boxesIn all the discussion about same-sex marriage, what must not be lost is that heterosexual marriage is at grave risk, and the biggest risk factor is cohabitation before or instead of marriage.  Viewed by many as a “trial marriage” or a stepping stone to a healthy marriage, cohabitation is instead a living arrangement that increases the risk of all sorts of physical and psychological ills – for both the cohabitants and their children.

An recent article by Dr. Patricia Lee June, a physician and board member of the American College of Pediatricians lists the surprisingly many adverse consequences of cohabitation as a prelude or substitute for marriage.  Some of the more prominent adverse effects include:

  • Marriages preceded by cohabitation are 50 percent more likely to end in divorce
  • Women are more than nine times more likely to be killed by a cohabiting partner than by their husband
  • Severe violence is four times as common among cohabiting couples
  • Men who cohabit without marrying in 5 to 10 years have more than double the rate of alcohol abuse as married men; women have four to seven times the rate of alcohol abuse
  • Cohabiters have more than triple the rate of infidelity as married spouses
  • Cohabiting women are 10 times more likely to have an abortion; 89 percent of women who have had abortions have at one time cohabited; 40 percent of women who have had abortions have lived with three or more men
  • One-fourth of teens and 19 percent of cohabiting women overall become pregnant within six months of cohabiting
  • Children living with a parent and an unmarried partner have 20 times the risk of sexual abuse and eight times the risk of all maltreatment
  • While 62 percent of children of married parents were still living with them at age 15, only 37 percent of children born of cohabiting parents were still living with both biological parents at that age
  • Children whose parents lived together, whether before or after their birth, are at increased risk for living in poverty and experiencing school failure from first grade through college
  • Cohabitation increases the risk of broken relationships/divorce for the children involved, perpetuating the cycle

The complete report of the American College of Pediatricians is available HERE.

We in the church ought not to be ashamed or reluctant to promote biblical values regarding marriage and sexuality.  Not only does fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness coincide with God’s original design for human relationships, but (not surprisingly) it yields the healthiest outcomes for adults and their children alike.

While the bad news is that more young people are now first cohabiting than are marrying without cohabitation, the good news is that the church can offer hope through Jesus Christ.  Even bad choices can be redeemed and forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The power of the Holy Spirit, along with a positive Christian community that provides love and support, can reverse the effects of poor and sinful choices.  And we can continue to teach our people – from children through adults – biblical values around marriage and sexuality, encouraging healthy and godly choices.

As Dr. June puts it, “The institution of marriage is one of the best and most cost effective public health tools society has. Adolescents and young adults should be encouraged to save sexual relationships for marriage to achieve optimal health for themselves, their children and society at large.”  The Lord knew what he was talking about when he lifted up his plan for our human relationships.