Living Together Before Marriage: What Are the Costs?
- Dr. David B. Hawkins Director, The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2006 26 Jul
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question t [email protected].
Stan and Terry enjoyed a whirlwind romance, one of those “love at first sight” kind of things you see in movies. There was an undeniable chemistry between them. They talked for hours at the local coffee shop. There, over the ensuing weeks, their relationship grew stronger.
Stan and Terry discovered they shared the same faith and soon began attending church together. They enjoyed deep theological discussions. Laughing and talking led to a quick and exciting connection, which understandably turned physical. He began spending more and more time at her apartment.
One night, sitting close on her couch watching a movie, Stan felt the time was right to pop the question.
“Terry,” he began shyly.
“Hmm?” she answered, hardly looking away from the television.
“I think it’s time for us to talk about something,” he continued.
Nestled in his arms, she sensed a seriousness in his tone.
“What’s up?” she asked, looking up at him
“Well.” He paused. “I wonder what you’d think about me moving in with you?”
Terry stared at Stan, dumbfounded. She wasn’t prepared for his question. She could not deny her feelings, and hoped he felt the same attraction toward her as she felt toward him. But, moving in?
She was instantly flooded with questions.
What if she said “no” and he felt rejected? What if she said “yes,” going against her values? What if she told him she needed time to think about it? Would he push away and reject her?
Terry is one of a growing number of singles who consider living together before marriage. As the singles population swells, from individuals waiting longer for marriage, failed marriages and widowhood, not to mention issues surrounding commitment, living together has become more popular.
Let’s consider Stan’s question and the ramifications. What are the costs to such a decision?
First, while living together is often seen as a preparatory phase to marriage, this is not always the case. Many “try out” the relationship as if they were trying out a car. However, when the inevitable storms of relating hit, many bail out, leaving wounded people in their wake. What was considered to be a safe option now turns into an ugly nightmare. Numerous studies confirm that cohabitating before marriage leads to less marital happiness and greater marital conflict. Some predict a greater incidence of divorce with those who have cohabitated before marriage.
Second, cohabitation doesn’t fit with God’s plan for marriage. As much as we might like to fudge on God’s laws, he promotes sexual purity. The Scriptures say love is patient and kind and does not seek to please itself. (1 Corinthians 13) The Scriptures tell us to “flee fornication” and save sexual intimacy for marriage. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Third, those who live together often feel guilt and fear. Cohabitation often leads to the fear of STDs, unwanted pregnancy, or being “found out” because of violating God’s law. At some level, most Christians, and non-Christians as well, have misgivings about living together prior to marriage.
Fourth, living together leads to sexual and emotional involvement. While this goes without saying, many think they can “live together” without emotional and sexual entanglements. They minimize the commingling of lives that takes place, the inevitable dependency that occurs, and subsequently the pain involved in dismantling such a relationship if things don’t turn out. Your psyche, soul and body become commingled with the other’s psyche, soul and body, and we shouldn’t be surprised at the excruciating pain when relationships tear apart.
Fifth, many are looking for someone pure. Research shows that “living together” has become casual and temporary, not a first step toward marriage. While we may believe we are causing no harm to be sexually involved with this other person, that is not what their future mate would say – nor is it likely to be what you would say to your future mate. Purity counts for something.
Finally, why buy when you can take it home without charge? In my book, "When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit," I talk about those who are in long-term relationships waiting for their man, or woman, to fully commit to them. What they don’t realize is that they have unwittingly enabled their mate to not make the full commitment. Their partner doesn’t have to commit – they can enjoy many aspects of marriage without the commitment.
With such risks, what should Terry do? What should you do if you’re a guy getting ready to pop the question, or if you’re on the receiving end of the question yourself? While the answer is not always easy, and certainly is not the one society accepts, the answer is clear. Wait. Take it slow and be careful. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”(Proverbs 4:23) Maintain healthy sexual and emotional boundaries. Hold out for the real deal. Trying before you buy may work with cars, but doesn’t work in a relationship. Your future husband or wife deserves the best.
This article was originally published July 26, 2006.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities. I’d love to hear about your success stories or areas of struggle. You can contact Dr. David at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website, www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.