Urges Bishops To Address Cohabitation
Pope Benedict XVI asked
visiting U.S. Bishops to take new initiatives to tackle the major problem of
“the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who are unaware
that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of
The Pope defined the broader
issue this way: “It is increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of
the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection
of a responsible mature sexual ethic in the practice of chastity, have led
to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”
How right he is.
Cohabitation is the snake in
grass which is diverting tens of millions of Americans from marrying, and is
increasing the likelihood of divorce for those who marry after living
My wife and I wrote the
definitive book on this subject, Living Together: Myths, Risks &
Answers. Today’s generation of young adults has bought the idea
that it makes sense to test the possibility of marriage by living together.
That’s the biggest myth of all.
However, as one marriage
educator put it: “You can’t practice permanence.”
Two sets of data prove she’s
First, according to the
latest Census data, 7.6 million couples cohabited in 2011 – an 18-fold
hike since 1960 when 430,000 couples were living together. Clergy tell
me that two-thirds of those coming to marry, are cohabiting. If so, that’s
1.5 million of the 2.2 million who married last year.
What happened to the other
6.1 million cohabiting couples? Some continued living together, but most
broke up, undergoing the pain of a “premarital divorce,” as we put it.
That is such a searing
experience – particularly for women – that tens of millions never do marry.
The number of never-married Americans has jumped from 21 million in 1970 to
63 million – a tripling while population grew only about 50 percent.
The result is that only 51%
of American adults are married today, down from 72% before cohabitation
diverted millions from marriage. The Pope rightly expressed concern about
the “decrease in the number of young people who approach the sacrament of
Secondly, those who cohabit
and then marry are MORE likely to divorce, 61% more apt to divorce, reports
a Penn State study by Dr. Paul Amato.
The Pope’s proposed solutions
are also on target: better “preaching” and better “marriage preparation
When was the last time you
heard a sermon on the danger of cohabitation? I bet never. I have asked
hundreds of pastors, “Have you ever preached on cohabitation?” Only one
hand in 50 goes up. Why not give a copy of this column to your pastor, with
hard data on the harm of living together, which underscores the wisdom of
St. Paul wrote, “Flee
fornication,” in I Cor. 6:18. “All other sins a man commits are outside his
body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know
your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?”
Pope Benedict told the
bishops, “There is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to
recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. The integrating and
liberating function of this virtue should be emphasized by a formation of
the heart, which presents the Christian understanding of sexuality as a
source of genuine freedom, happiness, and the fulfillment of our fundamental
and innate human vocation to love.”
But only in marriage.
In our book Living
Together, we offer three other answers:
1. Require those getting married to take a premarital inventory
such as PREPARE-ENRICH which asks the man and woman whether they agree or
disagree with 150+ statements:
When we are having a problem,
my partner often refuses to talk about it.
Sometimes I wish my partner
were more careful about spending money.
2. Train mature couples in healthy marriages
to be Mentor Couples who review every issue on the Inventory with the couple
over 5-6 sessions, and teach communication and conflict resolution skills.
3. Join with other churches of all
denominations in a city to create a Community Marriage Policy in which all
agree to make marriage a priority by requiring the taking of an inventory,
and reviewing it with trained Mentors. Churches also agree to hold an
annual marriage enrichment event to strengthen existing marriages, to help
couples in crisis to succeed, to reconcile separated couples, and help those
in stepfamilies be successful.
An independent study by the
Institute for Research and Evaluation reported Community Marriage
Policies cut cohabitation rates by a third, and reduce divorce rates by
17.5% in seven years. (Disclosure: my wife and I helped 11,000 churches
create 229 Community Marriage Policies and trained Mentor Couples to