I received some great feedback on “A Cohabitation Conversation” published last fall, showing just how pertinent this topic is for couples. I was struck by the advice of one reader:
While I do agree that premarital cohabitation is not a good idea, it doesn’t always end up in divorce or unhappy marriages. My husband and I lived together for 6 years while we were in college. During those years of cohabitation we learned more about our Catholic faith we shared and grew stronger in that faith (understanding what the Church taught and why it taught it), we married, and have been very happily married for 23 years (with 4 children). While our situation was a bit different from the norm, I would NOT encourage couples to live together. I would encourage them to make their faith a VERY important part of their relationship from the very beginning, learning and growing together, and paying close attention to what the Church teaches.
I would agree. Cohabitation does not “always” end up in divorce or unhappy marriages. There is no silver bullet for the perfect marriage. You can do everything right, but still end up facing the challenges of a struggling marriage. And certainly there are strong marriages and great couples who do not live the teachings of the Catholic Church. But the significance of this reader’s comment is even though it worked out for her and her husband, she still would not recommend living together before marriage.
Another reader asked, “What would you tell a couple that still wants to live together?” I would say, read this person’s comment. Her encouragement to grow together and deepen your understanding about what the Church teaches speaks to the valuable fruit found in living out our faith in tangible ways. God cannot work where He is not invited. I would encourage the couple to invite God in, and live with Him first.
If you have the chance to make the right choice now, wouldn’t you want to put the odds and the Church in your favor? Which leads me to the opinion of another reader:
I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this next one, but I’ve also noticed quite a bit of young, hormonal Christian couples sliding into marriage very early on in their relationship (typically less than 1 year in) because their sexual desires conflict with Biblical teachings. And who’s to say that marriage doesn’t create inertia as well? How many of us know unhappily married couples staying together because of the children? I know a lot of unhappily married couples who never cohabitated and perhaps could have stood to do so decades ago.
I don’t think this reader deserves flack for pointing out what we have all seen — young, hormonal Christians getting married so they have permission to have sex.
But I would argue that their desires do not conflict with Biblical teaching. You see, St. Paul speaks to the same thing. Listen to what he says to the Corinthians in Chapter 7, verses 8-9: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” And then again in verse 36: “If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants… They should get married.”
God gave us sexual desire to steer us toward each other, and towards marriage. Sex creates new people, and God loves new people. When our love is truly consummated, it has the potential to become embodied into a new human being. So God wants us to find someone that we are attracted to, that we can’t wait to jump into bed with! Don’t ever marry if you don’t burn with passion for that person. God wants us to feel compelled to marry so we have a reason to do something so scary and amazing as devoting our life to another person.
Now if we are going to assume that “young” means “immature” (and it doesn’t always), then getting married too quickly or only to have sex can be a symptom of lacking experience and emotional development. And yes, those combinations can make marriage difficult. But a lot of the young, hormonal Christians I’ve known actually do love each other and want to make their marriages last a lifetime. The statistics on virgins who marry each other have been very consistent — they tend to stay married.
However, staying married isn’t the only goal — being happily married is. And God wants the same for us, although His version of “happily” married may include suffering, struggling, compromise, forgiveness, humility and gratitude — leading toward our growth in character and holiness. Are there unhappily married people who did not live together? Of course. Marriage is hard, hard work. Sometimes it’s harder to work it out than it is to simply stay together and do nothing. Living together while dating would not fix a broken marriage of today. I can assure you God does not want to take anything away from us. God wants us to take the passion He designed into our bodies to drive us towards marriage, and to encourage us to stay in that marriage so we may experience His peace and blessing in loving one another for a lifetime.