Counting the Cost of Cohabitation

Many couples live together for practicality and comfort. But how beneficial is it?

CNN recently posted an article that shares the latest update from PEW researchers about cohabiting couples. Their research found more couples are living together, splitting cost and making it just fine, apparently better off than married couples. The U.S. Census Bureau records more than 12 million unmarried partners live together in 6,008,007 households [American Community Survey: 2005-2007]. And, according to Vital Health and Statistics, 55 percent of different-sex cohabiters do marry within five years of moving in together. Forty percent break up within that same time period, and about 10 percent remain in an unmarried relationship for five years or more.

On PEW’s website, their research suggests “… living as an unmarried couple typically is an economically productive way to combine two incomes and is a step toward marriage and childbearing.”

Based on their surveys, they are promoting cohabiting and are calling it a financially sound decision. But although this theory appears probable to some, I can’t help but argue this still doesn’t make cohabitation the best decision from a practical and spiritual perspective.

When I was single, I never officially moved in with my ex. But, more often than I expected, I ended up spending the night at his house. At that time, my current uncomfortable living conditions gave me an excuse to stay with him. When I was there, it was as if we were married. I’d wake up in the morning and we’d stand before the sink getting ready. He shaved, while I applied makeup. We both got dressed and headed out the door for work. A typical day, followed by my trip to the grocery to grab something to eat, prepare dinner and finally we’d sit down to eat and discuss our day. Sounds a little innocent, right? Well, unfortunately, as  a Christian woman, conviction constantly hovered above my head like a thick fog and I could barely see what was really happening.

Although my case wasn’t because of financial gain, it still didn’t seem right to me. I knew there was something particularly strange about why I was practically living with someone who I was not married to and acting like his wife. We discussed bills—my very private financial situations—and much more at the dinner table. I cleaned up after him—including the hair he left in the bathroom sink from shaving. Yes, it was deep. I treated his place like it was my own. And, to add insult to injury, our relationship suffered greatly because of it. We both knew we were wrong and we weren’t even having sex.

If you ask a group of single people whether or not living together is right or wrong, you’re going to get many different responses. In fact, I recently overheard a conversation that discussed this very issue. The comments were unsurprising. The majority support co-habitation because “how else would you get to know someone if you don’t live with them?” However, I beg to differ, for both practical and biblical reasons.

Cohabitation can devalue the idea of marriage.

I’ve heard some single people say, "Why get married when we have everything we need right here?” The problem with living together is that it doesn’t promote true commitment. Some may argue and say that it is a sign of commitment, but that’s not true. It actually proves the opposite. By cohabiting, you’re telling them they can live with you, but they don’t have to marry you. That’s why you see so many couples living together and not getting married. I’m sure we can all agree that many people have devalued marriage anyway. That’s why it’s a popular thing to just live together instead of entering into the covenant of marriage.

Economic stability doesn’t equal lasting relationships.

We hear that in marriage finances is a top reason for divorce. If you think the statistics about cohabiting is something, hearing about the 51 percent divorce rate within the church would really set it off. It’s troubling. I believe that because of the statistics, many are deciding to live together so they can learn to manage their fiances together first before they get married. Well, the problem is that this is one sure way to bring unnecessary hardship into your relationship. You’ve likely heard people say something like, “You can mess with anything, but don’t mess with my money!” It’s because people value the almighty dollar. People work hard to survive. And sharing or splitting cost with someone can (and most often times does) put a strain on the relationship because of its enormous responsibility. Just like a tenant has the right to evict someone who doesn’t pay their rent on time, so does the person you’re splitting cost with.

In marriage, the difference is stability—or at least, it should be. You can work out your financial hardships with someone you’re married to. My husband and I can attest to experiencing that. You don’t just bail out because the money is tight and times are hard. But when you’re single and if you’re struggling to share rent, the mortgage, utilities and other responsibilities, you can leave that person at the drop of a dime if you wanted to.

Cohabitation is an open door to temptation.

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One of the biggest arguments people have when they are living together is, “We aren’t sleeping together.” Truthfully, whether you’re sleeping together or not, you’re still opening the door to allow an immature spiritual connection to take place—a fake copy of the real intimacy that should only be released after you jump the broom. In the event the conversation comes up, I encourage you to stand firm for holiness and say no. The Bible says we should flee from the very presence of (evil) temptation (2 Timothy 2:22). Making that commitment opens the door for temptation to intensify; getting in a car to drive to someone’s house may take longer than walking down the hallway—but it also gives you more time to think carefully before making a mistake.

Cohabitation sets a poor example and subliminally promotes wrong ideas of true love and intimacy.

As Christians walking on this journey of faith, we are the ones the youth look up to as examples. If we continue to live together, how does that look to our youth who are already a part of a sexually perverse generation? As much as we don’t think they should, appearances often do matter. It’s important to set a proper Christ-like example. Living together is not the way to do that.

What do you think about cohabitation? Is it ever OK? Why or why not?

Kennisha Hill is a faith-based author, speaker and journalist who examines hot topics from a Christ-centered perspective. Visit her site and sign up for her e-zine, Faith.Hope.Love.



Sarah commented…

This is a terribly opinion-driven article... one with equally unsurprising retorts for why people shouldn't live together. It basically says we should not because...... well, I'm still not exactly sure. There was one pretty broad bible verse thrown in there at the end that did little to solidify any of the already weak points made against cohabitation.

