Is Living Together A Good Test for Marital Compatibility?
Dear Dr. Bill: My boyfriend and I are both from broken homes and want to divorce-proof our future marriage. Is living together a good test for future compatibility?
That's a question a lot of young people are asking these days. According to the National Marriage Project, about 60 percent of young adults in America say they plan to live together before marriage. Many of them grew up in homes where divorce occurred, and experienced a tremendous amount of pain and insecurity as a result of their parents' break up. They are determined not to repeat their parents' mistakes and desire to find a "soul mate" to whom they will be married for life.
You and your boyfriend may believe that living together is a good way to find out if you are compatible — a "test drive" that will improve your chances for marital success. While this seems to make sense intuitively, actually just the opposite is true. Research indicates that couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50 percent higher divorce rate than those who don't. These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence and are more likely to be involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will leave the relationship within two years, resulting in a single mom raising a fatherless child.
The best way to test your compatibility for marriage is to date for at least one year before engagement and participate in a structured, premarital counseling program, which includes psychological testing.
Why Shouldn't We Live Together?
Dear Dr. Bill: I heard you on Weekend Magazine talking about dating for a year before marriage and to not cohabitate. Why is this important if both persons are spiritual, have great faith in Jesus Christ, respect each other, have morals and values, etc.? Also, you said to participate in a structured marriage counseling session. I think this one is a very good idea. What other suggestions do you have for couples who plan to get married?
Thanks for your letter. As you mentioned, a few months ago I mentioned that many couples today believe that living together is a good way to find out if they are compatible — sort of a "test drive" that will improve their chances for marital success. While this seems to make sense, actually the opposite is true.
The latest research indicates that couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50 – 80 percent higher divorce rate than those who don't. These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence and are more likely to be involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will leave the relationship within two years, resulting in a single mom raising a fatherless child.
As a Christian, it's important for you to know that God has some very specific things to say about sex outside of marriage. Sexuality is a marvelous gift that He has given us. But the Bible clearly tells us that it is to be expressed within the context of marriage. There are many scriptures that address this issue. One of them is found in the book of Thessalonians. It says: "It's God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality, that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God." As I mentioned earlier, when we venture outside of God's design in this area, the consequences can be devastating.
I would encourage you and your boyfriend to remain sexually pure until marriage. If you are already living together, you need to know that God considers that a sin, and it's important that you ask His forgiveness and then take seriously what He tells us in His Word.
To answer the second part of your question, I believe that pre-marital counseling is vital for every couple who is thinking about getting married. One of the best programs I know is called "Prepare and Enrich," and has an 80 percent success rate at predicting which couples will succeed, and which couples will be divorced within three years.
I also believe it's critical to date for at least one full year before getting engaged. Many couples who are in love rush into things, sometimes with disastrous consequences. If you think about it, what is 52 weeks when you're planning to spend the rest of your lives together? Some people won't agree with me, but I also don't believe it's wise to get married until you're at least in your early 20s. The research shows that couples who wait until they are at least 23 have a much lower divorce rate than those who marry younger. Getting married at 18 may have worked for our parents or grandparents, but young people today live in a very different world, one with a divorce rate close to 60 percent.
I hope that's helpful.