Four Myths of “Living Together”
I still remember the week of my wedding. I had just graduated from seminary and needed to move out of student housing. So, Jay, my then-fiancé, moved me into the home he had just rented for us. My family was in town for the wedding, and after an evening in our home of dinner, laughter, and storytelling, Jay said his good nights as he prepared to leave for his parents’ house where he was living.
A family member was surprised. He didn’t understand where Jay was going and why we were not staying together. Our response was: “Because we’re not married yet!”
A young woman named Sydney recently wrote an article defending her decision to move in with her boyfriend. They have purchased a house together, and are using this time to get to know each other in their journey towards marriage. Sydney professes to be a believer, and the message of her article, as indicated in its subtitle, is “You may not agree and that’s fine, but it works for us.”
More than likely, you know someone who is in a cohabiting relationship. (Perhaps that someone is you.) Analysis of current census studies by Pew Research indicates that the number of adults cohabiting with a partner continues to rise. Interestingly, while the largest number of cohabiters is in the 18-34 age range, the largest percentage increase is seen in those 50 and over. And many of these, like Sydney, are professing Christians.
As a woman who is a follower of Christ, is it ever okay to live with your boyfriend as a precursor to marriage? After all, if you are going to get married anyway, what’s the harm?
Before answering those questions, for our purposes, let’s define what we mean by cohabitation before marriage: Cohabitation is living together as a couple, with the full marital privileges of a husband and wife, without being married.
Myth: Cohabitation is a new thing and the Bible does not speak against it.
Answer: Cohabitation is nothing new. Remember the encounter Jesus had with the Samaritan woman in John 4? He confronted her about her many marriages and even called her out on the fact that the man she was currently living with was not her husband. The Bible may not specifically say “Thou shall not live with thy boyfriend before marriage.”
But, like many things today, we must take the biblical principles and apply them to a practical outworking. Scripture does declare that if you are unmarried you are to remain devoted to the Lord without distraction and to avoid sexual immorality. Even Sydney indicated this tension in her article when she states “I’m aware that we didn’t follow the bible, and that does bother me.”
Myth: Cohabitation is okay for Christians as long as we are not having sex.
Answer: Technically, it is not a sin for a man and woman to be living in the same household if they are abstinent. But, Scripture does warn that as believers, we are to abstain from every form of evil … even from the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22; Eph 5:3). When we meet a couple who is living together, there is an assumption that they are sharing the same bed. Even so, if a couple has remained abstinent, as a couple grows closer together, the temptation to become physically intimate grows stronger. Even the most mature of believers can fall in this area right before a wedding if not vigilant. How much more so if you are sleeping in the same space? Instead, we must, as Scripture directs, flee temptation (2 Tim 2:22-24).
Myth: Cohabitation allows us to discover if we are compatible in daily life.
Answer: You do learn a lot about someone when you live with him. But, that is one of the purposes of dating. You do not have to live together to learn what foods he likes, what music he enjoys, whether someone is a morning person or a night owl, whether he is a neat freak or messier. The dating and courtship phase of any relationship is important. This is where you talk about dreams for family, children, and goals. It’s where you learn how each other celebrates holidays and what are each other’s family traditions. The truth is, you never stop learning about your spouse after you get married. Saying that you must live with someone to know if you are compatible is a false premise to rationalize a wrong decision.
Myth: Cohabitation ensures that we are sexually compatible before we commit to a lifetime.
Answer: The wonder of discovering the physical pleasures of the marital relationship is part of the mystery, fulfillment, and journey of marriage. But marriage is more than sex and sexual fulfillment. When I was in a serious relationship with a guy in college and we began to talk about marriage, I was encouraged to make sure we were physically compatible before we said, “I do.” Today, now married to a different man for over two decades, I am thankful I did not take that advice. Through the ups and downs of life, health scares, and daily challenges, I rest in the understanding that, while the physical sexual act is wonderful part of marriage, my marriage’s fulfillment, satisfaction, love, and pleasure is anchored in so much more than just the physical.
Here is the bottom line for Christian women and cohabitation:
- Cohabitation before marriage stands in direct opposition to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and defiles the marriage bed. (Heb 13:4)
- Cohabitation no more prepares you for marriage than changing the diaper on a baby doll prepares you for motherhood. Marriage is a great mystery, and the coming together as one flesh is an emotional, spiritual, and physical act that can only be fully understood when you are in a committed, covenant relationship. (Eph 5:31-32; Gen 2:24)
- Any physical, sexual intimacy outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sin. (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:3; 1 Thess 4:3)
Jay and I have now been married 26 years. We chose not to live together as a premarital experiment. These years have been wonderful and hard. They’ve been full of highs and had their lows. Yet, at the end of the day, they have been worth every minute. It is not easy to stand firm today, but the rewards of building a relationship with that special man and going in to marriage the way God meant it to be are so great, that it is hard to put in to human words.
My sister, if you are living with a man outside of marriage, even if you see this as a step in the journey towards marriage, this is not God’s ideal nor His plan for you. That little nagging feeling and voice is the convicting tug of the Holy Spirit. And, like the woman at the well in John 4, it is not too late to make things right and to choose to stand on the side of not compromising holiness.
God can redeem, God can restore, and God can help you build a solid marriage relationship built on trust, love, respect, and commitment, if you will seek to do it His way. Cohabitation is never justified in the life of a true follower of Christ.