Is Living Together Really a Big Deal?
By Ed Gungor
November 3, 2009
Everyone wants to love and to be loved—they are the echoes that still reverberate in us from the Creator. But for whatever reason, it seems like it is getting more and more difficult to find and keep love. Some think it’s because we hardly talk anymore. With the advent of texting, twittering and Facebooking, it seems we’ve lost the art of holding in-depth, substantive conversations essential for long-term, loving relationships. Instead we have become masters of the pithy, witty, short blurb—the communication of a throwaway world. We throw away everything in our culture—even the things that should never be thrown away, things that are designed to last for a lifetime—like marriages.
Most Christ-followers I know don’t want to buy into the friends-with-benefits casualness about sex. They still believe that the biblical prohibition for fornication (sex outside of marriage) is valid on some level. But they are also afraid of getting married.
And rightly so.
In a culture of disposable love, it seems perfectly natural to try to find ways to beat the odds and make sure you are picking the right person you plan to spend the rest of your life with. Is experimenting to see if you are compatible by living together for a couple of years really such a bad idea? When we buy new cars, we always test-drive them. It certainly seems reasonable to want to take a relationship on a “test-drive.” It’s called cohabitation.
Most of us know people who are in love, plan to marry and currently live together. It’s sort of the new premarital counseling program. I visited a church out West that had a “pre-marriage” ceremony for a couple living together. No license. No wedding dress. Just a prayer of blessing to hold them over until the couple walked down the aisle—a kind of marital “appetizer,” I guess. I asked the pastor why they did it. He said, “The couple believes they are married in the eyes of the Lord, and we just wanted them to feel affirmation in our community.”
What did I think about it? I was bummed about it. I actually believe that marriage needs to be public and people need to vow into it in front of those who matter to them—it’s not just a private matter in front of the Lord. Truth is, those who declare they are married “in God’s eyes” seem to reframe their claim when they break up with their live-in partner. Then they claim they were never “really married.” This makes me very dubious about the “married in the eyes of the Lord” doctrine.
The reason we don’t want to admit
And we have to be honest about the sex here. We live in a sex-crazed culture. And we live in a culture that has a difficult time with communication. This combo platter makes sex the Grand Central Station of most couples who claim to be in love. Sex is a power that seems to “weld” two souls together as one. When a couple engages in physical love, they go out of themselves in a trajectory of ecstasy—to a place where they are no longer in control of themselves. In this act, a couple becomes completely vulnerable, open and yielded to each other. In this act of ecstasy, they lose themselves in each other in a way they would never dare to do in any other setting. And it culminates in an experience that the Bible says is “as strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6). Theologians have said the sexual act is a kind of little death—it is that powerful. So how could something that feels so right be wrong?
It is precisely the power inherent in sexuality that explains the why behind the many prohibitions given to us about sex in the Bible. Sex must to be kept in the context of marriage in order to be safe—in order for its power to be used to build and not destroy. Sex in the wrong context confuses our souls. God created sex to be a rich, holy, cleansing, love-enriching act that adds joy and fun to life, if it is corralled within the bonds of life-long matrimony. It will destroy when it is not. Paul wrote: “God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion as the pagans do, in their ignorance of God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
If a Christian couple loves each other enough to jump in the hay, I think they should get married in the eyes of God and the rest of us. Marriage is not a private sacrament; it impacts the whole community of faith. It’s the right thing to do, and disciples do the right thing. They don’t just live on love—emotions, feelings and hormones—they live on principles, beliefs and disciplines that develop character. Pagans (and children) only live for themselves—they live for the “now” and feelings alone.
The best way to prepare for a lifelong commitment is not living together; it’s learning how to deal with relational conflict. But appropriately dealing with conflict and securing the wonderful intimacy that accompanies its resolve takes a huge amount of relational intelligence that is only developed through face-to-face communication. Leaning too heavily on technology (like texting or cell phones) to communicate and resolve conflict is like two people on separate mountaintops trying to use smoke signals to make their points—the modality itself is too limiting to be effective. I think this is one of the main reasons half of those getting married in America end in divorce—no one knows how to engage in the kind of face-to-face fair fighting that resolves conflict. If you want a chance at an intimate, lifelong relationship, get counseling together, not an apartment.