Is Living Together Before Marriage Risky?
One of the changes that we are seeing in premarital counseling is the increasing number of couples who are choosing to live together before they get married. Many explain it simply as a convenience. Some say that it was financially better for them to share expenses. Some even suggest that it was a way for them to test the relationship to see if they are a good fit. Many are horrified to learn that our church has a policy against allowing cohabitating couples to marry in our church.
I recently attended a seminar hosted by Trevecca University and led by Dr. Scott Stanley, a leading researcher in marriage and family development. The seminar looked at the growing research on cohabitation and its impact on commitment and lasting love in marriage. According to the research, couples who “slide” into cohabitating and marriage are more likely to have marital discontent. One result of the research is the Theory of Inertia. This theory basically says that couples who live together before marriage find it harder to break up and often end up marrying people that they might not have chosen otherwise. Once a couple decides to live together there are constraints on the relationship that make it difficult to leave the relationship. These constraints might be financial pressures (they have a shared apartment lease), children (they have birthed children while cohabiting), moral factors (they believe that they should get married since they have lived together), and social pressures (friends and family already see them as a couple). As a result, people end up in marriages for reasons other than love, commitment, and dedication. One of the research findings from the study is that “men who cohabited premaritally were less dedicated to their wives in marriage” (Stanley, Whitton, and Markman: 2004).
The decision to marry needs to be a thoughtful, prayerful choice. In previous generations, there were several commitment decisions that were made before marriage. There was the decision to date, then the decision to go steady, then the decision to “get pinned,” and finally the decision to become engaged. Each of these was a conscious choice requiring a deeper level of commitment. In many ways, couples who cohabitate are giving up these decisions and losing choices.
I support our churches decision to require couples who are cohabitating to move out until the wedding because it requires them to ask if there is anything about living together that makes them wonder if they are choosing freely to marry this particular person. Scott Stanley said, “Many couples who cohabit prior to having clarity about commitment to the future turn out fine. However, the group who cohabits before such clarity will contain a higher percentage of couples who are at higher risk from inertia” (Issues in Therapy, 2014, Trevecca University).