FIVE REASONS TO CANCEL COHABITATION

FIVE REASONS TO CANCEL COHABITATION

Breakpoint, Christianity Today, and the Institute for Family Studies recently reported on a new Pew Research survey indicating that American evangelicals embrace premarital sex and cohabitation in increasing numbers. Writing for IFS, David J. Ayers says, “It is stunning that this has quietly come to pass among adherents to a form of Christianity that emphasizes radical obedience to an inerrant Bible, forbids all sex outside marriage, and emphasizes being distinct from “the world.”

You can read the research using the links above. But more is at stake than who is shacking up and who is not. As Ayers mentions, the first issue for Christians is obedience to Christ.  We want that to be enough, but experience tells us that it helps to have other reasons to support our choices. As a marriage counselor for 25 years, I can tell you that the most potent reasons have to do with negative relationship dynamics set in motion with premarital sex and cohabitation.

In his 2011 book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, Glenn Stanton cites five reasons everyone, not just Christians, should consider.

  1. Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined. Bottom line: A solemn vow made before a supportive community is a surer foundation than economic convenience and sexual passion any day.
  1. Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that they are freer to exit the relationship at any time without a marriage license. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other before the wedding and unconsciously carries over later.
  1. Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not address. Financial values, child-rearing values, and relational exclusivity—that part about “forsaking all others”—are among them.
  1. People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited. Those conclusions are disputed but dig down in the data, and you will find enough reason to push pause on cohabitation.  
  1. All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation–even with someone you eventually wed– sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”[1]

No wonder the Apostle Paul warned us about wronging each other in these matters.

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. [2]


[1] Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 4:2–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

ECSTASY THY NAME IS CHASTITY Seven Ways Married Sex is Best

Yes, that is a very COSMO-like headline for a preacher’s blog. But we live in the COSMO generation. We’ve bought into the idea that the best sex is low on commitment, high on recreation, and all about the right “moves.”

Guess what? The best sex isn’t about the right moves. In fact, the moves have very little to do with it. God didn’t make it that complicated. Our bodies can figure out the mechanics of sex without much help.

The best sex happens under the best conditions and it happens that way because we are so much more than bodies with sex organs. We are men and women, made in the image of God, with physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities for intimacy and ecstasy reaching far beyond anything pornography peddlers can imagine.

Thus, chastity is much more than “not doing it.” Chastity before and fidelity within marriage is the best path to ecstasy.

If you have been burned by the COSMO world, or if you are a young adult contemplating your path through our sex-is-everything culture I want to offer you a better way. In fact, I want to offer you a better world.

Married men and women have a better, more consistent sexual experience over the whole course of their lives than unmarried people. The statistics are available to anyone who wants to look, so I won’t spend any time there.[1] Instead here are seven reasons married sex is best.

First, married sex is richer because it can afford to be completely emotionally vulnerable, no fear of being left behind. The deeper the vulnerability the greater the ecstasy, but vulnerability requires levels of trust unavailable to the uncommitted.

Sex can be separated from vulnerability. People do it all the time. But they are missing at least half of the experience, probably more. Many things happen in the marriage, and in the marriage bed before and after lovemaking, that bind husband and wife together heart and soul. Unmarried sex is as risky to the heart as it is to the body, the emotional equivalent of trapeze work without a net. The marriage covenant makes both people more secure, willing to take greater emotional risks and gather its deeper sensual rewards.

Second, married sex is more generous. It is about giving pleasure as much or more than getting it. The marriage covenant fulfills our longing for existential meaning by giving our lives a higher purpose: The good of our mates and our families. Each person is already committed via a covenant spoken before God, to the death, to the other’s well being. That commitment reshapes the entire approach to lovemaking into an act of service, a free act of self-giving. Paradoxically, as Jesus taught, the more we give of ourselves the more we get in return.

Third, married sex preserves dignity. Each one honors the other and doesn’t push them to places where they don’t want to go. Married sex protects our dignity from the pornographization of everything. We treat each other as whole persons rather than objects that exist solely for individual gratification.

Fourth, married sex comes without shame before others and without guilt before God. Our cultural moment has managed to dull this sense of accountability to our creator, but it is not extinct. It is still common for unmarried people to keep the sexual nature of their relationship secret and un-celebrated. Yet celebration attends every wedding and none greater than the departure for the honeymoon where everyone in attendance knows what’s coming next.

