The Lie of Cohabitation

Today I want to write about a topic that is of increasing popularity in our culture: cohabitation. I myself know this topic all too well because I lived it for 2.5 years. Before I met my husband, I lived with a man who was not my husband. In that time period I worked hard to twist and distort a lie into truth. I tried to make an untruth which I knew to be false, into a good. It was a battle I waged and thankfully lost. I lived with this man without the slightest real desire for marriage on either of our parts and when marriage did come up it was only to assuage the ever increasing guilt I felt and to try to right the error of my life. God did not leave me in my sin, thanks to His abundant mercy, and thankfully, God had better plans for both of us.

Our culture has convinced itself that living together outside of marriage is perfectly natural. In reality, it is anything but natural. It causes great separation, division, and harm to the dignity of the parties involved. While parties who cohabitate may love one another on some level, they are inherently in a disordered arrangement that denies the very dignity of the two people involved, the good of the two involved, and violates God’s designs for men and women. Cohabitation by its very nature does not resemble marriage. Cohabitation is to will sin on one another and to remain separated from one another. Here are some reasons why the marriage and cohabitation are not the same thing and why cohabitation is so destructive:

Cohabitation is not a we. It is still two individuals.

Oftentimes, as was my own case, a man and woman in a romantic relationship decide to live together to save money. Other reasons are it is socially acceptable or a trying out period. I will get to the latter in a bit. When two people decide to live together it is not a coming together into a union. Instead much of the time it looks like a roommate situation which also includes fornication and the use of contraception, both of which are gravely sinful and can kill the soul by cutting the two people off from God. Property is still his and hers, money is still divided, and mentally the two people are not one. God is often a distant idea or He is twisted into a “loving” Father who accepts all of our behavior. Cohabitation cannot bring about a union of two people because it lacks the promise and covenantal relationship of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Cohabitation also lacks the central involvement of the Most Holy Trinity within the relationship.

Cohabitation lacks permanence.

People who decide to cohabitate are not looking for permanence. If they were then they would come before God and join as one flesh in marriage. Instead, people who cohabitate live together for a time and when that time is up they go their separate ways. Some may get married, but that is becoming less and less of a reality, not to mention that the divorce rates of couples who cohabitate are stifling. Which leads me to my next point.

Cohabitation harms marriages.

Since individuals who cohabitate go into the living arrangement without a mentality of permanence and union, future marriages with one another or other parties can be greatly harmed. The cohabitation mentality is destructive within a marriage. It is to maintain an escape plan within a promise and vocation. Marriage by its nature is a coming together of two into one. Cohabitation is the opposite of marriage because the two parties still remain separate. Marriage is a covenant between two people before God in which they promise to live their lives together until death regardless of what may come. It is to understand that marriage is a vocation and the two individuals in the marriage become one flesh in order to lead each other and their children to Heaven. The cohabitation mentality does not acknowledge the lifelong permanence of marriage and leaves couples increasingly more vulnerable to divorce.

Cohabitation is to treat another person like a pair of shoes or a new car.

Many couples, and I have heard this often, live together to “try it out” or to “test the other person out” both sexually and as a roommate. This in itself should appall one or both parties. In this view another person is comparable to a pair of shoes or a new car. They need to be test driven to make sure they maintain our standards. This view flies in the face of authentic love. It is not to will the good of the other. Instead it is to fulfill one’s own selfish desires and to cast the person aside if they don’t pass the test. This view is offensive and deeply harmful.

Cohabitation is accompanied by gravely sinful sexual activity.

Cohabitating couples more-often-than-not engage in premarital sex and the use of contraception. Since they are not married, they cannot fully participate in the conjugal aspects of marriage without doing great harm to one another. Sexuality in this situation violates God’s great loving plan for each man and woman through the gift of marriage. Sex is a blessing and a sacred activity given to each man and woman within the marriage covenant. It is meant to be enjoyed, but within the permanence of marriage. Children are a threat to most cohabitating couples since their relationship is neither permanent, unitive, or open to life.

Unfortunately, I learned all of these things the hard way. I spent too much time trying to live what the culture said was acceptable while also distorting my Catholic upbringing to fit the mortal sin in which I had ensnared myself. In the process, I hurt the man I was with, our families, myself, and I was a witness through my own hypocrisy to cafeteria Catholicism, which is relativism. I was worshipping myself, not the Living God. Cohabitation has far reaching implications and it hurts the two people involved and everyone around them. It is to choose a counterfeit over the real gifts God wants to give to us.

I am now married and have a child. Through the Sacrament of Matrimony, I am now able to see just how false and destructive cohabitation is to people. Women by their nature desire protection and permanence, while men by their nature, desire to take care of the woman they are married to. Cohabitation denies both permanence and protection for the two parties involved. It also kills the soul through mortal sin and cuts individuals off from the grace given by God.

As Catholics, we must find a way to minister and witness to those people who have chosen the lie over the truth. For those of us who walked this painful path, we must come forward and share the truth about cohabitation and how it has far reaching implications. Marriage is a supreme gift from God and it is a path to holiness. Cohabitation is neither of these things. Men and women are made to come together in permanence, love, security, and in the image of the Most Holy Trinity through an openness to life given through the great blessing of the conjugal act. I know all too well the wounds of cohabitation and it saddens me to see so many people from all generations choosing an illusion, a falsehood, a counterfeit over the real gift of marriage. Cohabitation will never resemble marriage no matter how much we twist and distort it to fit our desires. God made men and women for marriage, so let us go out into the culture and share the great gift of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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  • David Mills

    Thank you for sharing this. Your insights apply also to a relation that seems to be even more common, the semi-cohabitating arrangement where the couple act as if they’re married but maintain separate homes and maybe somewhat separate lives. This was true when I was in my twenties, when living together was common but still stigmatized enough (mom and dad wouldn’t approve) that couples avoided it.

    If I may mention it, I just wrote something on the one thing that comes a virtue in these situations, compromise, and what happens when that’s the major virtue:
    http://aleteia.org/2016/06/08/the-shack-ups-illusion-love-without-pain/

  • Constance

    David,
    Thank you for reading and for sharing the link on your piece.

    I found your piece over at Aleteia to be spot on. I agree that compromise has become the central virtue in far too many relationships. Our culture views suffering as the greatest evil. This means couples will compromise until they see compromise is no longer an option and then they will end the relationship to avoid suffering. Relationships are shaped, formed, and deepened through periods of suffering.

    I think the “honeymoon phase” is largely a fabrication of the culture that harms newlyweds. My husband and I experienced three miscarriages and my descent into serious post-partum depression all in the first three years of our marriage. My daughter, husband, and myself all ended up in the hospital at different times in the better part of a year. It is those times that truly show us what we are made of together and what a vocation means. Joy and sorrow are intermingled on this side of the veil and until that is accepted by the culture at large, marriage as a vocation will be discarded in favor of divorce or cohabitation. The Cross comes before the Resurrection.

  • TJ

    This topic definitely needs to be discussed. Cohabitation is epidemic in our country

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