By Mike McManus
Cohabiting couples believe they are testing their relationships. According to research, many cohabitating couples believe that if their relationship is not strong, they will break up short of marriage, with no harm done, and that cohabitation will enhance the quality of a future marriage. Sadly, both notions are incorrect.
However a growing number of studies suggest the opposite. “Couples who cohabit before marriage are between 50% and 100% more likely to experience marital dissolution that those who do not,” asserts a report by John Hill and Sharon Evans.
Actually, the odds for cohabiting couples are much worse.
In a study of 35,000 couples who took the PREPARE-ENRICH premarital inventory, – 48% of cohabiting couples had conflicted relationships likely to break up before or after the wedding – ten times the 5% of “conflicted relationships” among those who were engaged, but living apart. The inventory frames 150 issues for discussion ranging from communication and finances to in-laws and spirituality.
According to another study by the University of Wisconsin, of 100 couples who are cohabiting only 15 will still be together after 10 years. Marriage is one shoe you cannot try on before you wear it.
There are many rationalizations that cohabiting couples believe. One is, “We are going to get married anyway.” Actually, 40% of cohabiting couples break up before the wedding. And those who do marry are 50% – 80% more likely to divorce than those who never cohabited, according to the website “All About Cohabitation.”
In fact, couples who cohabit and then marry are much more likely to divorce than couples who remained apart until the wedding.
Cohabiting couples, compared to married peers, are 2 to 5 times more likely to suffer physical violence and emotional abuse, too, and experience 2 to 8 times more sexual infidelity.
Yet even older Americans are opting to live with their partners rather than marry. Nearly a quarter of cohabiters are over age 50, an increase of 75% since 2007. Baby Boomers have a higher divorce rate resulting in more unmarried people in that age group than previously. So-called “grey divorce,” or splits among adults 50 and older, has doubled since the 1990s. About half of couples over 50 who are living together are divorced and 27% have never married.
College education doesn’t help cohabiting mothers either – half of whom will break up before their child turns 12, compared to less than one-fifth of mothers who were married when the child was born, according to a report by W. Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
There is a prevailing view that the story is different in Europe. Some studies assert that cohabitation and marriage are “functional equivalents in Scandinavia and France.” However, Wilcox and DeRose examined data from 16 countries across Europe and concluded, “We find that children born to cohabiting couples are about 90% more likely to see their parents break up by the time they turn 12, compared to children born to married parents.”
Therefore, my question is why aren’t churches insisting that cohabiting couples move apart before they marry? Three-fifths of those who marry in American churches are living together. Why are pastors and priests closing their eyes to the sin of cohabitation – when its results are so disastrous? And why are policymakers at the state level ignoring this undeniable data, too?
My church is one of the few which insist that cohabiting couples move apart for some months before a wedding. And they must even pledge to remain chaste until the wedding. Result: out of two dozen couples a year who marry annually at my church – over two decades only one or two couples have divorced.
I asked Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld, who has overseen this ministry for 24 years at The Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, VA, why so many churches close their eyes to cohabiting couples. He replied, “They are going with the flow of the culture. The churches are gelatinous instead of muscle and bone about Biblical standards.”
He asserted that “[t]hey function in some ways as a chaplain to the culture, instead of acknowledging that the Gospel cuts across every human institution and culture and judges it. Our job is to be messengers, watchmen and stewards – not adulterators who are willfully blind. They make an idol of `being nice.’ We are called to love people and comfort them and challenge them.”
I urge American churches to look at congregations like The Falls Church Anglican, and set a similarly high standard for couples they prepare for marriage.
Couples cannot practice permanence.