I have been intrigued by this subject for a while because it is a major social trend.  Many people view cohabitation as a trial run for marriage to see if they are compatible. About 10% of couples in the USA claim to fall into the cohabitation category (a higher number have attempted cohabitation with marriage being a future option) but in many European countries the percentage of those currently cohabiting much higher – in the 15% to 30% range.  The USA is currently headed in a clear direction toward more people cohabiting as a precursor to marriage or an alternative to marriage.

Cohabitation is another issue that can be difficult to write about because many people have done this or are doing this. One of my primary reasons for writing this is to help people avoid pain.  I have approached the subject from both a Biblical and statistical perspective.  Obviously the Bible is quite clear on the issue (see Hebrews 13:4 and II Timothy 2:22 below), but I was shocked at the degree to which the statistical data backs up what the Bible teaches.

If you take 100 couples who are practicing cohabitation, 5 to 10 of them will cohabitate for longer than 10 without breaking up and without marrying, 45 of them will have a “premarital divorce” – meaning that their relationship will not make it to the marriage ceremony.  Of the 45 who do marry, 33 of them will get a divorce (almost 75%)!  This leaves 12 couples out of 100 that have survived cohabitation and will still be married after 10 years.  If you include the higher estimate of 10 for couples that maintain cohabitation for longer than 10 years without marrying, then you have 22 out of 100 couples that are still together 10 years later.*

Based on those numbers, I think all would agree that the odds do not favor cohabitation.  We can also clearly state that 40 to 50 % of all marriages end in divorce.  So just getting married is not the solution. According to Michael McManus who wrote a book on the subject, premarital sex is also a huge factor. They took 233 couples who agreed to stop having sex until their honeymoon and went through premarital counseling.  A decade later only 7 of those couples were divorced or separated.  Overall the Church has been very slack in this area and the statistics prove the consequences with the divorce rate of church service attenders being about the same as the general population.  Church leaders need to set people up to win by speaking the truth in love and setting clear expectations.

Problems with cohabitation:

1.  It does not work because you cannot practice permanence.

2.  “Pre-marital divorce” is often as painful as regular divorce.

How to put yourself in a position to win:

1.  Do not have premarital sex, or if you are sexually active then stop having premarital sex.

2.  Do not cohabitate, or if you are cohabitating then move out.

3.  Get premarital counseling that is not “fluff”.  You need to do this with someone or a couple who will tell you if they think it is a bad idea for the two of you to get married.  The counseling should be very practical and talk openly about subjects that you will face in your marriage: sex, money, communication, future plans, thoughts on kids etc…

4.  Included in the counseling have a marriage inventory taken so you can see compatibility or the lack thereof.

5.  Be involved in a Bible teaching church and in that church have REAL relationships where you have honest and serious communication.**

What if we were cohabiters and/or had pre-marital sex?  Does that mean our marriage is doomed?

Absolutely not!  The grace of God is sufficient and available.  In every marriage the couple should keep an eye on their relationship.  If your marriage is becoming frayed then asking a married couple you respect to be a mentor couple can be a great idea.  Marriage counseling may be necessary for some.  It is better to admit weakness now then to go through divorce later.  

* Michael McManus “Living Together: Myths, Risks, and Answers”

** In many churches these types of topics are very difficult to approach because the church is either legalistic making it almost impossible for people to be honest about their struggles.  Or the church is carnal and has no standards and expectation for behavior; therefore, sin is overlooked or even promoted. In both cases gossip often ruins the day.  Church leaders must insist on a loving, gracious, honest, and confidential environment if we are to make real progress in these areas where losing has become the norm.

Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…”

II Timothy 2:22, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

God is not being mean when He gives us these imperatives.  He really does know what is best for us!

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