The moral dilemma of cohabitation
Cohabitation isn’t a new phenomenon among unmarried couples but, as CNN reports, it has grown significantly in the past 15 years. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, they claimed that 48% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 moved in with a man for the first time. That number had risen from 34% in 1995 to 43% in 2002.
These statistics shouldn’t surprise us. We know that the marriage rate is at an all-time low of 6.8 per thousand total population as of 2011 compared to 8.2 in 2000. If couples are delaying or forgoing marriage the natural next step would be cohabitation. As Lisa Kift remarked to CNN: “Many couples believe they are doing their due diligence by having the experience of living together before making a commitment to marry.” Many feel testing the waters is healthy and the commitment of marriage is merely a formality; their love, some believe, is not defined by a piece of paper or legal documentation.
There is, however, a moral and ethical dilemma the Christian faces when choosing to cohabitate.
Commitment or Covenant
“One works harder to preserve a relationship,” reporter Sarah Groom said as the CNN article closed. “Its whole nature is less disposable.”
Marriage is a commitment. It is a commitment to have and hold through sickness and in health. There is a weight of responsibility to another when you sign the dotted line and make it official. But it’s much more than a commitment. It is a covenant.
Marriage did not begin with man—it was God’s idea and His design. In the beginning He created Adam and Eve and declared that they would become one flesh. We leave our mothers and fathers and hold fast to each other (Genesis 2:24). In the beginning of time God had a vision for marriage that would ultimately be a reflection of His son’s relationship to the church. The Church is the bride of Christ for which He sacrificed Himself and will one day present as holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). Speaking of this covenantal relationship and the matter of divorce to the Pharisees, Jesus declared, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” (Matthew 19: 6, emphasis mine).
This relationship isn’t merely a contract, it is a covenant before God. Could that be the root of the delay of marriage? If so, I understand. Even the disciples determined that it would be better therefore not to marry at all (Matthew 19:10). Unfortunately, this lack of biblical commitment leads to sin and in the case of cohabitation there is a good chance it would be a habitual pattern of sin.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 1: 24-25).
The man and the woman had become one flesh and were naked and were not ashamed. Sex in the confines of marriage is a beautiful, glorious thing. It allows for the opportunity for nakedness without regret or shame. There are numerous passages of Scripture warning against the danger of sexual immorality. Ephesians 5:3 clearly states that not only is sexual immorality (any sexual activity outside the confines of marriage or that would be considered sin) not acceptable before the Lord, it should not even be discussed among believers. Christians are to be a city on a hill and a light to the fallen world. This doesn’t mean we don’t sin (we do), and it doesn’t mean we can’t be and won’t be forgiven. It means that our changed hearts should reflect Christ in what we do.
It would be difficult for even the most self-controlled persons not to succumb to sexual temptation while living with the opposite sex. Therefore it is right to assume that most if not all couples cohabitating are having sex. If God has determined that sex is to be enjoyed within marriage, then that means that these couples are living in sin and could be jeopardizing their very souls (Colossians 3:5-6). God graciously warns us against sexual immorality and provides a way of escape through His son Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christians should heed this warning and run towards this wonderful escape.
Single Parent Homes
The other dilemma is this lack of commitment could lead to fatherless children. Besides financial difficulties and health, I would argue there isn’t anything else that pulls and strains a marriage like children. Children are a blessing from the Lord. They are not a hindrance or distraction. They are a great joy. Yet, parents must be incredibly intentional with one another in order to make a marriage work with children. When the going gets tough in a relationship that is not bound together in covenantal marriage, leaving can be easier, as Sarah Groom explained. (She now has a child with her live-in boyfriend.) The study reported that approximately 20% of cohabitating women became pregnant within a year of moving in with someone for the first time. The same report noted that 27% of cohabiting couples dissolved their relationships.
There is a plethora of information about single parent homes and how they affect children. These children are not out of the reach of God, and therefore statistics can never trump God’s mighty, gracious hand. Nevertheless, there are real struggles they may face such as poverty and feelings of rejection and abandonment.
In the world’s eyes cohabitation may “work.” A couple may enjoy a time of peace, sex may be enjoyable, and perhaps it will all lead to a healthy marriage. But in view of God, the Christian must resist this temptation. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of God gives insight (Proverbs 9:10). The Lord’s wise instruction is to resist temptation, and cohabitation is a temptation bomb ready to explode. Fear the Lord and ask God for wisdom when faced with the decision to move in.