Living Together Before Marriage

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— Dana

This week, I have been pondering the effects of living together before marriage…

Aaron and I did not live together before we were married, and so I will be the first person to admit that I do not have enough “personal experience” with this particular topic. But I have, however, watched the effects of cohabitation with many of my co-workers and closest friends. When I ask them “Why did you decide to move in with each other in the first place?” They usually tell me, “It’s just financially easier this way”…or…”By living together, we’ll know how compatible we are.” These are tempting arguments…thoughts that ran through my mind when Aaron and I were dating.

If a couple can get along living in the same house before marriage, they will be able to get along with each other after marriage…right??? If they discover that they can’t adjust when they live together, they don’t have to go through the hassle of a divorce. Besides, isn’t it just easier to adjust when you don’t feel trapped by marriage??? The problem with those arguments is that when two people get married, the very act of publicly saying “I DO” changes everything in a relationship. If couples that live together believe that after marriage everything will be the same, they don’t understand what God intended to happen in a marriage relationship.

In my experience and in the recent reports I’ve read, the chances of a divorce after living together are HUGE…much higher than for couples who have not lived together prior to marriage. If living together were a test of marital compatibility, the statistics should show opposite results…that couples living together should have stronger marriages. But they don’t. They have weaker marriages.

To understand why this is the case, I suggest that you consider why cohabitating couples don’t just get married in the first place. Most of the time, the answer is that they were probably not ready to make that commitment yet. First, they wanted to see if they still loved each other after cooking meals together, sharing household responsibilities and having sex with each other. In other words, they wanted to see what married life would be like without the commitment of marriage. But what people don’t seem to realize is that they will never know what married life is like unless they are married!!! Cohabitating couples are testing each other to see if they are compatible. If either of them slips up, the test is over, and they are out the door. Marriage doesn’t work that way (or at least it shouldn’t).

What, exactly, is the commitment of marriage? It is an agreement that you will take care of each other for life, regardless of life’s ups and downs. You will stick it out together through thick and thin. But the commitment of living together isn’t like that at all. It’s simply a month-to-month rental agreement. As long as you behave yourself and keep me happy, I’ll stick around. Habits are hard to break, and couples that live together before marriage get into the habit of following their month-to-month rental agreement. In fact, they often decide to marry, not because they are willing to make a lifetime commitment to each other, but because the arrangement has worked out so well that they can’t imagine breaking their lease, so to speak. They say the words of the marital agreement, but they still have the terms of their rental agreement in mind. Couples who have not lived together before marriage, on the other hand, have not lived under the terms of the month-to-month rental agreement. They begin their relationship assuming that they are in this thing for life, and all their habits usually reflect that commitment.

It’s true, that couples who decide to live together before marriage can commit to each other’s happiness, as if they were married. They can overcome “Love Busters” that could destroy their love for each other. But couples who live together tend not to do those things because their month-to-month rental agreement doesn’t demand it. They lack motivation to put each other first in their lives because they are in “relationship test mode.” They’re not sure they want each other for life, and so they are usually not willing to make the all-out commitment that marriage demands. They figure that their month-to-month agreement got them that far, so why change it. Those who have lived together prior to marriage feel that their own behavior has passed the test, and any further accommodation should be unnecessary. Worse yet, they think they don’t need to be on their best behavior because their spouse can’t leave now that they’re married.

Habits are hard to break, and those who have lived together develop habits that work only when they’re not married. Now, I’m not suggesting that cohabitating couples should avoid marriage, but I’m warning that unless they break out of the habits that come from a month-to-month rental agreement, their marriage will be a disaster. Living together may prove compatibility for a moment in time, but it provides no evidence for happiness together over a lifetime. The only way you can have that happiness and compatibility, in my opinion, is if you ask Christ to be the center of your marriage and are committed to thinking about the other person above yourself. And that’s what followers of Christ, who marry after not having lived together, are highly motivated to do.

Which comes to my last point, and this is intended only for those who are “followers of Christ.” I want to be clear that I am only saying this because I don’t want you to be separated from God because of the sin in your life. If you are in a cohabitating relationship, please check your motive. God tells us to not be in sexual sin. Not because he wants to take out all the fun in life, but because sin separates you from others and from the God of the Universe. The last thing I want is for you to chose to be separated from Christ because of your actions. “That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it allwas put to death and then made alive, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). I am sure you are already feeling the pressure and judgment from other Christians in your life. Just know I totally understand that you are in a difficult position. Please be in prayer on how you should handle this situation in your own life and weigh all your options carefully!!! God wants you to be in a close relationship with Him and not hindered because of ANY sin in your life. Amen?