Curt Grice, Associate Pastor of Educational Ministries
Prior to the 1970s, it was rare for an unmarried man and woman to live together. Today, it’s a common “next step” for couples before committing to marriage. Many people assume that “living together” will help guarantee compatibility and avoid a painful divorce later on. Sadly, the statistical evidence refutes this logic.
Over 75% of young single adults list marriage as a significant life goal. However, couples who “move in” together actually decrease the likelihood of creating a strong marriage. The divorce rate among those who live together before marriage is 50% higher than it is among couples who don’t.
Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Galena Rhoades are part of a team at the Center for Marital and Family Studies (University of Denver) who have spent nearly two decades studying marriage. A specific area of interest has been the effects of cohabitation on marriage and the different ways that men and women view living together. Men are more likely than women to endorse moving in with each other as a way to “test” things out. Men are also more likely to report feeling “trapped” in a cohabitation relationship.
Extensive research reveals that couples who live together undermine a strong bond by trying to keep their options open. While many of these couples eventually slide into marriage, their relationships demonstrate the lowest marital satisfaction and survival rates. They also report higher rates of domestic violence and unfaithfulness.
When a cohabiting woman becomes pregnant, there is a high probability the man will end the relationship within 2 years. Three-quarters of children born to unmarried couples will see their parents split-up before the child turns 16. These children are also much more likely to experience abuse. The data overwhelmingly suggests that if your goal is to enjoy a long, happy marriage, then living together is not the best option.
Cohabitation not only doesn’t make sense from a scientific stand point, it also violates God’s intention for His people. God designed physical intimacy to occur within the special commitment of marriage. In that context, the powerful bonding effects of sexuality draw a couple closer together. Outside of marriage, however, the bonding nature of sex confuses the relationship by implying a commitment that has not really been made.
Despite trying to avoid the pain of divorce, a breakup after sexual union creates similar emotional trauma. Trusting God’s design and obeying His call to honor marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and avoid sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3) not only strengthens our relationship with Him, it also strengthens our relationship with our spouse.
Many couples first question the option of living together while exploring Christian faith or involvement in a church. Our church wants to help you experience health and clarity in your relationships. We believe that marriage is a wonderful and fulfilling union. The Bible describes the marriage bond as a picture of the love between God and His people (Ephesians 5:31-33). It’s much easier to nurture a strong marriage while learning and growing with other believers – especially those who are a little further down the road.
Couples who have been married for a while can provide guidance and input as you make decisions about romance and marriage. They can also serve as models, which is particularly helpful to those with parents who divorced or never married. Christian counselors and church leaders can also help you determine if you are ready to shift into pre-marital counseling or if you need to re-evaluate a potentially harmful relationship. In either case, we encourage you to seek wise counsel as you pursue a God-honoring marriage and family life.
Pastoral insights from Kurt Bruner, The Center for Strong Families
GOING FURTHER – Resources
Before You Live Together by Dave Gudgel
A short book full of helpful insights for those who are experiencing or considering the option of living together.
The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation & the Strong Benefits of Marriage by Glenn T. Stanton – explores the reasons why the cohabitation trend is growing; outlines its negative outcomes for men, women and children; and makes a case for why marriage is still the best arrangement for couples.
GOING FURTHER – Church Support
Several members of our Church Staff offer pre-marriage counseling for couples who are committed to preparing themselves for this serious relationship. Contact Curt Grice for more information.
Additional “Marriage” resources are available on our church’s website at www.fbca.org/marriage .