Strengthening your Marriage – When God and the Government agree!
In 1998, the Federal Government released a report called “To Have and To Hold”. It was a review of the 1975 Family Law Act and is subtitled “Strategies to Strengthen Marriage and Relationships”.
It offers some remarkable findings concerning marriage but none more so than the disadvantages of cohabitation prior to marriage.
Couples who live together are more than twice as likely to separate after marriage than couples who did not cohabit prior to marriage. This statistic is borne out by studies in Australia, Canada, UK and the USA.
The studies also revealed that couples who cohabited prior to marriage scored significantly lower on measures of marital quality and happiness.
A 2003 report from the Houston Chronicle in the United States reported that couples who live together before marriage have an 80% greater chance of divorce than those who don’t. The National Centre for Mental Health in the USA revealed that “cohabiting women’s incidence of depression is four times greater than that of married women. In a survey of over 100 couples who lived together, 71% of the women said they would not live in again.”
My reason for reporting these findings is not to condemn people but to offer an alternative to the well popularised conventional wisdom that cohabitation provides a good testing ground for marriage. Sadly it does not. In fact it does the opposite.
We need to be clear in making this known to young men and women who have so much to lose by adopting the “live in” strategy.
Why is cohabitation NOT a good indicator of future marital happiness?
We do well to ask why cohabitation is not a good indication of marital happiness and stability. There are a number of possible reasons. Firstly, it is not usually a committed relationship. The option of leaving is there from the start. A marriage requires commitment from the outset from both partners to one another and to the marriage covenant.
Secondly, it is often coupled with an idealised view of marriage. Psychologist Dr Arch Hart says “incompatibility, not compatibility, is the norm in marriage.” To work through the challenges and joys of incompatibility, an attitude of trust, strengthened by public marriage, is required.
The third reason is that courtship without the pressures and the pleasures of sexual relations enables a couple to learn to know, understand, relate to and respect one another. Sex can mask the much more important aspects of relationship building required to produce stability and happiness in marriage.
When God in the Bible exhorts us to be faithful to our marriage partner in marriage and not to engage in sexual relations prior to marriage, He knows what is best for us. As we would expect, the empirical evidence confirms the truth of His word. God is not a killjoy but the giver of joy. He can be relied upon to grant forgiveness to the repentant for past failures and provide strength to enjoy life lived in accordance with His ways. Rick