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.

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.