevailing idea, “The problem with such questions is they dehumanize the other person. If I decide not to buy another car (or shoes), the car does not feel rejected. When you test drive your car, you don’t put your personal luggage in the trunk. And rejecting a car model doesn’t bring emotional baggage into the next test driving experience. The car doesn’t need counseling so that it can trust the next car driver. Test driving a car is only positive if you are the driver.”[iii] It is hard to minimize the damage of such thinking.
*Couples who live together are more likely to divorce than those who don’t. According to the Nation Survey of Families and Households, marriages which had prior cohabitors were 46% more likely to divorce than marriages of noncohabitors.
*Cohabiting couples are less happy and score lower on well-being indices, including sexual satisfaction.
*Cohabiting couples are often poorer than married couples.
These numbers represent a frightening development on the state of the family in our country. One of the chief reasons couples enter into cohabitation is to avoid the pain of their parent’s marital problems or divorce. Sadly, however, what actually happens with cohabitation is that the couple unwittingly makes themselves more vulnerable to the pain they are trying to avoid. The numbers are in regarding the effects of cohabitation, and they are not good. The institution of marriage has a proven track record as the route to go in our pursuit of a happy, fulfilling family life.
The Biblical Call to Honor Marriage
My appeal would be incomplete if I did not give the source for my conviction regarding marriage. My passion to honor marriage is driven not by the statistics above. My passion to honor marriage is theologically driven by the truth found in the Bible. We receive the most enduring and hope-filled admonition to honor marriage from the Scripture. Please don’t run when you are challenged to think biblically about the decisions of your life. In the Bible you will find vital teaching about many important things including marriage. We read in the opening chapters that marriage was God’s idea and that it was very good. Under God’s design marriage was ordained to be the very building block for every culture and civilization.[iv] Evidence of that purpose is seen in the enduring legacy of marriage for the last five thousand years of recorded history, and furthermore by the ongoing desire of men and women to come together as husband and wife.
God established marriage as an institution to be honored and upheld with our strongest support. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (13:4) We should be alert to any arrangement that would do harm to marriage. I believe the practice of cohabitation by implication dishonors marriage. In fact, Scripture clarifies that it is indeed sinful, calling it fornication, to live together outside the bonds of marriage.
With the prevailing cynicism toward moral absolutes, such a position is often dismissed as something belonging in Nathanael Hawthorne’s puritan New England. However, we don’t have to look far to see the fallout and the misery in relationships today. Can we honestly say that we see a surge of God’s blessing upon marriages? Can we really say God is blessing men and women who forsake the commitments of marriage for a live-in relationship? Can we say such things when those who do are 46% more likely to get a divorce than those who do not live together before marriage? I'm not saying that living together before you are married means that your marriage will fail, nor am I saying that those who go through traditional means of dating and/or courtship are guaranteed marital success. I am saying that by choosing to live together before you are married you are entering into an arrangement with no promise of God’s blessing… only His judgment.
My appeal is that when we forsake God’s design for marriage by embracing sinful practices we reap the bitter consequences, even if we do so with the sincerest motives.
A second Scripture I would mention is I Corinthians 6: 9-11:
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."
The Apostle Paul in addressing the troubled Corinthian congregation stated that the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a tension between that which has come in the Lord Jesus Christ and that which is yet to be under the rule of Christ in eternity. Paul identified certain sins that were indicators that a person would not inherit the promises of the Kingdom. He was not saying that those who were guilty of these sins had no chance of being forgiven and entering into heaven. For that is what Jesus came for. His grace is greater than all of our sin. He died on the cross to pay for the sins of sinners, and those who turn from sin to Christ alone know a sure promise of forgiveness and right standing with God.
The issue Paul is dealing with is in regard to those who claim to be believers in Christ and yet embrace an ongoing, habitual, unrepentant commitment to these sins. He mentions fornication among others. From this I am led to believe that any professing believer would be deceived to think that they were in right standing with God if at the same time they were living together with their boyfriend or girlfriend. What Paul is saying is that such behavior is not acceptable for those who name the Name of Christ as their Lord and Savior. When a true follower of Christ is confronted with sin in his or her life, the true believer will turn from it and renounce it.
Notice the power of his statement, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified (set apart), but you were justified (given right standing with God by faith) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 6:11) Later on in this same chapter, we read, “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Cor. 6:18-20) Within the Corinthian Church were those who were fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, etc. That is what they were, but they turned by God’s grace and pressed on in their lives in obedience to Christ.
God’s design and command from the very beginning is that marriage was for one man with one woman, and that the covenant of that marriage was until death brought an end to it. You will look in vain to find any biblical support for living together before you are married. As you consider marriage in your heart and in your life, would you honor it? Would you honor it by saving yourself for the man or woman God has for you? Would you honor it by acknowledging Christ as the true builder of every marriage and home? To bypass God's design of marriage for a cohabiting relationship is a bad move. Consider the call to honor marriage, and you will align yourself with the means God has established to bring joy and fulfillment in your pursuit of family life.
[i] David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage,” The National Marriage Project, the Next Generation Series, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, January 1999.
[ii] Kerby Anderson, “Cohabitation and the Bible,” articles.pointofview.net/Docs/Cohabitation/
In this article, Anderson made reference to recent studies on the impact of cohabitation on marriage and the family. Some of the references include: U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P20-537; America’s Families and Living Arrangements: March 2000 and earlier reports; Larry L. Bumpass, James A Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, “The Role of Cohabitation in the Declining Rates of Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991), 914.; George Barna, The Future of the American Family (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 131.;
[iv] Genesis 2:18-25.