Is it wrong if I move in with my boyfriend? If we love each other, isn't that what counts? Is the Bible against this?
Living (and, presumably, sleeping) with your boyfriend is a bad idea. Experts have carefully studied the effects on relationships and children among those who are married and those who are cohabiting. Here are some of their findings:
1. For the first time, unmarried adults represent more than half of American households, 73% of men and 62% of women in their 20s in 2006 have never been married. Just 23.5% of men and 31.5% of women ages 20-29 were married in 2006 vs. 31.5% of men and 39.5% of women in 2000 (USA Today, 9/12/07).
2. Shacking up is a bad deal for the woman. She tends to bring more to the relationship (relational effort) than the man, yet receives less in terms of commitment and security.
3. Live-in lovers unintentionally send a hurtful message: I want part of you -- maybe later I'll want all of you. In other words, to hold back marital commitment is to hold back love. Further, patterns of communication also tend to be more manipulative. This may be because of the implicit threat, constantly in the background, that the disappointed party will leave.
4. Cohabiting couples are more likely to split up than married couples. In 2001, the rate of divorce among those who cohabit prior to marriage was 39% vs. 21% for couples who marry without prior cohabitation (W. J. Bennett, The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family, 2001), though the rate may be a little higher now. When both partners do not follow the word of God, such tragedies are to be expected. And yet without the bond of marriage, breaking up is even more common.
5. Those who cohabit before marriage are less likely to remain faithful in a marriage. This is especially true for men. So "testing compatibility" is a terrible idea. Besides, compatibility has far more to do with commitment and mutual sacrifice than with personal habits, likes, and dislikes.
6. Cohabiting couples actually report less sexual fulfillment than married persons, especially in the long term.
7. Children in households with cohabiting adults lose out big-time. Compared to children of married "biological" [I always find that term amusing] parents, children ages 12-17 with cohabiting parents are at a huge disadvantage:
* Six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems.
* 122% more likely to be expelled from school.
* 90% more likely to have a low grade point average.
* Exposed to three to four times the risk of harm (particularly when an unrelated male lives in the home). Rates of serious child abuse are lower in intact families; six times higher in stepfamilies; 14 times higher in always-single-mother families; 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families; and 33 times higher when a mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the biological father (New Oxford Review 9/07).
* Statistically part of households with higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual infidelity, and lower joint income than married homes. Cohabiters who never marry have 78% less wealth than the continuously married; cohabiters who have been divorced or widowed once have 68% less wealth. (Cohabitation Facts web site)
* Less likely to benefit from financial sacrifices by the adults in the family. Yet children deserve to be brought up in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. This requires long-term commitment.
* 75% of children involved in criminal activity are from cohabiting households.
As for the Bible, both testaments continually uphold the specialness of marriage, and reject the shortsightedness and sinfulness of promiscuity. Hebrews 13:4 is one helpful passage:
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Not all sexual immorality is adultery -- sometimes neither partner is married -- yet both types are condemned in no uncertain terms. The marriage bed (with all this entails) is to be kept pure, reserved for intimacy between married persons only.
Our society continually asks, "What's in it or me? What's wrong with enjoying myself if I'm not actively hurting anyone? Don't I have the right to do what I want in my own home? Isn't it okay to flirt and hook up?"
Yet these aren't the best questions. Look at it from God's perspective, from the vantage point of righteousness, truth, and eternity. Rather than insisting on our constitutional right to pursue pleasure in any way I deem fit, what about the search for holiness? What about virtue? As the Hebrew writer also wrote,
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God... See that no one is sexually immoral... (Hebrew 12:14-16).
Cohabitation is mentally, physically, economically, and sexually unhealthy. Partners seek the benefits of marriage without the commitment. And yet God has designed marriage for lifetime commitment.
Instead of fighting for our right to every possible pleasure, we need to return to a purer, nobler, and higher ideal. Let us strive for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
This article was inspired in part by Glenn T. Stanton's book Why the Ring Makes a Difference, and also made use of data from "For the Record: The Foster Report" in Christian Counseling Connection (American Association of Christian Counselors -- www.AACC.net), vol. 15, issue 4 (2008).