Fifth, married sex is spiritually deeper, if the couple are believers, than even the emotional depths mentioned in number one. The Apostle Paul hinted at the spiritual dimension in Ephesians chapter five saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.[2] The marriage bed foreshadows the great consummation of the ages in profoundly mysterious ways. The exquisite joy, the honor, security, and oneness we find there is merely the overture of the grand symphony we will join when he returns for his bride, the Church.

Sixth, married sex preserves the neuro-chemical high. The delicate interchange of pheromones, hormones, and neurotransmitters that fire during the act of marriage — oxytocin, nor epinephrine, serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine — along with all the neural pathways of ecstasy God designed for our good create chemical bonds between lovers broken only at great cost. That is why so many of our love songs are about the pain of loss. Multiple liaisons, no matter how greatly lauded in popular entertainment, dull those neural networks, reducing something exquisite into ordinariness and diluting the power of the chemical bond which is one of the factors driving people into stranger and kinkier attempts to reclaim the ecstasy of their first encounters.

Seventh, married sex rejoices in life. It doesn’t resent children and try to get rid of them, it celebrates children as what they really are: the incredible gift of co-creation with our loving father, the fruit of love that comes from love.

No doubt I’ve raised many questions. But this post is too long and the topic is too broad and I don’t want to linger on it, so I’ve listed resources that have been helpful to me below[3]. However, if you would like to know more I’m happy to help.

For too long preachers like me have cursed the darkness of our sexual brokenness.  We need to turn on the light. I hope this post has done that for you.

[1] http://www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu/; The Science of Shacking Up

Why cohabitating couples are putting their future at risk. An interview with Glenn Stanton on ‘The Ring Makes All the Difference.’

Interview by Caryn Rivadeneira. Christianity Today. 2011.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:31–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] https://daneskelton.com/2017/02/08/one-ring-to-bind-them/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2016/12/progressively-regressive-sexuality-rebroadcast/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2014/12/time-new-sexual-revolution/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2013/07/recovering-sexual-wholeness/; http://www.ruthinstitute.org/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2011/11/so-long-sex-week-at-yale/; http://www.miriamgrossmanmd.com/books/; http://www.boundless.org/relationships/2007/a-review-of-unprotected-by-anonymous-md; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/september/science-of-cohabitating.html; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/16.22.html;

ONE RING TO BIND THEM

Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage

Ask any pastor what the toughest part of his job is and, second only to funerals of the young, he will tell you “counseling broken marriages.” Nothing else wreaks more emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial havoc than divorce. No wonder then that we are always on the lookout for resources to help couples, especially pre-marital couples, prevent that disaster. Glenn T. Stanton’s THE RING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (Moody Publishers, 2011) takes aim at one of the preeminent pre-cursors to broken marriages today: pre-marital cohabitation, and does so with pinpoint accuracy.

Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, and a leading spokesperson on marriage and family issues. He can also be heard on the weekly “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, hosted by John Stonestreet.

At fewer than one hundred and fifty pages, The Ring is an easy read, incredibly well-documented, and highly practical for couples or individuals who want to think carefully and act wisely as they approach marriage. Each chapter has large-print summary quotes for quick review along with five or six insight-inducing questions at the end.

The book is also a great example of science “catching up” with scripture. Anyone familiar with the biblical understanding of marriage knows that sex before marriage is sin and cohabitation is not equal to marriage. The mid-twentieth century sexual revolution and feminist movements undermined that message, and cohabitation has skyrocketed as a result. Most couples just sort of slide in to the arrangement, not intending to commit sin so much as failing to see why it matters. But social scientists have been tracking the results of that sea-change for fifty years and the results support the biblical view. A few of the findings are indicative:

“Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs us or our parents tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined.”

“Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that without a marriage license, they are freer to exit the relationship at any time. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other.”

“Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not deal with. This is why cohabitation even exists.”

“People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited.”

All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation, even with someone you eventually wed, sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”

Any married person would benefit from Stanton’s book, but I highly recommend it to young men and women contemplating marriage, as well as to those who haven’t yet found that special someone. Read it, and protect yourself from a world of hurt.