Cohabitation is living together in a sexual relationship without marriage.
By choosing a chaste betrothal, you can give your spouse a great gift on your wedding day, the gift of your sexuality. Renewed chastity restores the sense of direction to your relationship – dating, engagement, betrothal, marriage, and family. There is great satisfaction in following God’s plan for your marriage.
God’s design for sexuality is two-fold: for the procreation of children within the commitment of marriage, and to create the powerful bond between spouses that enables them to persevere through difficult times in their marriage. This provides a stable environment for the well-being of the couple and their children.
True love is wishing for and working for what is truly best for the other person. The best is a fully committed, faithful relationship where both spouses practice fidelity, self-control, patience, trust, and honesty.
Living together makes it much more difficult to resist temptation, simply due to the physical proximity and emotional intimacy of the situation. This living arrangement also creates scandal – young people are led to believe that there is nothing wrong with this choice. It also perpetuates the myth that cohabitation is the appropriate step before marriage.
Couples who lived together before marriage are nearly two times as likely to divorce as those in the general population. If they have cohabited in more than one relationship, their risk of divorce is even higher. (Popenoe and Whitehead, “Should We Live Together?” 2002, p. 4-6, citing 1992 study by Alfred DeMaris & K. Vaninadha Rao, “Premarital Cohabitation & Subsequent Marital Stability in the U.S.: A Reassessment,” Journal of Marriage and the Family)
Couples who have chosen to live together before marriage often view the marriage as less permanent, and may see divorce as a solution to the “incompatibility” they experience after the wedding. Cohabiting couples may have inappropriately high expectations of marriage, because of their belief that cohabitation was good preparation for marriage. They become dissatisfied with their partner and the relationship when they meet the ordinary problems and challenges encountered during marriage.
Unlike in marriage, the individuals in a cohabiting relationship are free to leave at any time. So psychologically, their whole approach to the relationship is different from marriage. The non-permanent view developed during the “trial” period often carries over to the marriage.
Living together distorts the reality of marriage. Couples who live together can be deceived into thinking that they are “married” before the actual wedding. “It looks like a marriage, feels like a marriage, and has some benefits of marriage; only the official “piece of paper” is missing.” Couples don’t really expect anything will change after the wedding. However, since the formal commitment does change how the couple views each other and the relationship, things are different after the wedding.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, a couple professes absolute, unconditional love and commitment to each other before God and witnesses. That commitment includes faithfulness, forsaking all others for the good of the marriage. Vowing to be faithful and committed to one’s spouse is a major difference between marriage and cohabitation. As a result, friends and relatives, and the couple themselves will hold the relationship to a higher standard and have higher expectations once they are married. Because God is part of the Marriage Covenant, couples are also accountable to Him for their actions.
Couples who have lived together before marriage are at higher risk of unfaithfulness, since they haven’t practiced the virtues of chastity and patience during their courtship.
While cohabiting, couples tend to overlook the personality quirks, annoying habits, and irritating behavior of their partner, because they view the relationship as temporary or dissolvable. They may not want to upset the uncommitted relationship, so they never address the irritations.
As a result, the couple doesn’t properly develop the skills needed to resolve conflicts. Once they do marry, they often realize that these annoyances will be ongoing, and they must make a much greater “decision to love” their spouse. For some, this may be too difficult, putting the couple in greater danger of physical abuse, infidelity, and divorce.
Because they have blended two households without a permanent commitment, cohabiting couples often value independence and economic equality more in a relationship. Married people value interdependence and sharing of resources more. These values don’t usually change after the wedding.
God’s design for marriage is that the two become one, meaning that a husband and wife share all of themselves and their resources. “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female; for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become as one. They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no man separate what God has joined.” (Mark 10:7-9)
The couple can focus on the other aspects of their relationship, and better develop (with their priest or a counselor) a true acceptance of each other as they really are.
The focus of a cohabiting relationship is often on physical intimacy. By living separately, the couple is freer to develop other non-physical forms of intimacy – spiritual, communicative, emotional, and intellectual. These are relational skills couples need to weather the normal ups and downs of marriage, by deepening the trust and honest communication in the relationship.
When a couple has been living together, they have invested so much of themselves in the relationship: physically, emotionally, and financially. They may not be emotionally equipped to make a free choice about whether to marry.
It is very difficult to break up an unhealthy relationship. The potential pain of separation or rejection can become so intense, that couples may decide to “just make it official” by getting married, rather than start over with a new relationship.
The betrothal period is a time to explore more fully whether your fiancé is someone who will share your values about love, marriage, and family. Living apart before the wedding will allow each of you to have a new perspective on the relationship, so that after a period of serious discernment, you may choose to enter marriage freely and lovingly.
Through the self-discipline and self-sacrifice of remaining chaste, you enhance your self-respect and the respect for your fiancée. It ensures that your relationship does not depend on sex, looks, talent, success, or perfection.
When you choose chastity now, you show your willingness to sacrifice for your future spouse. You begin to love your spouse as Christ loves the Church.
Saving physical intimacy for marriage enhances the mystery and romance leading up to the wedding day. The joy of the wedding and honeymoon is enhanced by the anticipation. The gift of falling asleep in each other’s arms and waking up in the same house every day is a gift from God reserved for your marriage.
Consecrated celibacy is total committed abstinence, usually practiced by those in religious life, in order to give themselves to God alone. As Christians, we are all called to lead chaste lives in keeping with our particular state in life. Thus, single persons are called to practice abstinence, while married persons are to practice conjugal chastity, or fidelity to one’s spouse.
Practicing chastity within marriage means having marital relations exclusively with one’s spouse. It may also mean periodic abstinence due to the illness, injury, or absence of one’s spouse (due to traveling or military deployment, etc.), visiting in-laws, or sick children. Faithfulness and chastity also require ongoing resistance to the temptations of adultery, pornography, and masturbation.
Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can be in a state of grace to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony on your wedding day. When you restore your relationship with God, He will give you the grace to avoid temptations and recommit to chastity.
It is possible to choose chastity during your betrothal by practicing the following:
- One person can move in with a friend or relative until the wedding. o Note: If the couple has children, it may not be advisable for them to live apart before the wedding. In this case, they can choose to model chastity to their children by sleeping in separate bedrooms until after their marriage.
- Pray together before dates for the grace to remain chaste.
- Focus on self-giving, self-sacrificial love that honors the worth and dignity of your fiancé.
- Choose romance – picnics, long walks, giving each other small gifts, love notes & cards, special meals or treats, holding hands, doing each other favors, going to sporting events, watching the sun set.
- Avoid places of temptation. Choose to spend your time together in public places.
- Set physical boundaries. Avoid any form of intimacy that makes remaining chaste difficult.
- Keep a pure mind – avoid explicit websites, TV, movies, and books.
- Dress modestly.
- Stay sober.
- Receive the Sacraments.
- Remind each other that good decisions today will strengthen your future marriage.