For the first time in our history, more Americans have lived with a romantic partner than have married one. According to Pew Research Center’s new study, the number of those who have ever married has fallen from 60 percent in 2002 to 50 percent today, while the number who have cohabited without being married has grown from 54 percent to 59 percent.
The study also reports that 69 percent of Americans say it is acceptable for a couple to live together even if they don’t plan to get married. Sixteen percent agree with cohabiting if the couple plans to marry. Only 14 percent of us believe it is “never acceptable” for a couple to live together before marriage.
Here’s the irony: the more that Americans grow to accept cohabiting, the more we learn how detrimental such a lifestyle can be for those who practice it.
Are married couples more satisfied than those who cohabit?
One reason many couples decide to live together is to “test” their relationship to see if they should marry.
However, according to a Barna Group study cited by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), couples who are “testing” their relationship experience higher levels of depressive symptoms, abandonment anxiety, and negative interaction. The IFS concludes that “if you are considering whether or not to move in with someone to test the relationship, it’s likely not the wisest thing to do.”
The Pew study reports that married adults are more likely than cohabiting couples to trust their partner to be faithful to them, act in their best interest, always tell them the truth, and handle money responsibly. They are more satisfied with their partner’s approach to parenting, the way household chores are divided, how well they balance work and personal life, how well they communicate, and their sex life.
In fact, there was not a single subject on which married adults did not report higher satisfaction than those who are cohabiting.
Is cohabiting associated with a higher risk of divorce?
Another report, this one published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF), shows that those who live together before marriage have a higher risk of divorce. This study contradicts widely reported previous claims that premarital cohabiting does not increase such risk.
The JMF report shows that these earlier studies were premature since they did not have outcomes for divorce far enough out to be accurate. The new report also notes that a lower risk of divorce for cohabiting couples in the first year is followed by higher risks for divorce in all subsequent years.
One other finding of note: the JMF report shows that the risks of living together before marriage are even greater among those who had lived with more than just their mate prior to marriage. This finding is consistent with many other studies.
Why does God call us to chastity and faithfulness?
Scripture teaches that God created us as male and female (Genesis 1:27) and that he intends a man and woman to experience sexual union only in marriage (Genesis 2:24). Jesus clearly affirmed these biblical texts, then stated, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
God’s word states that “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2–3). Scripture adds: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).
How different would our culture be today if each of us remained chaste before marriage and faithful to our spouse within it? Imagine a world without pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, and adultery.
This is the freedom and purity God intends for us.
How can we find the grace we all need?
Does this mean that a couple who is cohabiting cannot experience God’s blessing if they marry? Or that a married couple who cohabited previously cannot receive their Father’s favor?
There is a balance here. On one hand, our Father is loving and merciful. He wants only the best for us and is ready to forgive every sin we confess (1 John 1:9) and forget all he forgives (Isaiah 43:25). On the other hand, choices produce consequences. If I drive a nail into a tree, you can remove the nail, but the hole remains and may take a long time to heal.
Max Lucado’s prayer captures this balance well: “Thank you for accepting me as I am but not leaving me the same.”
The best way to respond to unbiblical decisions, whether they relate to sexuality or any other dimension of life, is to confess them immediately to our Lord. There we will find his forgiveness and experience his redeeming grace.
His word is realistic: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). However, the next verse promises that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24).
Why do you need this gift today?