Dating: Cohabitation

26 Sep

What Mark Driscoll has to say about cohabitation in his book “Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions.”


The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s radically altered the sexual landscape of our nation:

One of the most important consequences of this revolution in sexual behavior and beliefs is that the institution of marriage is much less likely to govern and guide the expression of sexual intimacy between adolescents and adults. More specifically, abstinence before marriage is now the exception to the behavioral and attitudinal norm when it comes to sex.

For the first time in America’s history, there are more single adults than married adults, and the number is expected only to rise. Still, more than nine out of ten people will eventually marry. In our culture of hook up, shack up, and break up, the expectation is that they will cohabit prior to marriage. From 1978 to 2008, the number of cohabitors in the U.S. rose from 1 million couples to 5 millions couples. By simple definition, living together—or unmarried cohabitation—is the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household. Others who are not cohabiting by definition because they have two residences still sleep over enough to qualify, even if the statistics do not count them.

It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner, and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men). Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century. The most likely to cohabit are people aged 20 to 24.

However, the evidence actually challenges the popular idea that cohabiting ensures greater marital compatibility and thereby promotes stronger and more enduring marriages: “Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it is associated with a higher divorce risk.” Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage that was preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage that was not preceded by cohabitation. Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with an increased divorce risk, with estimates ranging from as low as a 33 percent increased divorce risk to a 151 percent increased risk of dissolution.

In addition to missing out on many of the benefits of marriage, cohabitors may face more serious difficulties. Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples. Women in cohabiting relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse. Two studies found that women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.

Furthermore, couples who have sex before marriage, especially couples who cohabit, are more likely to experience difficulties in their marriage. For instance, a study of 2,034 married adults found that those who had cohabited prior to marriage reported less marital happiness and more marital conflict, compared to similar couples who did not cohabit.

Conversely, abstinence before marriage is linked to greater marital stability. Studies indicate that men and women who marry as virgins are significantly less likely to divorce. For instance, men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce than other men, and women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce than other women. Thus, adults who remain abstinent until marriage are more likely to enjoy a satisfying and stable marriage.

Adults who waited to have sex until they married, and who have remained faithful to their spouses since they married, report higher levels of life satisfaction, compared to adults who engaged in premarital sex or adulterous sex. Furthermore, “Those [adults] who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores.”

The reason why all of this is important is that people are prone to think their experience is normative. Singles today were born into a world that is unlike any other time in history, and it is peculiarly perverted. It seems normal to them because it is all they have ever known, but it must be evaluated in light of history and Scripture for perspective.

The bottom line? Satan is still a liar, and God’s plan is still the best. That plan is chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage.

I pastor a church where about half the people are single, and most of them are walking as Christians with Jesus for the first time in their lives. I am deeply sympathetic to the pressures and temptations that single Christians face. In a culture where people have “friends with benefits,” where men are into scoring and not marrying, where the entire singles’ scene from clubs to bars is built to oppose a life modeled after Jesus’ singleness, and where Craig’s List and other online portals in cities like mine have fifteen hundred people posting daily for a “casual encounter” (which is code for free sex), those wanting to honor Jesus in their singleness have nothing short of a war on their hands. Add to this the fact that both men and women are waiting later than ever to marry (men around twenty-six to twenty-seven and women around twenty-four to twenty-five), and the opportunities for sexual sin multiply.

When you consider that there are between eleven and thirteen million more women in church than men and acknowledge that the average man wants to attract the youngest and hottest wife he can afford, then Christian women—particularly older singles, divorcées, widows, and single moms—are at a distinct disadvantage and are tempted to settle in sin.

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconcetptions, pg. 183-185

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