What's the Matter with Living Together?

Author: M.B. Bonacci


What's the matter with my boyfriend and I living together? By "living together," I assume that you mean "living together and sleeping together." This is a bad idea for several reasons.

First and most obvious you're not married. You haven't made a final public commitment to each other. God hasn't joined you together in a sacramental bond. Sex is a renewal of the sacrament and you have no sacrament to renew. Sex speaks the language of "I've given myself to you forever," not "We'll see how this works out." You're speaking the language of the body in a lie.

Second, and probably because of this, living together before marriage isn't good for relationships. Studies consistently show a much higher divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage.

The problem, as always, is that in sex you're speaking the language of forever. And to complicate things more, you really are acting married. You share an address and a telephone number. You've mingled your possessions. You eat together, clean together and entertain together. You're functioning on most levels as a married couple.

But you're not married. There is no long-term commitment. The "back door" is always open because you have deliberately left it open. Either one is free to leave at any time. And both of you, somewhere in the back of your minds, know that. That's a bad idea, for several reasons.

First of all, the lack of permanence keeps everyone on their "best behavior." it's difficult to speak up when you know that if things get too rough, the other person may disappear. It becomes easier to avoid "rocking the boat." In this situation, problems are often repressed instead of expressed and pressure grows.

Psychologist Laura Schlessinger says that men and women often have different reasons for wanting to live together. For women, living together is about "auditioning" for the role of wife. They see it as a first step a way to convince their boyfriends they should get married. But this is bad strategy. She says that moving in with a man without a commitment tells him that he doesn't have to do much to get you. If you're dating a commitment-phobe, moving in with him will make him less motivated to commit. Now he doesn't have to get married. He already has all of the benefits without having to make the commitment.

Women often move in with men to be protected and nurtured. But without commitment, the security isn't real. It is an illusion. It can vanish at any time, and that creates tension.

Many couples live together as a sort of "trial marriage', to decide if they are compatible enough to spend the rest of their lives together. But this is a very bad way to make a marriage decision. To make a decision this important you need to be objective, and objectivity is the last thing you have when you cohabitate. You have a vested interest in staying together. You are speaking the language of forever with your bodies and blurring your ability to make a good decision. And what's more, you've already made your home with him. Whatever short-term desires you had for nurturing or security are now met right at home, with a person to whom you've given yourself. It becomes much harder to leave.

When so much of your security is tied up in "making it work" with this person, it becomes easy to lose perspective. You worry so much about "how can I make him stay?" that you forget to ask the question you're supposed to be asking: "Is this really the person I want for the rest of my life?"

People who live together often tend, on the whole, to be less mature than those who wait until they're married to cohabitate. They tend to be more interested in gratifying their short-term desires for sex or security than they are in going carefully through the steps necessary to build a committed, permanent relationship.

When you're ready to make a commitment to building a home and a life together, make it. But don't try to do it halfway. It doesn't work.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the November 2, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.