Living Together Before Marriage? God's Best Is Worth the Wait, Research Shows

Hannah Wegman works for Concerned Women for America.
Hannah Wegman works for Concerned Women for America.

They say some of the smartest people in the world move to D.C., but take one look at the housing costs, and you may beg to differ. If you've ever lived in the vicinity of our nation's Capital, you know it's not cheap.

My fiancé took one for the team and recently moved to the D.C. Metro area — the plan being that he'd rent a one bedroom apartment for half a year, then I would move in after the wedding. When we told people, they were shocked and even a professing Christian was slightly surprised.

We got questions like, "Don't you want to test it out first and see if you're compatible?" or "Don't you want to save money?"

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I felt like responding, "Is the Pope Catholic? Does Hillary delete e-mails?" Of course we want to live together, but instead we simply replied, "To us, it's worth it."

The wait, that is.

But "wait" is not a word we hear often today.

We Americans have developed a short attention span; whether it's social media, fast food, or even relationships (thanks to the hook up culture), the more quick and "hassle-free" the better. As a result, people both inside and outside the Church are becoming increasingly willing to settle for substitutes of God's best — especially regarding sex and marriage.

In his sermon "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis explained it well:

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

And when that childish pleasure fades or we get bored, we move on to the next object that catches our eye. With that in mind regarding changes in feelings for one's spouse, culture would say the "safer, wiser choice" is to test the waters by living together before, and sometimes instead of, making a lifelong pledge.

According to a recent study done by the Barna Group, where cohabitation was once the exception, it is now the norm. Today, 65 percent of adults believe it's a good idea to live with one's significant other before getting married. Almost six in 10 people are living or have lived with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

The main reason respondents (84 percent) gave for why they were living with their significant other was to "test compatibility." This "playing house" theory evidences a growing fear of marriage — and it's not hard to see from where this apprehension stems. Unfortunately, Americans have witnessed the divorce rate skyrocket and felt the repercussions of those failed marriages firsthand. It is not surprising for couples to assume living together is a sensible substitution for matrimony.

But is it a better replacement? According to researchers, that is not the case. When push comes to shove, cohabitation is simply an imitation that doesn't produce the same effects. It's comparable to settling for the off-brand peanut butter: while cheaper and the packaging closely resembles JIF, choosy moms know it's not the real thing.

Research shows that on average, married couples are happier, healthier, more economically stable, have a higher life expectancy, and report greater sexual satisfaction than cohabiting couples. If you want to get specific, sexual activity isn't hindered by marriage but actually can range from 25-300 percent greater for those who are married than those who are unmarried. What's more, cohabitation isn't the beneficial "practice round" before marriage as so many think. Statistics indicate that couples who live together before marriage have a 46 percent greater risk of divorce than those who choose not to live together.

According to the Barna study, practicing Christians were less likely to live together before marriage than non-Christians; however, the numbers are still extremely high (48 percent), meaning the culture may be influencing the Church more than we think.

Regardless of what the culture says, the Creator of our souls knows best, and evidence outside of Scripture confirms it. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, it is clear that sex before marriage is a sin against our God and our bodies — which are temples of the Holy Spirit. That said, there is grace for those who are living or have lived with their significant other or have missed the opportunity to wait. Just like with all sin, God's redeeming love is more than enough to forgive a truly repentant heart and fully renew any situation.

Gospel-centered believers must realize that when it comes to living together before marriage, not everyone is doing it (pun intended). It isn't dorky, sheltered, or naïve to believe God's plan is the most beneficial. Christians need neither to "test it out" nor fear making a promise if it is what God is leading them to do. For the perfect example of love that didn't need a getaway plan, we need only look to Christ.

In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller put it plainly:

"... We must say to ourselves something like this: 'Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn't think 'I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.' No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us — denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him — and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, 'Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing.' He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.' Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day."

Pledging to love someone for life is much deeper and more fulfilling than "playing house" for a phase. A marriage covenant is a promise to stay with your spouse without stipulations, even if in a few years you realize he or she eats their cereal soggy, leaves the toilet seat up, or has morning breath like the Loch Ness monster. Even when he or she fails to love you well. It takes loving a person through their better and worst, without caveats based on feelings, if it is truly to be considered love. Being fully known and yet fully loved is a picture of the Gospel.

When two people embody this Gospel to one another daily, with an "all-in" attitude — the result is a marriage, and sex, that are exceedingly more satisfying than any half-in substitute. Our culture has lost sight of that beautiful truth and the art of waiting for it. As the Church, it is our job to exemplify to the world what true love looks like. May we take that role seriously and not settle for any synthetic version of the real thing.

Hannah Wegman is the Project Coordinator/Writer at Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation's largest public policy women's organization with 500,000 members across the country.

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