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Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Kicking the Tires: Cohabitation vs. Commitment

  • Jane Jimenez <i>Agape Press</i>
  • 2004 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
Kicking the Tires: Cohabitation vs. Commitment

Kelly and Dane spent the day in furniture stores picking out the perfect leather couch for their new apartment. They are in love. They are moving in together. And they are not married.

"It's not that we're against marriage, but we're just not ready for it," says Dane. "It's a big commitment."

Kelly nods in agreement. "We saw both of our parents get divorced. We love each other, and we're talking about getting married. But we don't want to go through the pain of a divorce."

Even as Americans are voting to affirm the special estate of marriage between a man and a woman, our children are having a hard time saying "I do." Instead, like Kelly and Dane, many are taking their "love" for a "test drive," trying to find out if it is the "marriage kind of love." They are kicking the tires before they buy.

The theory is that if they live together, they will be able to test their relationship before they make the serious lifelong commitment of marriage. If everything works out, if they get along, then they can always get married. If not, then they can just divide the furniture, decide who keeps the apartment, and go their separate ways. No harm done.

According to the National Marriage Project, about 60 percent of young adults in America say they plan to live together before marriage. These high levels of cohabitation have given researchers a solid base of data to compare cohabitation with marriage. The results of their studies should give Kelly and Dane reason to pause before signing the lease on their apartment.

Dr. Bill Maier sums up the findings. "Research indicates that couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50 percent higher divorce rate than those who don't. These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence and are more likely to be involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will leave the relationship within two years, resulting in a single mom raising a fatherless child."

There are many factors to explain this. But the most important has to do with the big "C." Commitment.

Commitment is more than a feeling. It is an intentional decision. It is choosing to love ... in good times and bad. The commitment of marriage is a willingness to step into the future, to face unknown challenges, to give unconditional love, to set one's personal goals into a joint plan alongside the needs and goals of another person. If it sounds like a big deal, it is.

Cohabitation, on the other hand, is based almost entirely on feelings. It is a hope and a dream ... with a preplanned exit strategy. It's a little deal because the promise exchanged is a little promise. "I will stay with you until we're not in love ... until it gets hard ... until I don't want to stay with you."

When couples plan to marry, they must face the big "C." They must have a clear understanding of what they are willing and able to give each other ... Today ... Tomorrow ... for as long as they both shall live.

Cohabitation short circuits the process, fulfilling sexual desires and intermingling finances, allowing the couple to avoid the kind of soul-searching and mutual honesty needed to lay the solid foundation for a marriage.

As quaint as it sounds, traditional old-fashioned dating and courtship was a safe time for couples. It reserved sex for the future and allowed them to focus on learning about each other. It was an intentional time of planning for marriage, where the couple sought out advice from friends and counselors. And if marriage did not result, heartbreak was not compounded with the burden of breaking up a household.

While the initial plan for Kelly and Dane is to "try it out," it will be a very short time before one of them will begin to long for the safety and security of a permanent commitment. The big "C" ... it always makes its appearance. And when it does, Kelly and Dane will have a lot at stake. The surprising experience most couples face in cohabitation is that the pain of "breaking up" can be every bit as intense as divorce.

Please, Dane and Kelly. Think it over. Kicking the tires ... good strategy for cars. Bad idea for people.


A former elementary school teacher, Jane Jimenez (speakout@fromthehomefront.org) is now a freelance writer dedicated to issues of importance to women and the family. She writes a regular column titled "From the Home Front" (fromthehomefront.org). Her work has appeared in both Christian and secular publications. She also is producer for a Phoenix afternoon live talk AM radio program dealing with current issues. Jane and her husband Victor live in Phoenix and have two children.

© 2004 Agape Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.