It has to be one of the most commonly asked questions since my engagement. After all, all dating and engaged couples live together nowadays, right? After explaining that I will not move in with my fiancé until we are married, I am often met with an appraising look, as if the person is trying to guess which century my values are stuck in.
I admit, it is tough not going with the crowd on this one. The five hour drive to see my fiancé gets longer all the time, the distance is a hurdle, and it would probably have been easier to simply move in with him, as society tells me is okay. What’s wrong with “trying it out” before marrying somebody? It’s a lifelong commitment, and we should be sure of what we’re signing up for, right? To be as fair, I do think that most couples who live together are doing so for good, if misguided reasons. Many are scared of marriage, or what they perceive marriage to be: children have witnessed their parents go through messy divorces; some have been in long relationships only to have their heart broken. At a glance, it would make sense to live together before deciding to start a life with somebody.
The problem with that solution is that it is contradictory. Couples who take this approach solve their commitment issues by entering into a non-committed relationship. The truth is that you can never “practice” for marriage. You can never “kinda” enter into a lifelong commitment. You either do it or you don’t. The Catechism says, “Human love does not tolerate trial marriages. It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.” CCC 2391
“Many young people are searching for a soul mate in a marriage partner. They want an intimate and enduring relationship where they can share their deepest dreams and desires. In a misguided effort to achieve this intimacy, they often enter into a cohabiting relationship. In so doing they undermine their chances of attaining the very thing they most want.”US Council of Catholic Bishops
Some might say that jumping into a marriage is sudden. But Chesterton wrote an entire essay in defense of rash vows. To paraphrase him, “All vows are rash vows.”
“The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.”G.K. Chesterton
Love is binding, and that’s the whole point. Taking a vow is frightening, because it means that one will have to be held responsible for it at a later date. Marriage is difficult, and no married person would argue. To paraphrase a witty Catholic whom I read: “That is why it is a sacrament, because it would be impossible without the grace of God.” We all desire true love, but balk at the formula to achieve it: to get everything, you must give everything. This is the paradox of love.
The fact is that people are not scared of marriage. They are scared of divorce. But avoiding marriage to avoid divorce is the illogical answer. Society needs proper marriages and families more than ever–families founded on something greater than themselves.
You don’t have to take my word for it, or even Chesterton’s. Let’s see what the research says about living together before marriage:
“The breakup rate among those who are living together but are not married is substantially higher than the divorce rate among married couples.”–Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
Most couples who live together never end up getting married, but those who do tie the knot have a divorce rate nearly 80 percent higher than those who waited until after the wedding to move in together.
Couples who cohabited prior to marriage also have greater marital conflict and poorer communication, and they made more frequent visits to marriage counselors.
Women who cohabited before marriage are more than three times as likely to cheat on their husbands within marriage. 
They were also more than three times as likely to be depressed as married women, and the couples were less sexually satisfied than those who waited for marriage.(see bottom)
They don’t teach that in the modern college classroom, do they? What jaw-dropping statistics. The truth is that the only thing proven by living and having sex with a person you’re not married to, is that you’re willing to live with and have sex with a person you’re not married to.
Who would have thought that the traditional, Judeo-Christian model of sex and marriage remains to be the path toward the most love, joy, and satisfaction?
I want to close with saying that none of this is meant to judge or to condemn, as I have many friends who have cohabited or are cohabiting now. I’m exploring this topic because it is something that means a lot to my fiancé and myself, and because I want to illustrate that there is a more sensible, proven, and loving model for marriage than what secular society forces upon us. It is difficult to find the truth in our modern era that is so dead-set against traditional values. The misuse of love and marriage plagues all of us in some way, but I know that our understanding of God’s plan for sex and matrimony is a step in the right direction.
I have sinned and sinned as badly as the next person. Like you, I was a victim of our sex-saturated society, being wounded and misled, so I am guilty as the next person of all nature of sexual impurity (more on in future blog posts). However, I am so thankful that I was able to come into this wisdom before my marriage and to choose true love for myself, and to settle for nothing less.
“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”― Fulton J. Sheen, Life Is Worth Living
The truth is, no matter the challenges that me and Tobias have faced while dealing with distance, our choice to not cohabit has led us to a deeper kind of love. By removing lust from a relationship, one can see it very clearly. We’ve been forced to have deep, meaningful conversations about our relationship, expectations, and future that may have never been brought to the surface before. We cherish our time together, and find new ways to love each other all the time.
Yes, engagement is difficult, but that’s what makes marriage so special. You cannot recreate something so sacramental–and sacred. It is a beautiful gift to be opened throughout two lives. I’m not married yet, but I believe that beginning this vow with mutual respect and faith in God’s timeless plan should get us started on the right foot. My days are filled with a joyful anticipation.
. William G. Axinn and Arland Thornton, “The Relation Between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?” Demography 29 (1992), 357–374.
. Cf. Bennett, et al., “Commitment and the Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability,” American Sociological Review 53:1 (February 1988), 127–138.
. Elizabeth Thompson and Ugo Colella, “Cohabitation and Marital Stability: Quality or Commitment?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 54 (1992), 263; John D. Cunningham and John K. Antill, “Cohabitation and Marriage: Retrospective and Predictive Consequences,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 11 (1994), 90.
. Koray Tanfer and Renata Forste, “Sexual Exclusivity Among Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Women,” Journal of Marriage and Family (February 1996), 33–47.
. Chuck Colson, “Trial Marriages on Trial: Why They Don’t Work,” Breakpoint, March 20, 1995.
. Lee Robins and Darrell Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (New York: Free Press, 1991), 64.
. Marianne K. Hering, “Believe Well, Live Well,” Focus on the Family, September 1994, 4.
. William Mattox, Jr., “Could This be True Love? Test It with Courtship, Not Cohabitation,” USA Today, February 10, 2000, 15A (usatoday.com).