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New research affirms Catholic teaching on marriage



Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 03/01/22

Hopefully this finding helps more couples understand and embrace the Church’s timeless wisdom on marriage.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise when modern social science research confirms eternal truths of our Catholic faith. God gave us the fullness of Catholic teaching not only to help us reach Heaven but also to live a fulfilling life here on earth. 

As St. Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven.” Living in a Christlike way brings us deep meaning and purpose and can fill our earthly lives with heavenly joy.

One part of Catholic teaching that catches a lot of flack nowadays is the prohibition against cohabiting with a romantic partner before marriage. Moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend is seen as the necessary “next step” for couples to take before getting married, and often before even getting engaged.

In theory, the idea of “trying out” the relationship seems to make some sense. Shouldn’t you figure out if you can really live under the same roof? Wouldn’t living together help you have a more successful relationship?

So many couples, even from Catholic families, go ahead and move in together before marriage. 

But every small point of doctrine hangs together. We can’t just brush aside some part of Church teaching because it’s not cool or convenient. Flouting Church teaching doesn’t just hurt our souls: It also hurts our hearts and our happiness in this life.

Maybe that’s why I found some recent research so important to share. Perhaps these results can help couples understand why it’s so important to follow Church teaching on marriage, even when it’s hard to do so.

It turns out that if you dig a little deeper, cohabiting before marriage doesn’t make any sense at all. W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, shared some of his recent findings in an article for the Wall Street Journal: 

In looking at the marital histories of thousands of women across the U.S., we found that women who cohabited were 15% more likely to get divorced. Moreover, a Stanford study indicates that the risk is especially high for women who cohabited with someone besides their future husband. They were more than twice as likely to end up in divorce court.

This data flies in the face of the current advice to “test drive” a marriage before committing. Wilcox writes,

The idea that cohabitation is risky is surprising, given that a majority of young adults believe that living together is a good way to pretest the quality of your partner and your partnership, thereby increasing the quality and stability of your marriage. But a growing body of research indicates that Americans who live together before marriage are less likely to be happily married and more likely to land in divorce court.

About this pattern, the psychologist Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver observes, “We generally think that having more experience is better … But what we find for relationships is just the opposite. Having more experience is related to having a less happy marriage later on.” 

We’re shocked to find out that cohabitation leads to unhappy marriages and higher divorce rates. Who could have imagined? Well, the Church, that’s who. 

Hopefully this research finding helps more Catholic couples think twice about whether they should listen to the Church about cohabitating before marriage.

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