National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Engaged Is Not Enough


January 15-21, 2006 Issue | Posted 1/16/06 at 10:00 AM


We are troubled by our daughter’s plans to purchase a new home with her fiancé and move in with him several months prior to their wedding. They say the arrangement makes sense, since they are taking up jobs in this new city before the wedding. They assure us they will remain chaste, staying in separate rooms until they are married. What can we say to discourage their willful entry into the near occasion of sin?

Many well-intentioned couples who might normally be opposed to living together before marriage make an exception for themselves during the engagement period. These couples make the common mistake of thinking that they have already made a commitment to each other. This may come off as harsh to engaged couples in love, but the fact is that they have only expressed an intention to make a permanent commitment in the near future. There is a world of difference. So they should continue to live as a couple that may, even probably will, make a commitment — not as one that already has.

It is critical that both the man and the woman maintain the freedom to end the engagement if they discern that getting married is not what God is calling them to at that time. If the marriage preparation process is done well, some couples will, upon reflection, opt out — and that’s a good thing. The trouble with living together is that it inhibits a person from making that decision to opt out. This only gets messier if the couple has actually purchased a house together, even if only one of them is living in it.

By making such a huge financial commitment together, one that is not easily undone, the one who is having second thoughts may very well feel forced to suppress those feelings. After all, they already feel boxed in by the house. Any kind of financial entanglements (such as shared accounts) entered into prior to the wedding carry this risk, but none so dramatically as a house. The couple should do nothing before getting married that will create a feeling of coercion.

Aside from, and more important than, the financial complications, living together as an engaged couple carries with it the likelihood of emotional and sexual complications and sin. The couple may have every intention to remain chaste, but we all know the old saying about good intentions. The key to remaining chaste is to not get the passions tied up in a fight with the mind that the mind can’t win. Just like in sports, the home team always has an advantage. A man and woman in love, living together, with no accountability to anyone — well, that’s just playing on temptation’s home turf. In other words, not only are they not avoiding the near occasion of sin, they’re inviting it in for coffee and dessert. It is foolhardy and naïve for a couple to think they can remain chaste under such conditions.

What options can you offer? Help them find a couple of willing friends or relatives who can house them in their new city. Help defray the cost of renting a modest place for your daughter until after the wedding. We even know of a convent that housed a young woman until her wedding.

Above all, communicate that you will neither approve of nor support their decision to move in together before the wedding. You might be surprised what a difference you can make just by taking such a strong stand.

The McDonalds are family-life coordinators for the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama.