Living Together Before Marriage

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(The following post is a 800+ words paper I needed to submit for my doctoral work in marriage and family therapy at Liberty University)

Option 3: Articulate the issues and outcomes associated with cohabitation according to research and a biblical worldview. In your response, consider how issues associated with cohabitation might impact the couple’s future marriage; include thoughts about one or both partners who also cohabitated with another partner prior to meeting their current partner. 

The topic of cohabitation is one that is personal to me since I have friends and clients who practice cohabitation currently, or in the past, and some have end up in marriage while others either led to “convenience land” with no wedding in sight. It seems as if it is a 50/50 proposition in my observation in terms of leading towards marriage.  However the question at hand is not if cohabitation leads to marriage, but what are the effects of cohabitation for the quality of the future marriage and how does cohabitation fare in the light of the Bible. 

Interesting enough I posted the question “Is it a good idea to live together BEFORE getting married?” On my Facebook profile last year (Paulino, 2020) and my almost 5,000 friends chimed in with over 150 comments, mostly in favor of cohabitation.  They spoke from personal experience, and the overall sense was the potential harm of not committing to marriage was a better one than jumping from living independently to making a life-long legal contract/commitment. One of my friends said it best when she said in one of the comments, “I would have married an idiot and been divorced if I hadn’t lived with my ex beforehand. Sometimes you need to test drive before you buy, just my opinion.”

The science of relationship however does not agree with the majority of my friends or the majority of couples living together, which is north of 60% (Thomas, 2021). Living together, to quote Dr. David Thomas, is “living together… marriage without commitment” (Thomas, 2021). Peer-reviewed relational studies have proven cohabitation does not translate to marital satisfaction, actually quite the opposite. The basic consensus in the academic community is that cohabitation increases marital dissolution, have less stable relationships, however level of marital dissatisfaction, more disagreements,  or divorce (Stanley et al., 2006; Booth & Johnson, 1988). 

While the Bible does not address cohabitation, it does address “sexual immorality” which includes sexual activity outside of marriage, and sexual intimacy falls under this broad category. Sexual intimacy is reserved for the covenant of marriage in the Bible, and many passages speak of sexual activity outside of marriage in a negative light (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7) and positively of sexual activity in marriage (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5). 

I think the debate is not if the Bible endorses sexual activity outside of marriage, clearly the answer is no.  The question is how are we as Christians going to approach this topic with those who do not actively observe this biblical teaching.  In my experience I suggest we do so the following way:

  • With Tenderness: Living together is not a lighthearted decision people make.  Usually there is a lot of thought, back and forth, doubt, and trepidation. Not to mention, they already feel people will judge them, so having a brash/accusatory approach is counterproductive. 
  • With Curiosity: Let us get curious about how they arrived to that decision. Perhaps pre-marital counseling could serve as the tool they need to get the certainty they are looking for in cohabitation.  The reality is that we do not know, and genuine curiosity has the power to establish a secure attachment between the counselor and client.
  • With Love: I personally do not know anyone who was made better by condemnation. Quite the opposite, the more stringent people perceive others towards them, the more they dig in their hills. Love on the other hand is unconditional and all-powerful. Let us be of support, and stand ready to lend a helping hand.

At the end couples who cohabitate might be doing so out of perceived need, and not as a deliberate attack to God and/or the Church.  Quite frankly, most people are just trying to make the best they can with what they have. Our role is to be of support and assistance, not to judge and condemn their relational choices. 


Booth, A., & Johnson, D. (1988). Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success. Journal Of Family Issues, 9(2), 255-272.

New International Version Bible. (2011). Zondervan. (Original work published 1978) 

Paulino, A. (2020). Facebook Post. Facebook. Retrieved 6 June 2021, from 

Stanley, S., Rhoades, G., & Markman, H. (2006). Sliding Versus Deciding: Inertia and the Premarital Cohabitation Effect. Family Relations, 55(4), 499-509. 

Thomas, D. (2021). edco806m4cohabitation_20160603215012.mp4. LIberty University Online. Retrieved 6 June 2021, from, J. (2012). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. [Place of publication not identified]: Simon & Schuster.

My name is Arturo and I am loved by God and in response to that I best serve others by adding VALUE to their lives. My goal is to enrich lives, relationships, and communities.
From an artistic standpoint I’m a visual communicator and via the use of photography I seek promote beauty, concepts, and messages. Spiritually speaking I've served as a chaplain at a addiction/recovery rehabilitation center, and before that as a youth pastor, missionary, and Young Life/Club Beyond staff for many years here in the USA and abroad.
On the mental health side I currently serve as a life coach, certified addiction recovery specialist, and marriage and family counselor.

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