Living together before marriage?

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Living Together Before Marriage

I am in what many would call an "adult cohabitation relationship." I strive to be a good follower as Christ has called me to be, but in my readings of the Bible, I have come to believe that my current living condition is not what was intended by God. So now I am faced with a dilemma: My girlfriend and I have discussed our arrangement and have agreed that it is time to begin moving toward marriage, but what do we do until we can complete that process? I don’t want to continue living in sin, but it also doesn’t seem practical to either rush out and get married tomorrow to make ourselves more legitimate or to separate until we can be united in a proper marriage. How do we faithfully move forward from here until we are able to be united as God intended? — Andrew Davis, Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita, Kan. 

Ron: Dear Andrew, I wish we were communicating in person like at a coffee shop. I’d love to have the conversation in person with you and your partner. I’ve highlighted a couple of paragraphs from the social statement "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." There is a section that speaks specifically to what you are asking. The heading of the section is "Sexual intimacy and adult cohabitation:"

"For this reason, this church teaches that degrees of physical intimacy should be carefully matched to degrees of growing affection and commitment. This also suggests a way to understand why this church teaches that the greatest sexual intimacies, such as coitus, should be matched with and sheltered both by the highest level of binding commitment and by social and legal protection, such as is found in marriage. Here, promises of fidelity and public accountability provide the foundational basis and support for trust, intimacy, and safety, especially for the most vulnerable."

"Because this church urges couples to seek the highest social and legal support for their relationships, it does not favor cohabitation arrangements outside of marriage. It has a special concern when such arrangements are entered into as an end in themselves. It does, however, acknowledge the social forces at work that encourage such practices. This church also recognizes the pastoral and familial issues that accompany these contemporary social patterns."

So, if you are still reading, you indicate that you believe that your current practice isn’t what "God has intended for you." Yet — and here’s where you might feel some heat — you also indicate "but it also doesn’t seem practical to either rush out and get married tomorrow to make ourselves more legitimate or to separate until we can be united in a proper marriage." So, I’m wondering what is it that you think you should do but that seems to be impractical at this point? I’m not trying to shut down the conversation but rather to open it up to a whole other level of meaning and purpose.

I am glad to hear that you two both feel that you are moving toward marriage. I’d ask you to visit with a pastor and have her/him talk with you about this place and space that you find yourself in. Obviously, you are not alone. Recent studies indicate that many couples do cohabitate before marriage. I know from personal experience that your situation seems to be rather descriptive for many people today. I invite you to make an appointment and talk about next steps. 

Anne: Even if your wedding date is a long way off, I’d encourage you to meet with your pastor and start the process of premarital counseling. It sounds like you and your girlfriend are doing really important discernment as a couple about how you’re called to live out your faith in your relationship with each other. That’s a great thing and the start of a strong foundation for your married life together. And it’s not something the two of you should have to take on alone. Your pastor will meet with you and, depending on his or her approach, use several different tools and techniques that will give you a lot to think about, talk about and practice in terms of healthy communication and centering your relationship on God’s grace and love.

As part of this premarital counseling, talk to your pastor about cohabitation. Some pastors recommend refraining from sexual intimacy in the months leading up to the wedding, even if you are still living together. Whether or not your pastor recommends it, have an open and honest discussion with your girlfriend about it to decide if that’s something the two of you would like to do. It will give the two of you a chance to practice good communication and what it’s like to have honest, loving conversations about difficult and important issues.

Changing your living arrangements at this point may not be economically feasible, and even if it is, it may not make sense for the two of you and your relationship. Running out and getting married tomorrow means you’d miss out on the opportunity to do premarital counseling and that you’d lose the chance to do important relationship-strengthening work in the time leading up to your wedding and the start of your marriage. Whatever you decide about cohabitation, give yourselves some time to really prepare for marriage and enlist the help of your pastor. Marriage is different than living together, and it takes a lot of work!

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