The number of unmarried couples living together in America increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000. The U.S. Census estimates that about 10 million people are living with someone of the opposite sex. That totals about 8 percent of U.S. coupled households. Most unmarried partners who live together are between 25 and 34 years of age.

It once was stigmatized as "living in sin" or "shacking up," but now cohabitation has replaced dating. It has become mainstream as a way to discover if a person is a suitable partner for life. While marriage as an ideal is not dead, it does seem to be staggering and falling into the ropes.

According to USA Today, more than two-thirds of married couples in the United States now say they lived together before marriage. The number of unmarried, opposite-sex households is rising dramatically.

A crisis of confidence exists among younger Americans, not just in the institution of marriage, but in the process of finding a suitable life mate. The most divorced generation in history is struggling to trust the traditional courting process, choosing instead to dive right into the most intimate aspects of a relationship. Thus, some argue that since divorce is a reality, it makes sense to measure compatibility, and what better way to discover compatibility than to do a trial run at marriage. There is great confidence today in this new found process, but the question is, does it work?

In a groundbreaking study that examined the effects of cohabitation on the long-term quality of marriage, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) conducted a study of more than 1,300 married couples. The results are eye-opening. The study shows that the longer a couple cohabits before marriage, the less satisfied they are with their marriage. John Hill, API's director of research, said, "Specifically, couples who cohabit before marriage tend to be more depressed, more dependent and are more likely to believe their relationship will end as compared with married couples who did not cohabit." The API study indicates that in times of stress and conflict couples who cohabitate are more likely to handle their conflicts with heated arguing, hitting and throwing. According to USA TODAY, couples live together about two years and then either marry or break up.

Marriage is more than who you sleep next to and with whom you may share expenses. It is the deepest sharing of the most intimate part of your life. This is not easy to graph on a chart, but every human soul longs for it. God created us for intimacy and He built an environment in which we can experience it. Cohabitation has all the powerful elements that make up intimacy but lacks one major ingredient -- commitment. Commitment is the fence that protects, the lock that guarantees, and the alarm system that ensures that vulnerability is not easily compromised. Marriage is a covenant of mutual protection, devotion, sacrifice and love. It is binding for this very reason. It is not only safe for our most vulnerable moments but also for the most vulnerable people in the world -- children.

When we remember what marriage was designed to do and who designed it, the contorted, sophomoric logic of those who conclude that living together is a good choice evaporates. It is not inconsequential that the loss of confidence in marriage coincides with a loss in confidence in God and the Bible. The children and grandchildren of the sexual revolution need to examine what that revolution has caused: a skyrocketing divorce rate and a frustrating loss of intimacy. The best experiment may be to experiment with the ancient writings of a timeless God who loved us enough to construct a safe place called marriage in which to flourish.


Ed Litton is the senior pastor of First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland, Ala.

© 2007 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.