Cohabitation and Its Implications for Marriage

Is living together before marriage a good test of marital compatibility? My boyfriend and I both come from broken homes. We've been talking about spending our lives together, but we're afraid of ending up divorced like our parents. How do you suggest we handle this?

A far better alternative to the one you’re proposing is premaritalcounseling. The very best way to test your compatibility for marriage is to date for at least one year before engagement while participating in a structured counseling program that includes psychological testing.

There are a number of such programs available. One of the best is called “PREPARE/ENRICH.” It has an 80 percent success rate at predicting which couples will be able to forge a lasting relationship and which will be divorced within three years. To find out more and take an introductory quiz, you can visit their website at

For referrals to qualified Christian marriage and family counselors in your area, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our counselors, all of whom are licensed therapists, will be happy to discuss your questions with you over the phone and direct you to a local practitioner who will be able to help you and your fiancé get started on the road to a fulfilling marriage.

In addition to the benefits of counseling, it’s vital to stress the importance of allowing sufficient time for your relationship to mature and grow apart from the pressures of long-term commitments and the emotional entanglements of physical intimacy. A year is not too long to wait when you’re planning to spend the rest of your lives together. Many couples who are in love rush into things, sometimes with disastrous consequences. In most cases, it’s also advisable to wait until you’re in your early 20s before talking seriously about marriage. Research shows that couples who marry after age 23 have a much lower divorce rate than those who take this decisive step at an earlier stage.

As for the specific question you’ve raised, we have a couple of good reasons for believing that living together before marriage is not a good idea. In the first place, the statistics are against it. You and your boyfriend may believe that this is a good way to find out whether you have what it takes to build a strong marriage, and from a certain perspective this appears to be a reasonable assumption. Intuitively speaking, it seems to make sense that a “test drive” will provide you with all the information you need in order to predict marital success or failure. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true.

The best research indicates that couples who live together 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 become involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will abandon the relationship within two years, leaving a single mom to raise a fatherless child.

Our second reason for advising against premarital cohabitation grows directly out of our Christian faith. To become involved in a living arrangement that includes sexual relations outside the context of marriage is to undermine the biblical meaning of marriage itself. It’s to disregard God’s design for human sexuality as it has been set forth in the Scriptures. Marriage, according to the Bible, is a one-flesh union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The sexual act is the glue that seals this one-flesh bond.

There are many passages that address this issue in clear and unmistakable terms. Hebrews 13:4, for example, says that “marriage should be held honorable among all people and the marriage bed kept undefiled.” First Thessalonians 4:3 declares, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” “Because of sexual immorality,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:2, “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” The implication is plain: sexual intercourse is inappropriate in any other setting. For all these reasons we strongly urge you and your boyfriend to keep yourselves sexually pure until marriage. If you’ve been involved sexually, confess it to God and make a commitment to future purity.


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