Reflections -with Rev. Fr. Andrew Manickam OFM Cap
Part 1 - Church Teachings
On average, marriage preceded by cohabitation is 46% more likely to end in
Its no secret that many couples are cohabiting, that is, living together in
a sexual relationship without marriage. Currently, 60% of all marriages are
preceded by cohabitation, but fewer than half of cohabiting unions end in
Many couples believe-mistakenly-that cohabitation will lower their risk of
divorce. This is an understandable misconception, since many people are the
children of divorce, or have other family members or friends who have
divorced. Other reasons for living together include convenience, financial
savings, companionship and security, and a desire to move out of their
Cohabitation and Catholic Church teaching
Every act of sexual intercourse is intended by God to express love,
commitment and openness to life in the total gift of the spouses to each
other. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage cannot express what God
intended. Rather, it says something falsea total commitment that the couple
does not yet have. This total commitment is possible only in marriage.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that some couples claim a
right to live together if they intend to marry later on. Although the couple
may be sincere in their intention, the Catechism stresses that human love is
not compatible with trial marriages. Rather, it demands a total and
definitive gift of persons to one another.
Questions and Answers Regarding Cohabitation and the Church's Moral
1. What is cohabitation?
"Cohabitation" is commonly referred to as "living together." It describes
the relationship of a man and woman who are sexually active and share a
household, though they are not married.
2. Why is cohabitation such a concern for the Church?
As you work with your priest during this time of preparation for marriage,
you will speak with him about many issues. But the Church is particularly
concerned about cohabitation because the practice is so common today and
because, in the long run, it is causing great unhappiness for families in
the Church. This is true, above all, because even though society may
approve of the practice cohabitation simply cannot be squared with God's
plan for marriage. This may be why most couples who live together before
marriage find married life difficult to sustain for very long.
The Church does not invent laws. It passes on and interprets what God has
revealed through the ages. No one in the Church has the right to change what
Jesus has taught. To do so would be to deprive people of saving truths that
were meant for all time. Our Christian faith teaches that a sexual
relationship belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows
disrespect for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human
3. We have good reasons for living together
before our wedding. Why can't the Church just accept that?
The Church cares for you as a
parent cares for a beloved son or daughter. Knowing that cohabitation
increases a couples' chance of marital failure, the Church wants to protect
you and preserve your happiness. Besides, most couples don't really evaluate
the reasons they give to justify their decision. Think about it:
Reason 1: "It's more
convenient for us."
Reason 2: "We're trying
to save money for the wedding, so living together is more economical."
Sure, you might save the price of
monthly rent, but you're sacrificing something more valuable. Engagement is
more than just time to plan the party. It is a time for deeper discussion
and more thorough reflection, which are best carried out in a detached way.
Couples who are living together do not have the luxury of such detachment.
So whatever expenses you save, you'll likely pay more in the end. Dr. Joyce
Brothers said it well in an article on cohabitation: "short-term savings are
less important than investing in a lifetime relationship."
Reason 3: "Because of
the high divorce rate, we want to see if things work out first."
Studies consistently show that
couples who live together score significantly lower in both marital
communications and overall satisfaction. On the surface, a trial run at
marriage may seem to make sense, allowing one to screen out less compatible
mates. But it doesn't work out that way. Couples who live together before
marriage actually have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don't.
And about 60% of couples who cohabit break up without marrying. Living
together before marriage is different from living together in marriage,
because there is no binding commitment to support the relationship.
Reason 4: "We need to get to know one another first. Later we'll start
Cohabitation is actually the worst way to get to know another person,
because it shortcuts the true development of lasting friendship. Those who
live together before marriage often report an over-reliance on sexual
expression and less emphasis on conversation and other ways of communication
ways that ultimately lead to a more fulfilling sexual union after
marriage. Traditionally, the process of dating or "courtship" has led
couples to a deeper appreciation of one another through conversation, shared
ideals and dreams, and a mutual understanding of one another's values.
