Cohabitation: Why Not

Dear Grace,
I want to have the best marriage possible so I have begun to live with my boyfriend. We want to get to know each other really well before we get married. I know the Catholic Church is against this, but how else can we get to know each other? Why is the Church against getting to know each other?

Cohabitation, which is more commonly known as “living together” in a sexual relationship outside of or before marriage, is of great concern to the Church and it should be for everyone. It has become so widely accepted in today’s society and this, in turn, has resulted in a certain blindness to the many problems and tragic unhappiness that it causes for families. You ask why the Church is against a couple getting to know each other. Sadly, this is a very serious misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching regarding God’s plan for marriage. The fact is, the very opposite is true. It is the teaching of the Church that persons contemplating marriage should get to know each other very well, but this is not to be done by living together without a life-long commitment.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), Our Holy Father John Paul II tells us that every human person is called to love. This is our vocation. Everything that we know from Christian revelation shows us that the two ways that persons can truly live this vocation or calling to love are marriage and virginity (or celibacy). In other words, God has revealed that every person is called to one or the other, marriage or virginity. Living together has never been an option, no matter how many people are doing it.

He goes on to say that “sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving. If the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact, he or she would not be giving totally.” (no. 11)

Many ask why the Church must get involved in people’s personal lives. One of the most beautiful images for the Church is that of Mother. What does a mother do? She gives birth, she nurtures, she teaches, she guides. The Holy Father states that as both “Teacher and Mother the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth.” He adds that “To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls.” (no. 33)

How can the Church not try to protect and preserve our happiness when she knows that cohabitation increases a couple’s chance of marital failure? In September of 1999, the Bishops of Pennsylvania published a document called “Living Together” in which they address some of the most common questions asked by couples today. One of them concerns this issue of “getting to know” each other. “Cohabitation is actually one of the worst ways to get to know another person, because it shortcuts the true development of lasting friendship,” they write. “Those who live together before marriage often report an over-reliance on sexual expression and less emphasis on conversation and other ways of communication.” Statistics show that living together reduces the possibility of a lifelong marriage, and that couples who use birth control (as those living together often do) divorce more frequently than those who do not

In the plan of God, when we give our body to someone, we are saying, “I give you my entire self for all my life.” Things have become so up-side down and far away from that plan that today those who would want to live it out in their lives are often made to feel odd or weird. The reward, however, for those who do will be great. Yes, it takes courage and much strength. We must commit ourselves to it on a daily basis if necessary. Jesus is showing us the way. All we must do is follow.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage