In a poll on religion and the family conducted for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 49% of Americans said that cohabitation was acceptable. In my experience that percentage is probably not much different in the church. But in the August 2005 issue of Psychology Today, there was an article entitled, "The Cohabitation Trap: When 'Just Living Together' Sabotages Love" by Nancy Wartik.
The article concluded that, “Living together before marriage seems like a smart way to road test the relationship. But cohabitation may lead you to wed for all the wrong reasons--or turn into a one-way trip to splitsville.”
There are a few common reasons behind cohabitation...
a. Some see cohabitation as sort of marriage experiment.
b. Some believe living together will help them make a more informed decision about marriage.
c. And for some living together just makes good economic sense.
First lets see what the Bible says and then I give you some research from a non-Christian source. Is cohabitation sexual immorality? What does the Bible say about cohabitation?
Defining Sexual immorality
The Greek word pornea is often translated into English as "sexual immorality." It is a broad word that includes a whole host of deviant and not so deviant (by cultural standards) sexual behavior. It includes things like prostitution, incest, bestiality, adultery, pornography, homosexuality, and fornication. One definition of fornication is having sex with someone you're not married to.
So is Cohabitation Sexual immorality? The answer is maybe!
(1) Cohabitation generally includes the idea of sharing the same bed, which most definitely falls under the definition of sexual immorality. The Bible calls clearly defines that as sexual immorality and God tells us to avoid it. It’s pretty straightforward. So in a vast majority of cases cohabitation leads to sexual immorality.
(2) But -- “What if we’re living together but not sleeping together or having sex. We’re just living under the same roof?” Well technically cohabitation under those circumstances isn’t sexual immorality. If that's true then why does the "church" have such a dim view of it? Although cohabitation under these circumstances isn't sexual immorality there are other biblical principles related to this that need to be considered. Let me list a few.
• Your Reputation
“Abstain from all appearance of evil.” I The. 5:22 (KJV)
“But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality...” Eph. 5:3 (NIV)
Your Christian testimony (reputation) and even that of your church may be damaged if you live in a cohabitation arrangement. Not everyone will know, ask, or even believe that you're not having sex with your partner. You may think, "That's their problem, not mine." Well, that's only partly true because the God wants us to live above reproach and avoid situations that even hint of sexual immorality - like cohabitation. Even though you may not be committing sexual immorality your living arrangements may damage your integrity with other and reflect poorly on you, your church, and God.
• Your Love For Others
“If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don't want to make another Christian stumble.” I Cor. 8:13 (NLT)
Paul made a practice of avoiding activities that he knew would be offensive to others. Some of the things he avoided he would have avoided no matter what. But other things he avoided he did so, not because they were wrong or sinful, but simply because he knew some people would have a problem with them. The principle is called "deference." Deference is limiting your freedom for the sake of others. For example, if you had a five year old child you're probably careful about what movies you let them watch. In fact, you may actually wait until they are in bed before you watch certain programming. Why? Out of deference for them. You love them and care about them and so you're willing to reshape your behavior and even limit it for your child's benefit. Cohabitation is a sensitive issue still for many people, especially in the church. Why not show your love for others by choosing to limit your freedom and decide not to cohabitate?
• Your Freedom
“Everyone is tempted by his own desires as they lure him away and trap him.” James 1:14 (GWT)
The Bible tells us over and over again to avoid, flee from, run from temptation - especially sexual immorality. By living with someone of the opposite sex you set yourself up for temptation, which just sets you up for failure. All it takes is just one moment of weakness. Even when the person you cohabitate with is not your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance the temptations are still there. Even if you're not attracted to your roommates they may be attracted to you or they may bring home friends unannounced. Any number of things can and will conspire against you to put you in a compromising and tempting situation. If you value your freedom from sin and especially sexual immorality then avoid cohabitation.
• Your Conscience
“Whenever our conscience condemns us, we will be reassured that God is greater than our conscience and knows everything.” 1 John 3:20 (GWT)
"Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it." James 4:17 (NLT)
Finally, we all have that small still voice called the Holy Spirit that speaks to us. If your conscience tells you, "Don't do this." That would be the Holy Spirit and it's best to listen to that voice. If you're conflicted about doing it that a good sign that you should not do it. In the immortal words of Monty Python and the Holy Grail - "Run Away!" When you begin to make choices that conflict with your conscience you begin to harden your heart toward God. It's a slippery slope that just takes you, almost imperceptibly, further and further away from God.
What does the research say?
Research on this issue has yielded some interesting findings. And by the way the research is predominantly not done by Christians who might be tempted to skew the results.
• Couples who move in together before marriage hare two times more likely to divorce than couples who marry before living together.
• Couples who lived together before marriage tend to have poorer-quality marriages than couples who did not cohabitate before marriage.
• Couples who cohabitate before marriage tend to be less committed to their spouse and less likely to remain faithful than couples who did not cohabitate.
• Men who cohabit are especially less likely to ever commit to marriage.
• Couples who cohabitate tend to have less traditional views about marriage which, among other things, tends to weaken their faith and belief in God.
• Children who live with their parents in cohabitation arrangements tend to have more emotional and/or academic problems than children who live with two married parents.
• Children whose parents modeled cohabitation are more likely to do the same than children whose parents modeled marriage first.
Is cohabitation ever acceptable?
I believe there are some exceptions. For example, when family members cohabitate such as brother and sister. And there probably are some other cases where it would be acceptable. You'd have to evaluate each on a case by case basis.
How do I get out of a cohabitation situation?
As fast as possible! Most people stay in them, even when they conclude they are wrong, because (1) they're afraid they'll lose their significant other, (2) they're afraid they'll lose money, (3) they don't have the money to move.
So what do you do? First, explain to your partner why you need to do this. Don't waiver in your conviction on this. If they really love you they will come around. If they don't you may have saved yourself a great deal of pain later in life. Second, put an immediate end to any sexual immorality and take steps to protect yourself from it in the future. Third, deal fairly with the financial issues but don't let a loss of some finances keep you from pleasing the Lord and doing what you know is right. God can restore what you "lose." Fourth, make financial arrangements to move out. Start saving money, talk to another friend who may need a roommate, etc. Fifth, Move out or have them move out as soon as possible. Of course be sure to pray always during this process for God's help, favor, and courage to do what you must do. You may be surprised how God comes through for you!
Summary: Whether the circumstances surrounding cohabitation make it sexual immorality or not the Biblical precedence is that it should be avoided. Even the research surrounding this issue makes it clear that cohabitation is bad news for everybody involved. Common sense says no, the research says no, even the Bible says no - so I would conclude that cohabitation is bad news and in most cases it probably is sin as well.
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