Reason 5: "The Church is just outdated and out of touch with its thinking
in this matter. Birth control made those old rules obsolete."
That's just not true. In the early days of the Church, living together
outside of marriage was common among the non-Christians in the Roman Empire
as was the use of artificial contraception. But these practices were
devastating for individuals, families, and society. Women were treated as
disposable objects, mere toys for sexual pleasure, to be discarded when
passions waned. The Christian vision of marriage and family led to happiness
and fulfillment for individuals and families and a great renewal of
culture and society. Far from being outmoded, then as now, the Church's
teaching is revolutionary and it works!
4. Why does the Church interfere in the sex lives of couples? It's really
just a private matter between us.
Sex is intensely private and personal, but it also has deep moral and social
dimensions. Sex works as a primary bonding agent in families and the family
is the building block of society. Sexual rights and wrongs influence the
health and happiness of individuals, families and neighborhoods. That's why
sexual behavior has always been the subject of many civil laws. The Church,
of course, wishes to safeguard the family and society. But, more than that,
the Church wishes to safeguard your relationship with your future spouse and
with God. Sex is the act that seals and renews the couple's marriage
covenant before God. Sexual sins, then, are not just between a man and a
woman, but between the couple and God. And that's the Church's
responsibility. Sex is not simply a private matter. If it's between you and
God, it's between you and the Church. You need to ask yourself: "When do I
stop being a Christian? When I close the bedroom door? When does my
relationship with God cease to matter?"
5. But, really, how does what we do with our own bodies affect our
relationship with each other and our spiritual relationship with God?
The gift of your body in sexual intercourse is a profound symbol of the
giving of your whole self. In making love, the husband and wife are saying
to one another in "body language" what they said to each other at the altar
on their wedding day: "I am yours, for life!" God created sex to be
physically pleasurable and emotionally fulfilling. But it is even greater
than all that. It is, above all, the deepest sign of the complete gift of
self that a husband and wife pledge to each other. This mutual gift empowers
the couple to become co-creators with God in giving life to a new person, a
baby. According to God's design, the gift of sexual union has two primary
purposes: strengthening married love and sharing that love with children.
The only "place" where this total self-giving between a man and a woman is
to take place is in marriage. It is the only "place" where children can be
raised with the secure, committed love of a mother and a father. So sexual
intimacy belongs only in marriage. Outside of marriage, sex is a lie. The
action says: "I give you my whole self" but the man and woman are really
holding back their commitment, their fertility, and their relationship with
God. Before giving your body to another person, you need to give your whole
life, and you need to receive your spouse's whole life in return and that
can only happen in marriage.
6. Why can't I just follow my
conscience if I believe living together is okay?
People can be wrong in matters of conscience, and people
often are. Where our self-interest is concerned, our capacity for
self-deception is huge. Here, as in everything we do, we need an objective
standard to tell us if our conscience is properly formed and able to make
right judgments. Morality is not a matter of opinion or "gut feeling."
Conscience is God's voice, speaking the truth deep within your heart. It's
unlikely if not impossible that God would contradict His own
commandments just for your convenience or desires. You are acting in good
conscience when you choose to do what God intends. The choice to live
together outside a marriage is always wrong and sinful.
7. Why does the Church claim
that living together is a scandal to others? Many of our family and friends
are doing the same thing.
Just because everyone does something doesn't make it
right or any less serious. A couple's choice to live together is not simply
made in isolation. It affects everyone in relationship with these two people
parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even other members of the parish.
A cohabiting couple implicitly communicates that there is nothing wrong
breaking God's law. This can be especially misleading to young children
nieces, nephews, and children of friends who are impressionable and whose
moral reasoning is immature.
8. What is the best way to
prepare ourselves spiritually for our upcoming marriage?
