Marriage and Cohabitation


One of the amazing things about the Bible is that it’s often a long way ahead of modern science.

Today we’ll see how this is true in the area of relationships between people – especially sexual relationships.

We’ll be looking at:

  1. An example of what can happen if we ignore Bible teaching on relationships.
  2. Some of the things that the Bible has to say about relationships.
  3. The latest scientific research on de-facto relationships and cohabitation.
  4. Relationships between Christians and non-Christians.

1    An example of what can happen if we ignore the Bible’s teaching on relationships

Everyone has heard about a terrible disease called AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, by 2012 AIDS had already killed over 36 million people.

That’s more than twice as many people as died in the First World War!

It has also affected millions of other people who haven’t died yet, and costs billions of dollars in medical treatment and medical research.

Billions of dollars that could have been spent on helping people with other illnesses.

Also many innocent children have caught AIDS from their mothers.

Apparently AIDS originally spread among homosexual men, before crossing over to promiscuous non‑homosexuals.

AIDS would not have become the huge problem it is today if people had paid attention to what the Bible teaches about the relationships between people.

The spread of AIDS has been made possible by ignoring the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality and promiscuity.

2    Some of the things the Bible has to say about relationships

The Bible forbids people to have sex outside of marriage.

In the Bible, having sex outside of marriage is called fornication or sexual immorality or adultery

This includes:

  • De-facto relationships
  • Promiscuity
  • Cohabitation
  • Homosexual relationships
The Bible makes some pretty strong statements about relationships, here are some of them:

1 Cor 6:9-10  …  Neither fornicators, …  nor adulterers, nor homosexuals … will inherit the kingdom of God.
Heb 13:4  Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
Acts 15:20  we write to them to abstain … from sexual immorality …
Eph 5:3, 5  But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

3    Contemporary scientific research on de-facto relationships and cohabitation

The statistical data used here is from research reports prepared by the United States National Marriage Project based at the University of Virginia (formerly at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey).  

The University of Virginia is a top American Research university founded in 1819 by President Jefferson.  It’s not a Christian university, but they’ve done extensive research over many years into the effects that different kinds of relationships have on people and communities.

Although most of their research was done in the USA and Europe it still applies to New Zealand.

They note that cohabitation is replacing marriage as the first living together experience for many young men and women.  When young brides walk down the aisle today, well over half have already lived together with a boyfriend. 

For today’s young adults, living together seems like a good way to achieve some of the benefits of marriage – and avoid some of the responsibilities and also the risk of divorce. 

Couples who live together can share expenses and learn more about each other. 

They can find out if their partner has what it takes to be married. 

If things don’t work out, breaking up is easy. 

Cohabiting couples don’t need to have legal or religious permission to end their relationship.

But a careful review of the available social science research shows that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage – or to avoid divorce. 

The research shows that:

  1. Living together before marriage actually increases the risk of break up after marriage.
  2. Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of domestic violence for women and physical and sexual abuse for children.
  3. Unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and wellbeing than married couples.

(Incidentally, in New Zealand in 2006, 23.7 percent of all couples were unmarried - and that percentage is increasing).

The American research also shows that over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none about 40 years ago.

The modern view is that cohabitation represents a more progressive approach to intimate relationships. 

People say it’s so much healthier for couples:

  1. To be free of social pressure to marry – and free of stigma when they don’t.
  2. To be able to exercise choice in their sexual arrangements. 
  3. To avoid divorce by having a trial period.

Surprisingly, most of the accumulating social science research shows exactly the opposite. 

Cohabitation is actually not good for relationships.

Unfortunately most people are unaware of the conclusions of the many recent studies on unmarried cohabitation.

Living together before marriage might seem harmless – or even good – until you take a careful look at the statistical evidence.

A 2003 Norwegian study showed that children of unmarried couples were almost 2.5 times more likely to have their parents break up. 

A massive British study in 2006 found that nearly 1 in 2 unmarried couples break up before their children are 5 years old – compared to 1 in 12 married parents. 

They also found that 3/4 of all family breakdowns affecting young children involve unmarried parents.

