Living together/cohabiting before marriage may seem like a logical decision. After all, it can be used as a test period to see how your partner handles stresses, routine, finances, etc. This logic seems like a valid rationale—but research does not support the logic. In fact, psychologists have learned through numerous studies that couples who live together before marriage “are more prone to marital troubles and divorce than those who don’t.” (Source)
In talking about this issue, two important concepts must be briefly highlighted. First, living together before marriage/cohabiting can result in what psychologists call the “cohabitation effect.” The cohabitation effect states that, “Living together before marriage may cause couples to value commitment less or to become less interested in marriage.” (Source)
The other phrase associated with this topic is “the inertia effect.” That is once a couple starts to live together before marriage, there is a move, whether you like it or not, toward marriage. And that momentum toward marriage happens whether one or both partners desire it. “The inertia effect is problematic when it drives a couple that would otherwise not have married, to become married.” (Source)
With that background, here are four reasons why partners should not live together before marriage.
#1 It devalues marriage
I have had the privilege of officiating nearly one hundred weddings. One of the most sacred parts of the ceremony is when I have the couple recite the vows after me. The vows are the couple committing to one another in good times and bad, in richness and financial struggle, and in sickness and health. These vows are made before God and those present. It is a covenant between the couple.
In living together, where there are no vows, no covenant, it is easy to walk out. Marriage is about honoring God and our spouse when life gets tough. It is a commitment that encourages longevity—and looking to God for strength and guidance. To live together communicates that you want all the perks of the relationship without the commitment. It devalues what marriage is.
#2 It can lessen the commitment toward one another
One of the reasons couples cohabitate is popularly called the “test drive theory.” This theory is about assessing whether the two of you can make it. It is about learning about the other’s living habits, etc to determine if it’s a wise venture to commit to a life-long decision.
But as mentioned above, this type of thinking does not produce longevity; in fact it is a good indicator for dissolution of the relationship, whether that is the marriage down the road or the cohabitation relationship. (Source) The reason it can lessen the commitment to one another is because there is nothing stable in saying or communicating, “Let’s test drive this relationship.” Stability and commitment comes from the attitude that says, “Because I love you, and I am willing to work through the good times and the bad. In fact I am even willing to work through your mother always stopping by.”
Cohabiting couples may be especially prone to relationship difficulties. A study of couples who had been married less than two years showed that those who had cohabited had more negative interactions during a laboratory conflict discussion with their spouses.” (Source)
#3 It creates an emotional and spiritual bond before you may be ready
In Genesis 2:24-25 the dynamics of marriage are introduced, noting that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, that the two would become “one flesh.” The word one is the Hebrew word, echad. Echad is one in the midst of unity. The Hebrew word for flesh is basar. The combination of these two words is the only time they are used in the entire Hebrew Scriptures. When these two words are combined, it paints the picture of this couple being united at the deepest level, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. (Read the book, God Loves Sex)
God designed humanity with the ability to bond with one another, and for married couples He designed us to bond on multiple levels. (You can read about the power of sex and bonding HERE) In Genesis, it is as if we are reading that this bond of sex is spiritual, emotional, physical, and that the only force that can contain it is marriage. (Read the book, Loveology)
#4 It indirectly communicates I do not have self-control
When Caz and I were dating, one of the last things I wanted to do was meet in public places and only be at my home if my roommate was there. I had a beautiful Australian girlfriend I was extremely attracted to and…well you get the picture. Early on Caz and I made a commitment that we would wait until marriage to consummate our relationship. We dated for nine months before I asked her to marry me and then our engagement was another three months. On top of that we were both in our early thirty’s. And on top of that about fifteen years prior to us meeting, I made a commitment to sexual faithfulness. You can read the story HERE or watch the wedding clip HERE.
One of the most powerful comments Caz has ever expressed to me was that because I was able to follow through on my commitment to remain sexually faithful to her, she never wonders if I am going to cheat on her. The fact that we were both committed to one another and were strong at different times has built a mutual trust and confidence in the longevity of our marriage.
The bottom line is that living together before marriage/cohabiting has a higher likelihood of the relationship dissolving. Perhaps in another post I will elaborate on why that is but for now let me ask what are your thoughts.
What would you add to the list above?