Studies validate Church teaching:Living together before marriage often doesn’t lead to marital bliss Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

editor's view

The Catholic Church teaches that couples should not live together before marriage. Some people today might think that teaching is old-fashioned and unrealistic.

Statistics show that over 60 percent of couples in our country cohabit before they get married. It’s obvious that Catholic couples must be numbered among those living together and not following the Church’s dictates.

These cohabiting couples should reconsider their lifestyle. Recent studies have validated the Catholic Church’s teaching and reveal that living together before marriage often does not lead to marital bliss.

Living together spoils marriage

According to a study published this year in the Journal of Family Psychology, living together first can actually spoil a marriage.

Researcher Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver and her colleagues did telephone surveys with more than 1,000 married men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 who had been married 10 years or less, reported an article on

Their survey included questions to measure relationship satisfaction, dedication to one another, level of negative communication, and sexual satisfaction. Forty-three percent of the couples surveyed said they lived together before marriage and 16 percent cohabited after getting engaged.

The survey revealed that those who lived together before marriage reported significantly lower quality marriages and a greater potential for divorce than those who did not live together before marriage.

‘Sliding’ into marriage

One reason for the poorer quality of marriage might be that couples living together seem to get married for the wrong reasons. They wind up “sliding into marriage because they are already cohabiting,” said researcher Rhoades, rather than making a clear commitment to marriage.

Things like a joint apartment lease or shared ownership of pets can nudge cohabiting couples into marriage, rather than a life-long commitment to each other, to possible children, and to the responsibilities of married life.

Couples don’t get to know each other

My husband and I have been doing marriage preparation at our parish for over 18 years. We administer the FOCCUS inventory with engaged couples. This inventory assesses couple’s attitudes in such areas as friends, relatives, communication, finances, sexuality, and faith practices.

Contrary to what we might have expected, we have found that couples who don’t live together often know more about each other than those who cohabit. Perhaps one reason is because couples who are purposely dating  spend more time talking and sharing activities with each other. Once they move in together, they’re busier with their daily routine and don’t take the time to get to know each  other. They end up taking each other for granted — much earlier than they should (or actually should never do in married life).

Couples who live together before marriage also may have the idea that the man or woman can simply walk away from the relationship. They don’t put the extra effort into working on it. Then, after marriage, these couples may still feel that marriage is transitory. They don’t have that sense of a permanent commitment that comes from making a deliberate choice to marry.

Receiving spiritual ‘tools’

As a sacrament, marriage gives couples grace to help their relationship grow and develop. If a couple lives together for some time without that sacramental grace, they don’t receive the spiritual “tools” for building their relationship. Once they’re married, hopefully God will give them those tools, but the foundation might not be as strong as it could have been.

The bottom line is that Catholic teaching about cohabitation is not only a moral imperative, it also makes sense for couples who want to build strong, lasting marriages.

See the Catholic Marriage section in the print edition of this week’s Catholic Herald for advice and resources for engaged and married couples.