Q&A: Is cohabitation a good way to test a couple's marital compatibility?Written by Focus on the Family
What's inside this article
Question: We recently discovered that our daughter, who is away at college and is nearing graduation, has moved in with her boyfriend. When we confronted her about what we consider the immoral nature of her relationship with this young man, she scoffed at our "old fashioned" values and argued that living together is the best way to test a couple's marital compatibility. What do you think? Are we really that far out of touch?
Of course not. Your concerns are valid and your commitment to traditional Biblical standards of sexual morality is commendable. Before saying anything else, we want to encourage you to maintain your perspective and stand firm in defence of your values. But do it gently and with a generous measure of parental love and understanding. Above all else, you want to keep the lines of communication open between you and your daughter – otherwise you won't be able to help her at all.
If your daughter and her boyfriend are serious about wanting to gauge the long-term viability of their relationship, we'd suggest that there’s an alternative far superior to the one they're proposing. It's called premarital counselling. The very best way for a couple to test their compatibility for marriage is to date for at least one year before engagement while participating in a structured counselling program that includes psychological testing.
There are a number of such programs available. One of the best is called "Prepare and Enrich." It has an 80 per cent success rate at predicting which couples will be able to forge a lasting relationship and which will be divorced within three years. To find out more, your daughter can visit their website at Enrichcanada.ca.
If your daughter is interested in looking up qualified Christian marriage and family counsellors in her locality, she can contact Focus on the Family Canada's counselling department for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our counsellors, all of whom are registered counsellors, will be happy to discuss her questions with her and direct her to a local practitioner who will be able to help her and her boyfriend get started on the road to a fulfilling marriage. They can be reached Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.
Room to grow and mature
In addition to the benefits of counselling, it's vital to stress the importance of allowing sufficient time for a relationship to mature and grow apart from the pressures of long-term commitments and the emotional entanglements of physical intimacy. A year is not too long to wait when two people are planning to spend the rest of their lives together. Many couples who are in love rush into things, sometimes with disastrous consequences. In most cases, we also recommend that young men and women wait until they're in their early 20s before talking seriously about marriage. Research shows that couples who marry after age 23 have a much lower divorce rate than those who take this decisive step at an earlier stage.
It's important to add that we have a couple of very practical reasons for believing that cohabitation prior to marriage is not a good idea. In the first place, the statistics are against it. Your daughter and her boyfriend may believe that living together is a good way to find out whether they have what it takes to build a strong marriage, and from a certain perspective this appears to be a reasonable assumption. Intuitively speaking, it seems to make sense that a "test drive" will provide all the information necessary to predict marital success or failure. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. The best research indicates that couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50 per cent higher divorce rate than those who don’t. These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence and are more likely to become involved in sexual affairs. If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, there is a high probability that the man will abandon the relationship within two years, leaving a single mom to raise a fatherless child.
Understanding Biblical marriage
Our second reason for advising against premarital cohabitation grows directly out of our Christian faith. To become involved in a living arrangement that includes sexual relations outside the context of marriage is to undermine the Biblical meaning of marriage itself. It's to disregard God’s design for human sexuality as it has been set forth in the Scriptures. Marriage, according to the Bible, is a one-flesh union between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The sexual act is the glue that seals this one-flesh bond. There are many passages that address this issue in clear and unmistakable terms. Hebrews 13:4, for example, says that "marriage should be held honorable among all people and the marriage bed kept undefiled." I Thessalonians 4:3 declares, "This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality." "Because of sexual immorality," writes Paul in I Corinthians 7:2, "let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband." The implication is plain: sexual intercourse is inappropriate in any other setting. This is not simply an "old-fashioned" idea. It is the Scriptural point of view.
An excellent book on this topic that you may want to bring to your daughter's attention is Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, by Les and Leslie Parrott.
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