As further follow-up to my beginning marriage preparation in our parish, I want to explain why cohabitation is something unacceptable. Forbidding cohabitation is not primarily a “no”; it is, rather, a huge “yes” to the beauty of married love and the truth of the body language of the marital-embrace. Here are points to consider about cohabitation:
God’s Laws – Many biblical passages make it clear that the Lord does not allow cohabitation, i.e., the marital-embrace outside of marriage. For example: I Corinthians 6:9, “Do not deceive yourselves: no fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers… will inherit the kingdom of God.”; Ephesians 5:5 – “Make no mistake about this: no fornicator, no unclean or lustful person – in effect an idolator – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.” But there is always a way back to the Lord. There is always mercy through the Confessional (cf. Luke 7:36-50, John 8:1-11). A couple want to say something positive to God as they approach Him asking for His blessing and the creation of a permanent sacramental bond between them. It makes no sense to approach Him asking for grace, yet actively to choose a life you know is contrary to His will and His design of the human person, a lifestyle that inhibits the grace that would otherwise pour out through the sacramental bond.
The Couple’s Own Relationship – God’s Design/Human Nature – The “body language” of the marital embrace can only mean “full gift of self to the other”; and therefore it can only be “spoken” truthfully after consent has been given in marriage; i.e., after the gift of self has been formally and truly made in a marriage ceremony. Before that point, sexual relations between a man and woman are somewhat of a lie. A couple should desire the body language to be true. Why speak a lie to one another, when you are claiming to love one another?
Various studies have shown that couples who cohabit before marriage tend to have a much higher rate of divorce. It has been suggested by experts that this is because cohabiting couples live with a “psychological out”: they know they are not committed, really, and therefore they do not communicate fully enough about difficulties. They know they could leave the relationship at any point. Patterns of non-communication develop, leading to underlying tensions that explode only after the marriage is finally ratified. I have heard jokes about such couples: “Now that they are ‘tying the knot’, the divorce will finally happen!”
Sex has a bonding power that is not appropriately experienced before the true gift-of-self is made at the wedding. Couples entering into the marital-embrace before marriage bond on a level that can prohibit true, rational thinking about whether God is really calling them to be together for life. [Cohabitation is actually a point that can be used to argue that full consent was not made in the marriage ceremony; i.e., cohabitation can be used to build the case for an annulment after civil divorce has happened.] They don’t ask the right questions. It has been suggested that sometimes it is easier at this point for a cohabiting couple just to get married, rather than break up. The marriage partner is not discerned adequately. The “goodwill” part of love, the self-gift dynamic, is inhibited and deceived by the sensual part of love.
A couple should want to esteem their marriage enough to struggle for chastity beforehand. They should want to experience the newness and specialness of the married way of life after the wedding. It’s odd after the wedding to go back to the “same-old” that they have been living already.
Friends and Family – A couple should want to say to family and friends, “This is a real marriage, not just a formality. We are serious.” Making the decision to separate before marriage for the months of immediate preparation with the priest or deacon makes it clear to all that something has truly changed in the couple’s approach to marriage. The Church wedding is not shallow in their estimation. It is very odd for a cohabiting couple to expect the Church and friends and family to treat them as a married couple before the marriage, and then to expect friends to see that anything has changed. To all external appearances, nothing has changed.
A Catholic couple has a mission to show the world the beauty of married love – and even the beauty of a holy approach to it. The couple’s relationship is never just a matter of themselves. By definition, their relationship involves the immediate society around them; and that society today is dying for lack of people who esteem and live pure love inspired by God Himself. A couple is called to evangelize their friends and family by their example.
The Church Community – It is a scandal to treat the cohabiting couple as if they have not been living together. And it’s actually pretty selfish on the part of the couple to expect friends and family, even the Church, to “cave” on moral standards and put up with the couple’s innovation (and these are moral standards that are objectively based on God’s law and the design of the human person…. they are not random or whimsical!). How many times in my 17 years of priesthood have I listened to relatives of cohabiting couples agonize over whether they should even attend the ceremony, or what to do in light of their child’s/friend’s/sibling’s cohabitation! Why would a couple put upright, moral, loving friends and family into such a predicament? Perhaps people witnessing will not get up and walk out of the ceremony, nor refuse to attend it. But we are still “dumbing down” the sense of moral rectitude for everybody in attendance. It is almost impossible for the priest or deacon in some way not to appear as if he condones cohabitation; which in turn leads to more cohabitation on the part of others, which perpetuates an evil that damages the institution of marriage. Why would a couple ask a priest or deacon to perpetuate an evil contrary to the good of the institution of marriage? The priest or deacon could make “the evils of cohabitation” the subject of the wedding homily; but nobody wants that either – least of all the priest or deacon. We love marriage. What a shame it would be to have to speak of cohabitation in the marriage homily in order to do “damage control”.
For all of the reasons above I am begging our parishioners never to enter into a situation of cohabitation as they approach marriage. And for those who have done so, perhaps not knowing this teaching, I am asking that they separate living situations (abstaining from sex, of course) for their own good and for the good of the community around them. Many couples who have separated before marriage express that this gave them a chance more deeply to consider the real meaning of marriage and the marital-embrace. It transformed their relationship. [Caveat: If there is a child involved already in the relationship, it could be that the rule of epikea applies: Prudence could dictate the bending of such a rule for the health of the child.] That is the higher call. That is the way to say, “Married love is so precious that we are going to make the difficult decisions that exhibit our esteem for the bond into which we are entering.”
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DON’T COHABIT!!!!!!!!!
Have a blessed Lent!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,