A third reason for the higher divorce rate is that cohabiting undermines commitment. If a partner finds enough faults in the other, he or she is free to leave. The desire to enter a “test run” shows a lack of faith in one’s love for each other. On one hand the couple is saying that they desire complete intimacy, but on the other hand they want to leave a way out if their partner does not measure up. This sows seeds of doubt and distrust from the start.
Successful marriages are not the result of a lack of annoying qualities in one’s spouse; they are the result of choosing to love and forgive the other daily, with all his or her imperfections. It is the ability to sacrifice that holds marriages together, not the absence of nuisances. Therefore, the desire to “test drive” a marriage demonstrates a lack of understanding regarding what makes a marriage work.
What Should We Do If We’re Already Living Together?
Step number one is to begin reserving sexual intimacy for marriage. Love is patient, and couples who are confident in their love know that they will have the rest of their lives to enjoy sex. But now is their only time to prepare for marriage and to lay the foundation for the rest of their lives together. Through this time of patient expectation, couples will discover that healthy relationships do not require sex in order to be intimate.
Waiting to share the gift of sex should not be seen as a passive delay of passion but as an active training in faithfulness. After all, don’t you want to know before the wedding if your spouse will be able to resist temptations after the wedding? Many of the virtues that hold marriages together are developed when a couple practices chastity—for example, humility, self-control, patience, and a willingness to sacrifice.
A willingness to forgo sexual intimacy is not only an expression of obedience to the Church. It is also an expression of love for God, who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and for your partner, because you are doing what is best for his or her soul. In the Bible, men are encouraged to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, willing to sacrifice in order to present his bride to God “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25–28). No matter what has happened in the past, purity can be regained if a couple turns their hearts to God. To begin this process, they should return to the sacrament of reconciliation.
If a couple does not understand these principles, perhaps they do not understand marriage. Is it just a piece of paper, or is God establishing a supernatural bond—a covenant with the couple that can only be severed by death? On the wedding night, the marital embrace is the visible expression of this invisible union blessed by God.
When a husband and wife become one flesh, their bodies speak the truth: “I am entirely yours.” Sex outside of marriage, on the other hand, is dishonest. No matter what, it cannot say, “I am entirely yours.” Therefore, having sex prior to marriage not a matter of “peeking under the wrapping paper.” It completely misses the point of sex and marriage.
What else should we do?
In addition to practicing chastity, it is best for the couple to cease living together. It is tempting to exaggerate the difficulties of doing this. Some may wonder, “Why move out as long as we stop sleeping together?” For one, the couple remains in the occasion of sin, where they will be far more likely to fall back into the old habits. Second, the couple is guilty of scandal, which means that they are setting a poor example to others