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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,938
October 11, 2018
Cohabitation: Worst Preparation for Marriage
By Mike McManus

A month after he preached against cohabiting, a Texas pastor offered to marry any cohabiting couples for free, and seven couples accepted, hoping to put their relationships on a biblical path.

"I encouraged couples in our church who were living together to really think through whether that was God's best for them," said Senior Pastor Pete Briscoe of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrolton, Texas.

"At the end of the sermon, we gave them the option that if they felt God was leading them to get married, we would hold a free wedding for them on one specific day," said Pastor Briscoe. He gushed about his daughter's recent wedding and declared marriage "as a holy estate instituted by God and commanded in Scripture."

He added that "I know for a fact that some of you here are living together and you're not married, so you're feeling a little awkward right now, which is OK."

However, Pastor Briscoe's message was only partially correct.

In 2016 some 9 million couples were cohabiting, but there were only 2.2 million couples who married that year. Even though 59% of those who married were living together, that's only 1.3 million of the 9 million cohabiting couples who married.

What happened to the other 7.7 million couples? Most continued living together, but broke up after 22 months, on average.

Sadly, cohabitation has become the new norm.

My wife and I wrote a book on this subject, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. One myth, widely believed by women, is that if she moves in with him, he will ask her to marry him. However, men cohabit for sex, shared rent and companionship - and to AVOID the responsibility of marriage. When she realizes that he is not serious about the relationship, she moves out.

Her self-confidence is shattered. However, she may be pregnant or may have already had a child. (Indeed, 40% of U.S. births are to unwed parents - 20 times Japan's 2% rate.) That's the worst possible situation for the young mother. Few men want to marry a woman with a child from another man.

Consider two important facts. There were more marriages in 1970 (2,169,000) than in 2015 (2,077,000) - a full 45 years later. The U.S. had only 203 million Americans in 1970 vs. 319 million in 2015. That's a 63% decline in the marriage rate - a direct result of soaring cohabitation.

Second, according to Census, 72% of households were headed by a married couple in 1960 - but only 48% were led by married couples in 2016 - again, a two-thirds drop.

The major reason for this plunge in the marriage rate is cohabitation. Between 1965 and 1970, only a tenth of couples cohabited before marriage. In 1960 there were only 430,000 living together - but 9 million cohabiting in 2016! That's a 21-fold increase!

It is the major reason for the sharp drop in the marriage rate.

Most Americans believe cohabitation is a good idea. According to a Barna poll, 84% say the major reason to do so is to "test for compatibility."

If so, why hasn't the huge surge of cohabitation led to MORE marriages, rather than a two-thirds drop in the marriage rate? The obvious answer is that those who believe cohabitation is a good idea - are flat out wrong.

As one marriage educator put it, "You can't practice permanence."

What's the long term answer?

First, every pastor needs to preach sermons against living together, as did Pastor Briscoe. Few do so today. They need to argue that the best union of a man and a woman is marriage, not cohabitation.

Second, every pastor, priest and rabbi who is asked by a cohabiting couple to marry them - must insist that the couple move apart for several months before the wedding.

Third, each couple should be mentored by a long-married couple. How? The engaged couple should take a premarital inventory, such as PREPARE-ENRICH, which will ask the couple whether they agree or disagree with 150 statements like these:

  • When we are having a problem, my partner refuses to talk about it.
  • I am concerned that my partner is more of a spender than I am.

In our church, we trained Mentor Couples to talk through their issues over six evenings.
The result? Over a decade, 20% decided NOT to marry. But of the 218 couples who did marry, we know of only 20 divorces in two decades. That's 90%+ success rate!

Solid marriage preparation - not cohabitation - is the answer!


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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