"A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a
lifetime." That can be a long and happy time, but only with good
preparation. The best way to get ready for marriage is to practice your
faith. Catholics do this by faithful attendance at weekly Sunday Mass, by
going to the Sacrament of Penance (confession), by prayer, and by practicing
works of charity. If you haven't been attending Mass regularly, your parish
priest will want to see you back. If it's been a long time since your last
confession, your priest will help you. Confession is a necessary step if you
have already been cohabiting. During the days of preparation, you are
strongly encouraged to pray together as a couple, read Scripture, and lead a
virtuous life. For guidance, look to other couples with strong Christian
9. Why should we need to separate now? It's just an arbitrary rule of the
The Church's teaching on
cohabitation is not an "arbitrary" rule. Living together before marriage is
a sin because it violates God's commandments and the law of the Church. St.
Paul lists this sin technically called "fornication" among the sins
(whether within or outside cohabitation) that can keep a person from
reaching heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9) Cohabitation works against the
heart's deepest desires and greatly increases the chances of a failed
If you are honest with yourself, every practical consideration will tell you
that separating before marriage is the right thing to do. It is a decision
to turn away from sin and to follow Christ and His teaching. That is always
the right decision. But it's a good decision for other important reasons,
it will strengthen your marriage
it will deepen your friendship
it will foster deeper intimacy and communion
it will build up your problem-solving and communications skills
it will give your marriage a greater chance for success
You may think you are unique and that your passion for
each other will never wane. But that's what most couples think. No one goes
into marriage planning for a breakup; yet a majority of couples today do
break up. You want to be one of the exceptional couples who not only succeed
in marriage, but also live together in happiness and fulfillment.
Some couples who are living together think that separation before marriage
is artificial or meaningless. Some fear that halting sexual activity will be
harmful to the relationship. But this is rarely the case. Sometimes in
marriage, too, a sexual relationship will have to be suspended for a time
due to illness, military service, business travel, or the good of a spouse.
Relationships not only survive this , but actually grow stronger. God
rewards such sacrifices with graces for a good relationship. Abstaining from
sex will also enable you to rely on other means of communication, which
ultimately will empower you to get to know each other in a deeper, lasting
10. What good will following the Church's teachings do for us anyway?
Catholic teaching in this matter brings rich blessings to those couples who
willingly accept it. The Good News of Jesus frees you to enjoy intimacy even
• by appreciating your spouse as a person, not an object
• by living in a stable, secure, permanent, and faithful relationship
• by expressing true, committed love rather than simply satisfying a
Married life has a special place in God's plan. Like everything good, it
requires sacrifices. But they're small compared to the rewards. Seek first
the Kingdom of God; everything else you desire will be given to you and
Questions for Reflection and Prayer:
1. As an engaged couple, why did you choose to cohabit before marriage?
2. What have the two of you learned from your experience of living together?
What have you learned about yourselves as a couple and as individuals?
3. What is the driving force behind your decision to marry at this time?
What has changed in the relationship and made you wish to marry and have
your marriage blessed in this Church?
4. Was there a previous reluctance or hesitation to marry? If so, why? Have
those issues been completely resolved?
5. Why are you seeking marriage in the Catholic Church?
6. What does marriage as a sacrament mean to the two of you?
7. How do you see your faith and love for each other as an intimate part of
8. How do you want your marriage to be open to life?
"At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and declared for
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.
And the two shall become as one. Thus, they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined."
- Matthew 19:4-6
"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state
has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper
laws . . . God himself is the author of marriage."
- The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II, 48
"The conjugal covenant of marriage opens the spouses to a lasting communion
of love and life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way
with the procreation of children. The communion of spouses gives rise to the
community of the family."
- Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II, 7
"Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another
through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses . . . is realized
in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a
man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death . . .That
total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit
of a total personal self-giving."
- Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 11
"The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the
spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or
values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's
spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the
family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold
obligation of fidelity and fecundity."
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2363
"The very preparation for Christian marriage is itself a journey of faith.
It is a special opportunity for the engaged to rediscover and deepen the
faith received in Baptism and nourished by their Christian upbringing. In
this way they come to recognize and freely accept their vocation to follow
Christ and to serve the Kingdom of God in the married state."
- Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World