No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.
While traditional marriages are held together largely by a strong ethic of commitment (spiritual, social and legal), cohabiting relationships by their very nature tend to undercut this ethic.

According to recent studies, cohabiters tend not to be as committed to each other as married couples.

Cohabiting couples are found to have lower levels of happiness, lower levels of sexual satisfaction, and also poorer relationships with their parents.

It’s easy to understand, therefore, why cohabiting is inherently much less stable than marriage – and why the break-up rate of cohabiters is much higher than for married partners. 

After 5 to 7 years, 39% of all cohabiting couples have broken their relationship.

The highest family breakup rates in the world are in Scandinavia, which not only has high divorce rates but also the highest percentage of cohabiting couples.

Research shows that married couples do better than unmarried couples in:

  1. work productivity
  2. physical and mental health
  3. general happiness

And they live longer.

Rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times higher than they are among married couples.

Women in cohabiting relationships are more likely than married women to suffer physical and sexual abuse.

Aggression is at least twice as common between cohabiters as it is between married partners. 

Two studies, one in Canada and the other in the United States, found that women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than women in marriage relationships.

One of the greatest problems for children living with cohabiting parents is the high risk that the parents will break up. 

3/4 of all children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up before they reach age sixteen, but only about 1/3 of children born to married parents face a similar fate.

Children living with a mother and her unmarried partner have significantly more behavioural problems and lower academic performance than children do in complete families.

In 1996 the poverty rate for children living in married couple households was 6% -- but it was 31% for children living in cohabiting households.

Men when they marry, especially those who then go on to have children, tend to become more responsible and productive.  They earn more than their unmarried counterparts.

Cohabitation often has a different meaning for each sex.  Women tend to see it as a step toward eventual marriage, while men often regard it more as a sexual opportunity – without the ties of long-term commitment.
Clearly it’s best not to live together at all before marriage.

Cohabitation is not helpful, and may be harmful as a try-out for marriage. 

The evidence shows that if you live together before marriage, you’re more likely to break up after marriage.

People do not learn to have better relationships from multiple failed cohabiting relationships. 

In fact, multiple cohabiting is a strong indication that future relationships will fail.

Cohabiting is particularly bad if children are involved. 

Children need - and deserve a mother and a father who are committed to staying together over the long term – but cohabiting parents break up at a much higher rate than married parents do.

Moreover, children living in cohabiting unions with “stepfathers” or mother’s boyfriends are at a much higher risk of sexual abuse and physical violence, including death, than are children living with married biological parents.

According to the non-profit Centre for Children’s Justice, children from fatherless homes are:

5 times more likely to commit suicide
32 times more likely to run away
14 times more likely to commit rape
20 times more likely to have behavioural disorders
20 times more likely to end up in prison 

The Charles Kettering Foundation has found that:

  • Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes.
  • Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes compared to one-parent homes.

(One-Parent Families and Their Children, Charles F. Kettering Foundation, 1990)

Remember that this data summarises the conclusions of researchers at major universities and is based on hard statistical evidence.

These findings merely confirm 
what the Bible has taught
for thousands of years.

Every child born into this world deserves both a mother and a father who are totally committed to each other – and to the child.

If a man and a woman are truly committed to each other they’ll have no problem in showing that commitment in the strongest possible way by getting married.

Christian marriage is one of the strongest commitments we can make in this life, and it’s supported by vows made:

  1. In the eyes of God.
  2. In the presence of friends and family.
  3. In the eyes of the law.

 4   Christians and Non-Christians

The Bible has a lot to say about the relationships between Christians and non-Christians.

The Bible teaches quite clearly that Christians should not marry unbelievers.

Deuteronomy 7:3 says about the people who do not follow the Lord:

Nor shall you make marriages with them.  You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.

2 Corinthians 6:14

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.

For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

The principle is clear.  Believers should not marry anyone who is not a believer.
Can you imagine what it must be like for a non-Christian to be married to a believer? 

  • The Christian wants to go to Christian meetings, listen to Christian music, buy Christian books, and spend time with other believers.  The non-Christian couldn’t care less.
  • The Christian wants the children to go to Sunday school and learn lessons from God’s word, but the non-Christian either won’t help, or is against it.  He’d rather take the children to the beach on Sunday.
  • The Christian wants to give money to the Lord’s work – the non-Christian would rather do something else with the money.
  • The non-Christian is surrounded by Christian influences that he doesn’t want, and usually starts to complain.

