Why Living Together is the Opposite of Marriage

Let me be blunt for a moment.

Our generation and our children's generation is getting punked concerning living together and marriage.  Through countless cultural icons and generations affected by the sexual revolution, they have been told that living together is a stepping stone to marriage.

On TV and in the movies, scenes reminiscent of marriage proposal scenes take place between men and women with an elongated rectangular box replacing the traditional square one.  A key to an apartment or house replaces the diamond ring reserved for a deeper commitment.  What's inside the box, when you think about it, is as pitiful a replacement as the notion of living together is to a life long commitment in marriage.

What is so sad concerning this trend is that it is marketed as a progression toward marriage when in reality, living together is the exact opposite of marriage.  It is just a step away from true commitment, they are told.  And unfortunately, they are buying it.

For a moment, let's just forget that those who are believers in Christ should not even be considering living together before marriage.  Or that those who do have a 50% higher divorce rate, if they get married at all (90% higher if a child is involved).  Or that those who live together have a much higher rate of cheating on their roomie (even if they get married).  Or that those who do have a greater chance at poverty than those who are married.

I want to focus on why living together will ALWAYS be the opposite of marriage, not a step toward it.

Ephesians 5:21-33 speaks about Christ and the church and how this relationship is reflected in marriage.  In the midst of this passage, Paul speaks about how wives should submit to their husbands and be obedient to them, as the church should be to Christ.  Then, Paul speaks to the husbands and says that they are to love their wives and give their lives for them, as Christ has the church.

The picture given in marriage is that of a self-sacrificial nature.  Giving ourselves to the other person, whole-heartedly.  A wife who doesn't demand her own way, but gives way to the decisions of her husband.  A husband who isn't looking out for his own interests, but looking out for the interests of his wife.  It is a beautiful picture, even if it is imperfectly lived out by His followers.

But living together twists this beautiful arrangement and turns it on its head.  The advice often given to young unmarried couples is to live together to "test the waters" to see if they are right for one another.  The living together arrangement becomes a trial where every wrong is magnified and worried over.  Stuff remains separate, hearts remain separate, even if they are sleeping in the same bedroom. 

Those who live together report having much higher stress levels than those who are married.  It's not hard to understand why.  Every action has the potential of becoming one of extortion.  Didn't clean the house.  Never walk the dog.  Don't perform in bed well.  Have a violent temper.  Burned dinner.  Lazy around the house.  Hate the other sins they struggle with.  Different life goals.  Everything has the potential of becoming "the reason" why the relationship just won't work or a reason to delay commitment until the other person gets certain aspects of their lives together.

Instead of looking out for the other person, being committed to them, the individuals living together are stuck looking out for themselves...never whole-heartedly giving themselves to the other person.  Which is why it will always be the opposite of marriage.

It is also why it takes nearly 2 years for those who do commit to marriage from this arrangement to trust each other.  They have looked out for themselves for so long that they have no idea how to truly look out for the other person.

Marriage begins with the commitment and ideally handles those same conflicts with the interest of the other person in mind.  There isn't (or shouldn't be) a giving up point, outside the biblical concessions (see Mat. 19:1-12; 1 Cor. 7).  The happiest marriages often go through times of intense conflict with the understanding that giving up, though it may seem easier, isn't an option on the table for the couple.  Speaking from experience, I can handle conflict, even tough conflict, with my wife better knowing that she is for us and not only for herself. 

It is the self-sacrifice practiced in marriage that gives us the proper experience we need to responsibly handle parenthood.  However, many in living together relationships will have children before the commitment to marry, compounding the problem.  Without having properly learned to self sacrificially love their partner, they are left with an incomplete view of love that they pass down to their children.  The irony is that in this situation the person who was only looking out for themselves, ends up affecting far more people than they ever realized. 

But there is good news to those have been tangled in this lie.  The good news is that through Christ there is hope in repentance to rebuild a proper understanding of love that can permeate our relationships now and bring true healing to them.

As believers, we would do well to jettison the progressive view of love and commitment for a biblical one displayed by Christ and mirrored in marriage.  The sooner we live that out in our own lives and teach it to our children, the better we will truly understand the type of love God has for us, our spouses and our children through Christ's selfless sacrifice...and the more Ephesians 5:21-33 will make sense to us.

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