One of the problems in our culture when it comes to singleness is that the word single is too broad. It means far too many things. As I’ve stated before here, this is especially a problem in Christian culture because there are varying scriptural instructions for different groups of unmarried people. There are at least the following biblical examples of marital status: The married, the divorced, the widowed, those not yet married, those celibate by birth, those celibate because of the fall of man and those who are called and choose Celibacy for the Kingdom. Needless to say, all of these are different.
But in our culture we have added a group that amazingly I’ve never directly addressed here at the blog. That is those couples that live in cohabitation.
From a Biblical perspective, this is a terrible idea. From a Biblical perspective you are not really single or married. Frankly you are closer to married than single from a scriptural standpoint.
You might argue that Biblical times were different. Ok. No kidding. Yes they were. But people still had sex outside of marriage and amazingly some even lived together without marriage (John 4 if you want an example). It’s important to remember that none of our current sexual practices are really that different than the past. It just plays out differently based on culture and technology. We’re not better or worse than (or for that matter smarter than) the people two thousand years ago. They were sinful people living in a fallen world and so are we.
But, to be fair, and to be intellectually honest, in western culture the number of people living together has skyrocketed the last 40 years. By 900% according to some studies.
From a Christian culture perspective let me just say this: You are not Biblically single if you are living with someone. You don’t have the “gift” of singleness if you are living with someone. But the funny thing about Biblical instructions is that they work in real life. Here are some actual facts to keep in mind. These aren’t just from Christian studies. The studies on this across the board validate Biblical teaching on marriage.
- People who are married and haven’t lived together first report more happy marriages
- The divorce rate for those that live together first is significantly higher than those that don’t. (There are many potential reasons for this but the statistic is real).
- Less than 50% of people that live together get married.
- Only 33% of people that live together end up married 7 years later.
- Up to 85% of the people who live with someone for the first time will either break up or divorce that person.
- Both men and women who live together are more likely to cheat than those who are married
- 20% of women who live with someone get pregnant in the first 12 months. This creates a bunch of other consequences.
- Cohabiting couples have a separation rate five times higher than married couples and a reconciliation rate only one third as likely.
- Married couples make more money both now and later in life.
- Married couples report more happiness, less stress, less fighting, less domestic violence and more sexual satisfaction.
Now there are all sorts of logical reasons for all of these statistics. We already know that people who wait until marriage for sex report higher satisfaction sexually in marriage (again this is from secular studies). But living together without marriage creates all sorts of practical problems. It makes breaking up harder. You share rent and expenses and maybe a dog or heck a kid. It creates a lack of urgency to actually get married. It leaves people with an out. It’s more of a lack of commitment than a step towards it.
There are at least two clear realities to also keep in mind. Living together is not a good test for marriage and it is for sure not a way to prepare or practice for marriage. There is absolutely no statistical argument for either of those two ideas. None. Zero. Nada.
All of this is regardless of your beliefs about what is Biblically acceptable.
The deal is this: God designed things in a certain way for a reason. He’s not some being in the sky giving us random instructions for the fun of it. This is true in every single area of life . . . including marriage and singleness.
That said, allow me to give some counsel to some different groups of people.
To those that are unmarried and not in a relationship. Determine right now that this will not be your path. If you are trying to follow Jesus, your instructions here are clear. Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t move in with someone without marriage.
To those that are in a relationship and having sex. First I would suggest ending the sexual relationship. But for sure, do not move in together. If you are not ready to get married, living together will not make you more ready and it may well make you less so.
If you are living with someone now you need to do some serious thinking. What is your plan for this relationship? If you don’t want to marry this person (or this person doesn’t want to marry you), I’d suggest planning an exit strategy now. If both of you do want to to get married here are some practical thoughts:
- You need to ask why you aren’t married now. What is keeping you from marriage? I promise a post soon about this (not just in the living together context). This is extremely important.
- If you want to marry this person then make that decision and commitment.
- If you want to marry them I’d consider finding a way to live apart until you do.
- If you want to marry them and are dead set on not living apart, I’d suggest seeking counsel and accountability to stop having sex until you get married. As crazy as this sounds I’ve personally seen this be very beneficial to couples when they get married. It’s a heavy lift but it can be done.
- At the very least, quit rationalizing it and admit what you are doing. Own it. Quit lying to yourself.
The bottom line is that cohabitation is not in any way part of God’s plan for marriage or singleness. It doesn’t prepare you for marriage. It’s not a valid substitution for marriage or singleness. It creates all sorts of side effects that can cost you now and later. It doesn’t necessarily doom you or the relationship if you repent and seek God’s way now.