An Irresistible Opportunity:
About fifteen years ago, I used to teach Christian morality at an all-boys Catholic high school in the Chicago area. As is the case now days, many of the students were more influenced by worldly standards than they were of Gospel values. As such, they were convinced by conventional thinking that “shacking-up” with a girl friend or prospective wife would be a good method of determining whether or not a life-long marriage would work out. With that said, I challenged them with an unprecedented and irresistible opportunity: I told them if they could find a study which supported their opinion that living together with a girl friend lends itself to a longer marriage that they would receive so much extra credit that they would not have to another homework assignment for the rest of the year. As soon as my students heard my proposal, there were shouts of “all right!” In no uncertain terms did they express their confidence that the extra credit was theirs for the taking.
Two or three weeks later, one by one, my students approached me in private. They asked, “Mr. Tremblay, could I still have the extra credit if I show that cohabitation increases the chances for divorce.” I did give them some extra credit on the condition that they (especially the most vocal of my opponents) get up in front of the class and present their findings.
A Few Statistics:
“Living together is not a trial of marriage, but rather a training for divorce.” Here are some statistics from the book, Marriage Savers. They can be verified in just about any study on how cohabitation adversely affects the longevity of marriage:
• More than eight out of ten couples who live together will break up either before the wedding or afterwards in divorce.
• Couples who do marry after living together are 50% more likely to divorce than those who did not.
• The number of unmarried couples living together soared 12-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 5.4 million in 2005.
As to this latter point, the data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey and 2010 Current Population Survey confirmed that marriage is going out of style. This is what they found:
• Between 2000 and 2009, the share of young adults ages 25 to 34 who are married dropped 10 percentage points, from 55 percent to 45 percent.
• Among the total population ages 18 and older, the proportion married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009.
Trying Them Out:
Supporters of cohabitation reason that a lifelong mate needs to be “tried out.” You know, kind of like a product. Before you buy shoes, you try them on. Before you buy a car, you take it for a test drive. And before you get married, you live together with the prospective spouse without any commitment, see what his or her habits are and, most important, you find out whether or not your partner is “sexually compatible” with you.
However, there is a problem with that reasoning. Human beings are not products. To "try them out" assumes that if the couple’s sex life is good then the relationship too will be good. This cannot be further from the truth. The enjoyment of sex can be experienced between virtual strangers or even between two people who are in no way compatible with one another. Sexual partners are always replaceable; at least as far as a worldly man is concerned. A woman’s appeal, based on mere looks, is never enough incentive for a man to stay committed to the relationship. There can always be another woman that comes along who has an appealing body or a pretty face. Just as important, a man’s attraction to a woman can go just as quickly as it came. All his female partner has to do is become an annoyance, an embarrassment or a burden to him and presto! the magic she once worked on him is gone. Beauty is not only skin deep, with the wrong person it can be like a vapor: here one second, gone the next.
What couples also fail to consider- but especially men –is that the bedroom is only one room in the house. A good deal of one’s marriage will be in the kitchen, living room, family room, dining room and yes, sometimes the bathroom. As such, the bedroom is hardly a good laboratory for evaluating the compatibility of one’s relationship. In fact, I would argue that activity in the bedroom before marriage is a significant distraction. After all, the sexual intimacy that is shared- be it real or superficial –can be mistaken for the kind of intimacy needed for a permanent commitment in marriage. And when red flags go up, this part of the relationship can blind a person’s objectivity. Indeed, they may not see each other as they really are because of their attachment to that one aspect of the relationship.
Consider this passage from St. Paul’s letter to St. Timothy. In it he refers to men who sexually exploit women. And from all that I have learned from couples who cohabitate, women are the least happy with this arrangement because it lacks the commitment which would normally make her feel secure in her partner's love. This is what the Apostle wrote:
“For some of these slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires, always trying to learn but never able to reach a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3: 6-7)
"Always trying to learn but never able to reach the knowledge of the truth." I find this passage very interesting because it speaks to inability of people nowdays to see problem spots in relationships before the big wedding day. I also find it interesting because with the increase of cohabitation comes with it a decrease in understanding...understanding of what real love is.
Never have I heard a couple who was truly in love and compatible with one another come to find out that the sex was not good. So many people have it backwards. A good sex life, by itself, never produces a good and enduring relationship. But a good and loving relationship, based on shared values and commitments, always leads to a good sex life.
The thing to remember is that bed partners are dispensable. But personalities are not. No one can replace a man or a woman who loves certain people and certain things; who possesses certain virtues and certain vices; who has certain habits; who has certain expectations; who comes from a certain family; and who has a certain love God. These features of one's personality makes that special person wholly unique. In discerning a prospective husband or wife, therefore, the real determination should be on the basis of personality not sexual performance.
The Most Important Thing:
Christ thought that romantic and sexual love was so important that He elevated its status from a mere institution to a Sacrament. From the sacramental grace of matrimony comes the strength that is needed to fulfill the dream and aspiration of that “forever kind of love” couples experience. It is in the act of “falling in love” that the couples comes in contact with the eternal love that the Lord has to offer. That is why married love requires three: God, man and woman. And out of this holy union comes forth the miracle of new life.
Therefore, the relationship between a man and a woman is not a trivial thing. It can make or break a person’s life, it determines the welfare of society and it impacts the salvation of souls. This is why when a man and a woman who set out to make a life with each other benefits immensely from a wedding ceremony. Vows before God and the community elicit the support that is needed to ensure a lifelong marriage. Indeed, the Church takes them at their word and blesses their moral determination to love one another forever.
This leads to the most important thing: Cohabitation, because it involves sexual activity outside of wedlock, is a sin against God. It offends him and his goodness. Unfortunately, many dioceses and parishes throughout America routinely fall short in teaching this truth. Often, they do not require the repentance and the practice of virtue which are necessary for the subsequent demands of marriage. Nevertheless, Catholics cannot be afraid to mention the word “sin.” To know its reality is to be one step closer to being liberated from it. Without its mention, Jesus Christ as Savior becomes totally unintelligible. But not only is it a sin to live together, it is a mortal sin; one that compromises the salvation of one’s soul. St. Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth of this sobering reality:
“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
This needs to be mentioned. Couples need to know about this sin because they need God’s blessing. It is precisely because living together before marriage is a sin before God that it breaks up the holiest of unions.
*For the Church’s role in marriage and cohabitation trends, please read the post below.