A friend was helping his fiancé move into her new apartment last week—what will soon be their apartment together, after marriage. He noted to me that most people seemed to assume they were living together, and that’s why he was helping her move. At least one person even expressed shock and confusion that they weren’t living together, and would not be until after the wedding.
Their reactions might be a little bit disheartening, but they were not surprising. Depending on which stat you look at, about two-thirds of young adults now live together before marriage. What would have been a foreign concept a couple of generations ago is now more or less the norm.
Christians Living Together
If you’re not a follower of Christ, then the fact that you may be cohabitating with someone you are dating is not a surprise. This post isn’t really even for you, because any attempt to change your behavior will do nothing to change your belief. Whether or not you are living together before marriage is nowhere near as important as where you will be living for eternity. That’s my primary concern for you.
But if you do call yourself Christians, and you are living together, then you are not fully letting the Lord be Lord over your life. And that’s problematic because the things God calls us to, He does for our own good.
Let’s start with the obvious. For Christ-followers, the first problem with living together outside of marriage is that it usually means you are having sex together outside of marriage. I know that’s extremely common today—it’s definitely a major part of my past—but it’s not God’s design. As radical as it might sound to some people today, God designed marriage and sex to be kind of inseparable. In the Old Testament, if two single people slept together, they had to get married unless the woman’s father forbade it. And when Jesus talked about how marriage is two people becoming “one flesh,” you don’t have to think too hard to figure out what He’s talking about.
As that second link points out, sex creates a bond between two people. That makes perfect sense if it is designed for marriage, where you are already fully committed to staying together. But if you're just living together, you have no true commitment; you’re actually avoiding true commitment, because you could have just gotten married first. So that bond then works against you: it can keep you in a bad relationship longer, and when you do break up, the pain is much worse because of it.
That’s the other big problem with cohabitating: it typically doesn’t work.
People often justify it as a realistic trial for marriage. That by living together before marriage, you can see for certain whether marriage would work. That line of reasoning sounds persuasive, but it has one major flaw: it doesn’t work out that way.
Studies have shown for years that people who live together before marriage are actually more likely to divorce after marriage. Such studies also show that married couples who live together first have less marital happiness, poorer communication, and higher levels of abuse. Statistics vary in terms of how big this “cohabitation effect” is, and some try to downplay its importance, but it would be very difficult to find a single article that shows that the outcome is better if you live together first.
But that’s just the ones that make it to marriage. Roughly half of all people who live together break up before marriage, with many of the same hurts and complications that come with a divorce. Since about half of those who get married also get divorced, that’s about a 75% failure rate for these “trial marriages.” Who wants to sign up for those odds?
What if we’re not having sex?
This is an interesting question that came up during our “Battle of the Sexes” Q & A. Is it OK to live with someone you are dating if you do wait until marriage to have sex?
There are at least three problems with that:
One, you’re unnecessarily setting yourself up for temptation. It’s like you want the maximum temptation possible, even though your goal is not to give in.
It’s not natural. You are training yourself to live with this person and not have sex. So, if or when you do get married, you’ll be really good at living together but not having sex. It’s just not a good habit to get into, and can be a hard switch to flip.
Most outsiders will naturally assume that you are having sex. So you’re not living above reproach, as the Bible says to do, and you’re missing out on a chance to witness to a world that desperately needs some good examples of how to live wisely and marry well.
What if we’re already engaged?
This question is one of the most confusing to me. Why would two Christians live together if they are already engaged?
Follow the logic here. You’ve already decided to get married. You don’t want to wait to start living together as a couple. So why don’t you just get married already? It solves both problems at once. (And yes, I can back that up with Scripture.)
God doesn’t command you to have a big wedding that takes months or years to plan. He does want you to wait until marriage before living as though you were married. If you are going to compromise somewhere, compromise on the one-time party that lasts just a few hours—not on the lifelong adventure that is marriage.
Either you’re ready to get married, or you’re not. If you are: get married. If you’re not, the last thing you should be doing is living together as though you were married.
If you are living together: you’re not doomed. God’s love isn’t dependent on your actions or behavior. But He wants what’s best for you. Cohabitation is not God’s best, and it’s rarely anyone’s idea of what’s best; it is always a compromise.
Don’t compromise; you’re worth more than that.