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Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:
Why can’t people live together before marriage?
Erma Bombeck once said “Living together is to marriage as babysitting is to being a parent.” If living together before marriage was such a sure fire way to ensure a marriage’s success, divorce rates for those who cohabitate would be lower than those who don’t. Actually the opposite is the case. The Catholic Bishops website that helps young couples preparing for marriage www.foryourmarriage.org reports that marriages that come after cohabitation are 46% more likely to end in divorce. Children are particularly vulnerable to the painful experiences that result from the dissolution of adults’ relationships. “Forty percent of cohabiting households include children. After five years, one-half of these couples will have broken up, compared to 15% of married parents.” This link details the social science findings.
Most likely, much of this is because couples who cohabitate before marriage have at least one member who, at some level, really doesn’t want to get married.
Marriage is a sacrament, a sign that achieves in human hearts and lives what is signifies to human minds. Sacraments give grace. Grace is the power to do what we could not do before. Married people need grace.
No one has ever told me marriage is easy. No married person would say they have absolutely no need of help in molding themselves into someone who can compromise and put up with the real person they married, a person with normal human faults and idiosyncracies. Nor has anyone ever said they wouldn’t accept any help in having their spouse be able to put up with them!
Living together before marriage can often evidence an unwillingness to live up to the demands of the sacrament. We need good, strong, devoted married couples to show us that love is possible in this often difficult world in which we live. Many cohabitating couples are only in it for the short haul, at best. Married couples are in it for eternity. We, their children, society and they themselves, benefit from such generous long term, life-long commitment.
Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, fisherman and author. He is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and serves as a Chaplain at the college. His book, A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, (Orbis Books 2007) examines the relationships between the practices of faith and the cultural currents and changes so rapidly occurring in our ever more technologized and globalized world.