Welcome back. We’re talking about cohabitation and this is part 2 in a series of 3. This issue is so complex and involved . . . I am doing my best to be as kind and concise and I can, both for your sake and mine. I know time is precious, but where you land on this decision will have ramifications for years to come in your life. It will impact your current and future relationships, and will influence your children and their children as well. It matters!
In my previous blog, part 1 of 3, I mentioned a few reasons why couples typically move in together. Authors Mike and Harriett McManus list several reasons in their book “Living Together: Myths, Risks and Answers.” (As a side note, I can not fully endorse this book. Although I agree with their point of view, there is a subtle condescending tone that I found offensive at times. It is an excellent resource on this topic though.) They do have an excellent list of factors influencing couples’ decision to live together. There are many reasons, but I’ll list the 3 most popular reasons and then 4 common underlying reasons:
- Trial marriage – A couple is planning or considering marriage but wants to try it out first to see if it will work well.
- Convenience (finances, distance, etc.) – The couple decides to move in together because it is cheaper (save on rent, bills, gas, etc) or because it is convenient in other ways. For example they live some distance from one another and don’t get to see each other often enough.
- Get out of previous living situation – One or both people have been in an undesirable living situation. This includes expensive rent, bad roommate, living at home with parents and desire to get out, or living single and lonely. Or it also could be that one person is in transition between jobs, etc. and had to move anyway so they decide to live together.
- Drift – This is an underlying reason that often isn’t overtly spoken or fully thought through. The couple drifts from dating to sleeping over to keeping belongings at the other’s house to staying over often to living together. Author and researcher Scott Stanley calls it “Sliding, not deciding.”
- Social/cultural norm – Cohabitation is so common now that couples may just assume this is what everyone does, and may even feel social pressure to take this step if they are truly serious about the relationship.
- Lack of commitment – One or both is hesitant to make a life-long promise and cohabitation is seen as a way to move forward without committing. Men may be more likely to relate to this one than women.
- Broken home – It is true that most teens and 20 somethings today have a strong and understandable distrust of marriage. They haven’t seen it work and often have emotional wounds from their parent’s broken marriage.
What I would like to do is present three main points for you to consider regarding cohabitation. Ideas you may not have thought about but that may end up causing the two of you difficulty in the relationship. I believe each one in itself carries enough weight to warrant reconsidering the decision to live together.
- Cohabitation establishes a performance-based foundation for the relationship. When a couple moves in together, they are often intending to find out if this person has what it takes, or are they marriage material. Each person is looking out for their own interests in a way. The relationship is seen through the “if, then” lense. If you do your share, then I’ll marry you. If you fulfill my needs, then I’ll marry you, etc. If you don’t do things that get on my nerves, then I’ll marry you . . . Don’t get me wrong, evaluation is a normal part of dating. It is absolutely necessary. But when you live together, you are starting off on the wrong foundation. Evaluate while dating (that is the point of dating!), so when you marry and live together, you can give selflessly for the benefit of the other person. When each person is committed for life, they are free to serve and give because they are founding their relationship on commitment and trust. They are in it together. To read more on this point please see my previous blog “Marriage: Contract or Covenant.”
- Cohabitation establishes constraints which impair the freedom of each person. Let me explain. Many couples believe it will be just as easy to get out of a cohabiting situation as it is to get into it, but that isn’t true. But when you move in together with someone, over time you purchase things together, such as furniture, dishes, other household items, etc. Normal things you need to make a living arrangement comfortable. Some may even buy a car or home together. A couple also may merge all or part of their finances. The bottom line here is that the more you invest, the harder it would be to leave. A couple should come to the marriage alter from a place of personal freedom and devotion, not because they are partially constrained to the other person. Let me clarify that it is true that marriage does introduce constraints also. The longer you are married, the more constraints you have. And that is the way it is supposed to be because we grow in oneness with our spouse. However, my point is that each person should enter marriage out of freedom. Constraints are always a bad foundation for a marriage.
- Cohabitation establishes unclear boundary lines and expectations for the relationship. The couple becomes more than roommates but less than spouses. The relationship can become one giant grey area and underlying assumptions begin to wreak havoc on intimacy and bonding. If roommates live together with 50/50 expectations, and husband and wife live together with 100/100 expectations, then where do cohabiting couples fall? This has bearing both on roles in the relationship/home, and on sexual intimacy. Some may argue that creating a written agreement may help, but in reality a written agreement, just like a prenuptial contract for a marriage, ends up reinforcing the performance foundation as I stated in the first point. Couples get accustomed to the impermanent nature of the relationship, and can’t help but carry that perspective into marriage. They are keeping their options open, which logically decreases marital satisfaction and increases likelihood of infidelity. In marriage, a life long commitment is made and each partner knows what is expected of them. Marriages do fail, but it’s not for lack of clarity!
There are several other factors to consider that I haven’t listed here. Children (custody issues as well as potential emotional problems), legal complications of living together unwed (power of attorney, title of home/cars, requirements for common law marriage). You may not know this (I didn’t), but according to several sources cited by McManus, cohabiting couples are much more likely to experience domestic violence.
A Special Note to Women
Women often view cohabitation as a step toward marriage. Regardless which of the reasons above apply to a woman’s decision to live with her boyfriend (finances, trial marriage, etc.) deep in her heart is usually a flickering hope that this man will propose. . . will want to spend the rest of his life with her.
Dear friend, hear me out. Is it possible that you are allowing this man to have all the benefits of marriage without the responsibility? He has you there with him to share the finances, to have companionship, to have sex, to have help with his cooking, ironing, and cleaning. It’s convenient. He may care deeply about you, but why are you giving everything to him without a promise of commitment? And why would he feel motivated to commit if he already has all the things he needs from you? He may have the best of intentions, and I don’t doubt he does. But what if the relationship doesn’t work out? Then you have invested all these months or years into building a home with this man and have nothing to show for it. You can’t get these years back.
Your sexual intimacy and nurturing care is so precious. I urge you, don’t give it away without a commitment of marriage. You want your man to respect you. In marriage your husband takes on the responsibility of protecting and providing for you, and hanging in there for life. To be the father of your children. For better or for worse. Wouldn’t you want to know that your man would wait for you? Rather than one day realizing you’ve lived with him for x amount of time so you “might as well” get married?
I’ll say it again. Your sexual intimacy and nurturing care is so precious. I urge you, don’t give it away with out a commitment of marriage.
You might be wondering why I haven’t shared any Scripture yet or talked about how God sees the issue. That is because I believe the things I mentioned above are worthy of consideration in themselves. Even if there isn’t a bone in your body that cares what God has to say, there is a convincing case against cohabitation.
Come back for part 3; we will look at cohabitation from a Christian perspective.