May 14, 2005
The Living Together Myth
Why was Jennifer Wilbanks a
Some hypothesize that she
was under stress due to her elaborate wedding with 14
bridesmaids and 600 guests. I believe the issue goes much
She bought the myth that it
is smart to live together before marrying. But she was deeply
troubled about the prospective marriage, and did not know how to
stop the train of events.
Few brides hop a bus to flee
across country to escape the wedding. But of 5 million couples
currently living together, 2.25 million will break up short of
The conventional wisdom is
"Try on the shoe before you buy it." Bad analogy. A shoe has no
feelings if it is rejected. But the person who is cast aside in
a "premarital divorce" suffers agony similar to a spouse who
endures an unsought real divorce.
Yet those who buy the living
together myth have soared from 430,000 in 1960 to 5 million
today. Cohabitation is the dominant way male-female unions are
formed - not marriage. Only 2.2 million marry in a whole year.
In fact, if the same
percentage of people married today as in 1970, there would be a
million more marriages a year.
The myth of living together
as a step toward marriage has diverted tens of millions from
even marrying. There were 21 million never married adults in
1970, but 52 million in 2003. Of those aged 30-44 in 1970, only
13.4 percent were unmarried. That figure that has more than
tripled to 44.2 percent.
Another living together myth
is that it will produce more stable marriages.
In fact, couples who lived
together before marriage are profoundly more unhappy, fight
more, commit more adultery and are 50 percent more likely to
divorce than those who never cohabited. A new study reports that
even a month of cohabitation hurts a future marriage.
This is secular evidence
that Scripture is correct: "Marriage should be honored by all
and the marriage bed be kept pure, for God will judge the
adulterer and all the sexually immoral."
Yet have you ever heard a
sermon on living together? I bet not. Why not? Pastors are
flummoxed by this issue. They do not know what to say.
Fortunately, there is an
answer, suggested by Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: "Test
everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil."
Couples who live together to
test the relationship are embracing evil.
A better way to test the
relationship is to take a premarital inventory which asks the
man and the woman to indicate whether they agree or disagree
with 150+ statements:
"My future spouse sometimes
puts me down. My family approves of my future spouse."
A tenth of those who take a
premarital inventory, decide not to marry. Their scores are
equal to those who marry and later divorce. They have avoided a
bad marriage before it began.
It is ideal if the couple
discusses the issues on the questionnaire with a mature couple
in a vibrant marriage than with a pastor. A trained mentor
couple can devote 5-6 sessions discussing all of the inventory
items while a pastor might give only an hour for feedback.
In my home church my wife
and I trained mentor couples to administer an
inventory and to teach skills to
improve the premarital couple's ability to resolve conflict.
"The inventory helped us in
ways we did not expect. Issues came to the
surface that are
relevant/critical to our relationship," wrote one woman on an
evaluation form. A man said the inventory "was extremely
important because it allowed me to see things that may become an
issue later in marriage. We have a lot of differences to
The mentoring? "Our
mentoring experience was wonderful! Our mentors
demonstrated tremendous patience
and wisdom in sharing with us and in helping us talk through the
issues in our relationship. We learned a lot from them."
Of 288 couples prepared from
1992 through 2000, 21 couples dropped out,
mostly to break up. Another 34
couples completed marriage preparation but decided not to marry.
Thus, 18 percent of couples didn't marry.
Of those who married, there
have been only seven divorces or separations. That is a three
percent failure rate over a decade or a 97 percent success rate.
Compare that with 100
couples who live together: 45 break up short of marriage. Ten
continue to cohabit. Of the 45 who marry, 33 will divorce,
leaving only 12 couples still married.
Those numbers explode the
living together myth.
Jennifer Wilbanks deserved a
more appropriate way to test her relationship.