I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school most of my life. I have always believed in God. I have taken classes on both the Old and New Testament, recently becoming a more committed Christian. But there is one question I have not found an answer to—and I know many Christians consider it wrong—so please guide me to a place in the Bible that addresses this issue.
My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 1/2 years and have lived together all but one of those years. We are very committed to one another and plan on marrying. We have put off getting married for a couple reasons. One, with me back in school we are living on a very limited income and can not afford rings or a wedding now, as we both have some debt we are working to pay off. I know that Christians feel it is wrong to live together before marriage. But it just doesn’t seem feasible for the two of us to maintain two separate residences—and after already living together, it seems silly to divide up now. Where in the Bible can I find a basis for this belief held by so many?
--Cohabitating and Confused
Dear C. and C.,
Quite frankly, I would think that your Catholic school teachers and Christian mentors would have had a lot to say about sex outside of marriage.
Honestly, I doubt any appeal based on the Bible is going to make a dent in what for you are common sense reasons for living together before marriage. To your thinking, it makes good economic sense for you and your boyfriend to live together: you can use this time to save money for a wedding and a ring. What you don't say is whether your plan is working so far. Research shows that couples who use economics as their rationale for living together before marriage, saying that they are saving money for their wedding or for the marriage itself, almost never achieve those goals.
It's hard to save money when you're young, regardless of whether you're married or living together. But it's especially hard to do so when you're still independent of each other and free to pull out of the relationship anytime you want to. When you're married, you're more inclined to come up with a plan to save money (and to stick to it) because you're committed to each other for the long haul. If the most the two of you can plan financially is for a ring and a wedding, there's a problem. It takes only a few seconds of a wedding ceremony to say vows and exchange rings, but it takes years to live out those vows and to come to understand what it means to be yoked by that ring to another person.
If you have any illusions that living together before marriage increases your chances of staying married, forget that too. On the contrary, some research suggests that couples increase their chances of divorce when they cohabitate before marriage. That doesn't make sense, you're probably thinking. But consider this: Cohabitating couples are less likely to tackle the tough, thorny issues confronting their tenuous relationship when they are living together, and as such are at a disadvantage later on when they marry and are forced to see their mates in the new light that marriage casts upon the relationship. It's not unusual to feel deceived and dismayed once you marry after living together.
Let me put it to you this way: there's simply no preparation for marriage. You dive in and learn how to swim once you hit the water. Living together so you can save money for a ceremony that lasts for a few minutes is a risk. Living together so you can use the time to discover your compatibility is a farce. People change once those vows are spoken and they feel secure in their commitment. Living together is not a hedge against divorce. Hard work and commitment to each other over the long term is the only protection, if any.
Even though your question suggests that you are new to Christianity and its teachings on sex and marriage, is it possible that your instincts are telling you that something's missing in your relationship with your boyfriend? It's perfectly alright, you know, to admit that after 5 1/2 years, a part of you now craves a deeper relationship with your boyfriend, one that honors your need for committed love and that reflects your values as a Christian.