Why Living Together Isn't a Test-Run for Marriage

Research shows how cohabitation sabotages lifelong intimacy

Getting married is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. If marriage is a lifetime commitment, then why not have a "trial run" before making it official?

More than 50 percent of couples do exactly that. In fact, living together before marriage is becoming increasingly common, even among Christian couples. They reason that living together before marriage just makes sense. This is particularly a strong argument for those who are hesitant about a lifetime commitment. Having witnessed the pain divorce creates in many families, they know that a fairy tale wedding in a packed church doesn't guarantee happily-ever-after ending.

If your goal is to someday have a loving, stable relationship, living together before marriage is far more likely to sabotage life-long intimacy than be a stepping stone for it. Here are a few reasons why cohabitation isn't the wisest decision.

If your goal is to someday have a loving, stable relationship, living together before marriage is far more likely to sabotage life-long intimacy than be a stepping stone for it.

What the Research Says

In spite of those who say cohabitation is a wise test drive, the research indicates that living together before marriage may actually increase your risk for divorce in the future. Many experts believe that the "squishy" approach toward commitment represented by cohabitation sets a couple up for bailing on marriage when things get difficult. Holding sexual fidelity and the marriage covenant as sacred before God impacts your willingness to work through the challenges of life together.

Research also indicates that couples living together are more likely to experience sexual unfaithfulness, domestic violence, and higher levels of relational unhappiness. If you are living with your boyfriend with the hope to avoid heartbreak, you are likely setting yourself up for failure.

Cohabitation Is Intimacy on a Man's Terms

Glenn Stanton, author of The Ring Makes All the Difference believes strongly that the growing trend toward cohabitation is putting women at risk. While women have great power in the marriage relationship, they have relatively little leverage as a live-in. Stanton argues that cohabitation puts men in the driver's seat. They get what they want (sex and companionship) without giving what they fear (commitment).

While this may be painting with a broad brush, I think Stanton is hitting on a fundamental truth. To a large degree, men are convinced to commit to marriage because they long for companionship and a sexual partner. When a woman makes marriage the condition for giving herself to a man, she may lose a guy who has no interest in commitment, but she will challenge a "good man" to take the step of a marriage covenant. Feminists tout that cohabitation gives women freedom and independence rather than being tied to a man. However, women are far more likely to flourish economically and emotionally within the stability of marriage.

Cohabitation Is Taking Yourself out of God's Will

There is nothing I fear more than being out of God's will. I've seen enough pain and devastation in this world to know that I need God—every hour of every day, I need his wisdom and comfort. As my husband, Mike, and I navigate the challenges of raising 3 boys and 20 years of marriage, we know that on our own, it's not enough. No amount of psychological training, self-help books, or will power can adequately equip me for life on earth.

I find tremendous comfort knowing that I can cry out to God and trust him to give me wisdom no matter what comes our way. Even when I don't feel his presence, I know he is there. Why? Because he has promised me that he will draw near to me when I draw near to him. Access to God's wisdom and comfort is largely dependent upon our willingness to abide in him—to walk in obedience. "So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin," 1 John 1:6–7 says.

No amount of psychological training, self-help books, or will power can adequately equip me for life on earth.

By choosing to ignore God's teaching on marriage and sexuality, you are electing to walk in darkness and to do life on your own terms. You can't claim the rich promises of God while living in stubborn rebellion against his expressed will for you. By living with your boyfriend, you are rejecting the fellowship of God. Romance, marriage, sex, family—these are complicated and dangerous aspects of life. Don't reject the Counselor who can give you the wisdom and strength to navigate them well.

Now What?

Maybe you are convinced that a "test run" is a bad idea, but you're reading this article snuggled up against your live-in boyfriend. Now what? Pressing the issue of marriage or moving out now would be more complicated than an episode of Lost.

The good news is that God is a master at working out messes when we bring them to him, for Jesus says to the adulterous woman in , "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more" (NASB).

Taking a stand to be sexually pure when you've already crossed that line takes a step of faith. Frankly, it means that you might lose your boyfriend. It means that you may have to temporarily create an earthquake in your life. The ground that seemed steady will shift.

I'm not just talking to the 25-year-old college grad. This message is the same for the 55-year-old who doesn't want to give up the financial benefits of alimony or life insurance by getting married. Sexual purity isn't just for young adults. All who claim to be disciples of Jesus are told to be set apart as holy.

Jesus told a story in Matthew about building a house—one built on the sand and the other on the rock. Both houses looked great when the weather was calm. But when the storms came, the house on the sand crumbled while the one built on the rock stood. Please consider that you are building a house. The decorations and the style are negotiable. But the foundation you choose is absolutely critical. "Playing married" without the sacred commitment of marriage is choosing to build a house on an unstable and volatile foundation. I urge you to bring your "mess" before Jesus and ask him to show you how to rebuild on the truth of his unchanging Word.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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