Cohabitation Conundrum

Family Matters

My daughter recently broke the news to us that she is living with her boyfriend but that they do plan to get married. I know I need to have a serious talk with her. What can I say to convince her that this is not good for their relationship and future marriage?

Good for you for tackling this head on! Aside from the obvious moral concerns, we urge you to talk frankly about the devastating effects this could have on her marriage. She might not be at a point in her life where she is concerned with the spiritual ramifications, but all young people in love do want their marriages to work out.

First thought: Presumably, your daughter and her fiancé are sexually active. (The couple that lives together and is chaste is rare, if not nonexistent.) This combined with the fact that they live together can call into question the level of true freedom either one of them has to enter into the permanent commitment of marriage. Consider all the likely ways their lives are bound up to each other right now: joint bank accounts, shared rent, a shared bed, a daily routine — all ways in which they have come to depend on one another.

If either of them has any hesitations about making their bond permanent in marriage, their present circumstances discourage them from making that break. They have already become so invested in each other's lifestyle that they might balk rather than make a free choice to leave the relationship. Couples who stall in this state often wind up shrugging themselves into a marriage they weren't really sure they even wanted.

Ironically, while the above de facto commitment might keep them together before marriage when it shouldn't, the stage is set for a greater chance of divorce after they are married. Why? Because of the lack of a firm sense of commitment after the wedding.

Prior to getting married, each operated under the (often-unstated) principle that, if the situation ever stopped being enjoyable, he or she had the right to get out. No promises, no demands. After exchanging vows, nothing else about their lifestyle has changed, aside from the fact that they do now have a permanent commitment. How likely is it that their subconscious mind-sets are going to magically change overnight?

Once established and reinforced over time, the inner dialogue saying, “I can walk away any time I want to” is hard to silence.

Finally, the one thing your daughter truly knows about her fiancé is that he is willing to have sexual relations with a woman to whom he is not married. That is also the one thing he knows about her. If they are unwilling or incapable of practicing chastity now, what makes them think either one of them will be capable of fidelity later — especially when the novelty of being in an exciting new relationship is just a distant memory?

Be sure to mention, too, that the divorce rate for couples who cohabitate before marriage is a startling 75%. That alone might get those second thoughts going.

Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.

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