Since dating is usually the first step to finding a future husband or wife, it’s logical that a believer should only date another believer. 

Sometimes non-Christians pretend to be Christian in order to marry the Christian they’ve been dating. 

Beware of sudden conversions to Christianity – especially if the person who converts is romantically attracted to a Christian.

God wants us to have the best in marriage. 

The unbeliever may look great and may even be wonderful, but there’s trouble down the road. 

It’s much better not to be married at all 
than to be married to the wrong person.

Paul says emphatically that believers are only to marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39), in other words a Christian should only marry another believer. 

Paul goes on to show that it’s totally against Christ’s teachings for Christians to be involved in serious relationships with non-believers.

Not only should Christians avoid dating and marrying non-Christians, but 1 Cor. 5:9-12 indicates that they also should not become involved with people who say they are Christians but do not live godly lives. 

This includes any kind of strong relationship – it could be a strong business relationship or even just flatting together.

There are 2 underlying principles:

  1. We belong to God and should aim to honour Him in every area of our lives (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 
  2. Wrong relationships can produce wrong behaviours, wrong standards, and wrong values (1 Cor. 15:33). 

Young people are strongly influenced by others of their own age group. 

They’re often scared to be different from the crowd.

This means that it’s very important for Christian young people to have good Christian friends of about the same age.

Flirty Fishing

You might have heard about some Christians who date non-believers so as to try to lead them to faith in Christ.

This might be done with the best of intentions, but it exposes the Christian to serious risks and it’s not fair on the non-Christian.

Some Christians have even chosen to actually marry non-believers, thinking that they can win them to the Lord when they’re married.

Although there have been a few cases where unbelieving husbands or wives have actually been won to the Lord, this is very, very unusual. 

In most cases the Christian wife or husband has gradually fallen away from the Lord. 

The Bible rule forbidding strong relationships with non-believers implies that dating to evangelise is not a good practice for committed Christians. 

The biblical requirement is for all Christians to date only those who are also committed to Christ.

Every friend either helps you or slows you down – there are not many that have no effect on you. 

Our friends always influence us.  So be careful to choose good Christian friends.

It’s human nature to want to be accepted as part of a group.  We gain acceptance by doing what the group is doing. 

However, as Exodus 23:2 warns us, we’re not to do something just because the group is doing it. 

It’s much harder to make good choices when we’re part of a group that’s encouraging us to do wrong.

If the person we date is a faithful, active, Christian believer, the strain on us to make bad choices and to do something wrong is greatly reduced.

In the fight to remain spiritually alive, we need our closest friends to be those who will help us remain faithful to the Lord and to do His will.

If you are a Christian who means business with the Lord, then you should only date a Christian who also means business with the Lord.

Only in this way will you find God’s best plan for your life.

There are great rewards for following God’s plan – both in this life and in the next!

I believe that there’s no greater blessing in this life, than to belong to a loving, Christ-centred family.

But this is only possible if we follow the Bible’s guidelines for relationships between people from an early age – and build our lives and our homes on the precious truths in God’s word.

Lindsay Smith, 15 June 2014

Redemption Hymns 402
O give us homes built firm upon the Saviour,
Where Christ is Head, and Counsellor and Guide;
Where all the children learn His love and favour,
And give their hearts to Christ, the crucified:
How sweet to know that though their footsteps waver,
Their faithful Lord is walking by their side!
O give us homes with godly fathers, mothers,
Who always place their hope and trust in Him;
Whose tender patience turmoil never bothers,
Whose calm and courage trouble cannot dim;
A home where each finds joy in serving others,
And love still shines though days are dark and grim.
O give us homes where Christ is Lord and Master,
The Bible read, the precious hymns still sung;
Where prayer comes first in peace or in disaster,
And praise is natural speech to every tongue;
Where mountains move before a faith that's vaster,
And Christ sufficient is for old and young.
Barbara B. Hart