My first problem with with article comes from the idea that cohabiting requires no real commitment. It's obvious by this bland statement that the author didn't move in with her ex. When you live with someone and there's no binding piece of paper, no vows, no eternity rings, but you still voluntarily choose to daily accept their ups and downs, dirty laundry, flat tires, or whatever else life throws that day, its a commitment that takes fortitude. When your significant other helps you do something they don't have to, or accepts you at your ugliest, and when they do it without a promise but simply because they love you... that example of commitment is one some marriages don't see. And, to the other shallow idea that by cohabiting we're telling each other it's ok to live together and not get married, well, yes... I think both partners enter into the cohabitation agreement with that general consensus. Otherwise they'd get married. Now whether or not that's a finite decision should be understood before anyones toothbrushes start to mingle. I would also argue that the "unnecessary hardship" money places on cohabiting couples is a sign of commitment. Let's get real and understand that at some point, if you remain with this person, money is going to have to be discussed. Why does waiting until marriage make it ANY easier?

As far as the argument that cohabitation is an open door to temptation, well, that door is always open. If a couple is going to have sex before marriage, it's not going to be because they started living together. I would bet heavily that a couples first time is way before talk of cohabiting. And, if the issue is temptation, something that exists in the spirit, it's going to be another challenge that doesn't disappear with a marriage license. You're going to deal with it at some point and probably as it comes for the rest of your life.

But lastly, of all the unoriginal, simple minded claims the author makes, I find the last point and paragraph the most offensive and ridiculous. She challenges the example a cohabiting couple sets to the youth of an "already sexually perverse generation". In a world where marriage rates even in the church stand close to 50/50, there is quite a demand for answers. Church teaches that when you love God and marry under his covenant it's a commitment til death do you part. But what example does divorce in the church set? If we are going to be so harsh as to hold cohabiting couples under the light and pressure of watching youth, we should also consider that maybe youth would appreciate seeing a couple enter into marriage with the confidence that they've already withstood the trials of living together and still want to show God they respect the sanctity of marriage by making it official. Maybe the cohabiting couple is trying to avoid the confusion divorce imposes upon the youth of the church. Is cohabiting ever ok? Is anything ever ok. I think God loves when we love. If we focus a little more on that maybe we could actually restore the things christians so vehemently try to by judging this evolving and complex world.


Laura commented…

It's so hard to know what is "right" and what to do to make God happy WHILE making sure your desire to please God isn't making you miserable. It's just impossible to always do things the "right" way. I have made a lot of mistakes, and maybe one of them WAS living with my now-husband before we were married. However, it worked out for me. I believe I had good intentions and moving in with him DEFINITELY was a commitment - just as big of a commitment as marriage would have been. I struggle a lot with whether or not God is upset with us because we did things a little backwards. I'm not sure what the outcome would have been if we married first and then lived together - it probably would have been the same. My age and naivety made me do things that way - a way I probably would not do over again. Besides a brief hiccup - a hiccup that could and probably WOULD have occurred even if we had signed the legal papers - we grew spiritually together through our experiences of cohabiting. I just believe that every situation is different and if you have a good heart and good intentions going into it, God understands. You always TRY to make sure what you are doing is pleasing God, but you will never be 100% perfect in doing so. I just pray that God is pleased with where my life is now even if I didn't get here the "right" way.


Learningtogrow2002 commented…

A tremendous amount of food for thought. Some of these points remind me of the proverbial question, what came first the chicken or the egg? This whole discussion about co-habitation and marriage is really a spiritual problem first. I work in apartment rentals and I struggled for a long time on how to help all these people who are single parents, living with someone whom they are not married too, etc. I came to the conclusion that without some relationship with Jesus, I might as well be talking to that wall about lifestyle changes, because they have no moral compass. They are about the world and this is what their neighbors are doing, so they thing it is normal.



Stephanie commented…

I agree with this article for one major reason: cohabitation too early in a relationship devalues the weight of true commitment.

If I'm shacking up with my boyfriend after a few months, it may seem innocent, but after a while, it becomes an integral part of my life. Unless I am bound to the person I'm in a relationship with a not-turning-back commitment of a ring on my finger (b/c let's face it, these days, people are too quick to drop and run), I find it unhealthy and irresponsible to spend that much time with them in such an intimate setting.

Maybe it's from experience, but I think it's unhealthy to put too much weight on a relationship prior to that next level of commitment happening. Dating relationships are not marriage. Yes, they can be serious and may look toward a future together, but until that future is solidified in some form of commitment (engagement or marriage, in my opinion), it's very risky to dive into living with one another. What's stopping one person from leaving? Nothing.

Marriage may be hard, but people are more likely to stick it out in marriage than in a dating relationship. As time goes on, one could easily accumulate a list of boyfriends/girlfriends he/she has lived with, each time giving less weight to the intimacy of living together. This slowly diminishes the importance of a true committed relationship.

My views on this have changed over time, but I can say that without a doubt, I am better off to have not lived with my previous boyfriends. At the time, I thought it'd be fine and probably wanted to, but that's because at the time, I thought we were committed to each other. In reality, there was nothing keeping us in the relationship, so as things soured, we were able to part ways cleanly.

Heather Goodman


Heather Goodman commented…

I think there are a lot of great reasons for couples to NOT live together before marriage. But when talking about this subject, before we just outrightly condemn any couple that DOES live together, or look down at them as unwise or not serious about Christ, I think we need to remember to:
CHECK OUR PRIVILEGE. That is, I have seen couples end up living together because, at some point while dating, in this economy, one or both members of the couple were going to literally end up homeless or on the street if it weren't for one member of the couple offering for the other to move in.
It's very hard to stand up against the temptation to move in with your boyfriend/girlfriend when your family doesn't want you/can't take you, and when your friends also can't take you (or you have social problems and don't have that many friends) etc etc. When we tell people how evil it is to cohabitate, we are assuming they had other options. When sleeping in an alley or your car (if you even have one of those) is your only other option, someone who may not have yet committed to you in marriage but does indeed love you and has a spot for you is extremely difficult to turn down.

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