In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is it helpful to live together before getting married? Dr. Philip G. Ryken

Is it helpful to live together before getting married?

I can think of several main reasons why couples might want to live together before getting married.

First, there is the obvious reason, which is to enjoy sexual intercourse.  This is reinforced by a social reason: “everyone’s doing it.”

Then there is what might be termed the practical reason: it is more cost-effective and convenient to manage one apartment than two.

Third, there is the prudential reason for cohabitation.  Many couples want to make sure they are making the right choice.  The last thing they want to do is end up in a divorce (or even worse, in the bad marriage that their parents had).  They believe that living together is the best way to test their compatibility and thus to make sure that they marry the right person.

Although it is not the choice that my wife and I made when we were dating, I feel the weight of these arguments and can understand why so many choose to live together before getting married.  I also happen to believe, however, that living together fails to honor God’s plan for human relationships. 

Here are some good reasons not to live together before getting married.

First, as a practical matter, research has consistently shown that couples who live together before getting married are more likely to get a divorce than couples who wait until marriage to share sexual intercourse.  Notice the irony: rather than helping couples have a happy marriage, living together makes it more likely that their relationship will end in tragedy.

Second, God makes it clear in his Word that fornication is sin (REF).  It is morally wrong to share sexual relations outside of marriage (including before marriage).

Third, the Bible not only tells us that cohabitation is wrong, but it also gives us some idea why.  God’s call to sexual purity is not arbitrary, but enables the precious gift of sexual intercourse to be protected by solemn marital vows that can only be broken by death.  These vows are absolutely essential to the marriage relationship because they commit a couple to act in love even when they do not happen to feel very loving towards one another.  When a couple cohabits before marriage, they are testing the possibility of marriage without the one thing that is absolutely essential to make a marriage work: the absolute promise of love. 

Finally, by failing to protect sex with a promise of love, cohabitation tends to damage the relationship.  Perhaps an analogy will help.  New York’s Timothy Keller likes to refer to sex as “covenant cement.”  Intercourse does not constitute a vow; it secures a vow that has been made.  But when that powerful bonding agent is used outside of a covenant promise, it ends up binding the wrong relationship together, or else binding the right relationship at the wrong time. 

The same thing will happen to the relationship that happens whenever the wrong things get glued together: the “skin” of the relationship gets torn.  God’s grace can heal the wounds, of course, but it is for our own good that he tells us to wait until marriage.


  1. Thank you Dr. Ryken for speaking the truth in love and not being afraid to "offend" anyone! Whether a young single or an "older" single that doesn't matter. God's word doesn't change.

    I am praying for the Urban Mission Conference and plan to be there...

  2. Dr, Ryken, I am not as nice as the above person. When I was in Germany (1982-84) the German young people used to blame the Cold War for their public nudity and co-habitation. I preached against sex outside of marriage for years, and then slipped myself after age 40!

    It would seem that lack of finances might also be a rationalization for sex outside of marriage. People will say "I can't afford a big wedding...."

    But thanks for your faithfulness in declaring God's standard.