Cohabitation Before Marriage

By Gary N. Patton

We live in an age of “free love,” an open acceptance of adulterous relationships and the sin of fornication accepted as just a fact of life that “everybody” participates in and should not question. The vast majority of movies, T.V. shows and reading material published in great numbers today depict what the Bible calls “sin” as being the socially accepted way of life. Parents are encouraged by humanistically influenced counselors to let their children “explore” their friends’ bodies. Many counselors have been known to advise clients to have an “affair” as an answer to marital problems. With such thinking and advice glorified on a daily basis, no wonder marriage is seldom considered an “until death” commitment, but rather just a “temporary” relationship that one can discard when there are problems. Is it any wonder authorities tell us that the majority of marriages end in divorce?

Because of the lack of respect for the marriage bond, many begin to reason, why marry? If most people do not think it is wrong to commit fornication, then we see why many live and cohabit together rather than marry. God’s plan for sexual relations has always been approved only in the marriage (husband and wife) relationship. When-ever sexual relations are engaged in outside of marriage, God’s law has been violated. His plan has always been one of total commitment to him and each other, of purity, love and trust. Such passages as Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:3-9; Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly teach this plan.

When faced with the facts, even those in the world agree that a commitment to God and his word can help keep one pure until marriage, thus laying a solid foundation for a successful marriage. If the world’s thinking is followed, failure is more often the result.

“Cohabitation” is a word the world likes to use to describe sexual relations. Though it can be rightfully used to refer to relations in the marriage relationship, much of the time when this word is used in the media, it is used instead of the words “fornication” or “adultery.” This is done not to sound judgmental toward one’s sexual actions outside the marriage relationship, but God’s word does not hide the terribleness of such action.

In trying to find things that bring about divorce in marriages, sociologists have made an interesting find in their research of cohabiting before marriage. In a recent project conducted two years ago, The National Institute For Healthcare Research in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, released the following observations:

Making a lasting marriage commitment and avoiding the pitfalls of cohabitation is strongly associated with the degree of a person’s religious commitment …. Since cohabiting couples have a greater tendency to divorce if they eventually marry, researchers at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and the University of Toledo investigated what factors help predict who is more likely to cohabit.

They found the cohabitation rate is seven times higher among persons who seldom or never attend religious services compared to persons who frequently attend. Religious commitment reduces cohabitation among both young men and young women, but the effect was found to be stronger among young women. The level of religious commitment was also a key. Women who attended religious services regularly were only one-third as likely to cohabit as those who attended church services less than once a month.

The religious commitment of parents was also found to be significant in determining whether an adult child will cohabit. If the mother frequently attended religious services, both sons and daughters were only 50 percent as likely to cohabit as adult children whose mothers were not actively religious.

The researchers noted that the tendency to cohabit increased in the early seventies, just at the time that religious commitment in young people began to decline. The higher divorce rate of the last 20 years is also consistent with the increased tendency of married couples who initially cohabited to divorce (Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Daniel H. Hill, “Reciprocal Effects of Religiosity, Cohabitation and Marriage,” American Journal of Sociology 98, 1992).

If we call and teach that fornication and adultery is sin, as God does in his word, then we will want to please him by abstaining from that which he condemns. We will strive to keep ourselves pure before marriage and committed to one another in marriage. If we want our children to avoid fornication then we must do every-thing we can to instill in their lives a desire to love and obey God. Remember we teach both by our words and by our actions. Do not be afraid to tell them that cohabiting outside of the marriage relationship is sin and that it can destroy that which God designed to be beautiful in our lives.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 15, p. 14
August 4, 1994