Marriage and Respect Life
400 E. Monroe
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Director of Marriage and Respect Life
Coordinator of Respect Life Parish Leadership Support
“Can a man take embers into his bosom, and his garments not be burned? Or can a man walk on live coals, and his feet not be scorched?”
“In the light of these principles, we can identify and understand the essential difference between a mere de facto union –even though it claims to be based on love—and marriage, in which love is expressed in a commitment that is not only moral but rigorously juridical. The bond reciprocally assumed has a reinforcing effect in turn on the love from which it is derived, fostering its permanence to the advantage of the partners, the children and society itself” –
—John Paul II, quoted in the Pontifical Council for the Family’s “Family, Marriage, and ‘De Facto’ Unions.”
Cohabitation is the practice of an unmarried couple living in the same dwelling while having a sexual relationship. According to USA Today, two-thirds of married couples lived together before marriage. Some common reasons that couples cohabit include:
- Finances: Many couples find it easier to save money or to keep their living expenses down by living together as roommates.
- Intimacy: Cohabiting couples often call their situation the “next step” in the intimacy of their relationship and consider it a natural progression of their feelings for one another.
- Stability: Some couples use the period of cohabitation to “test drive” their relationship to see if they should marry one another.
Ironically, empirical research has confirmed that cohabiting couples actually fare worse in the areas of finances, intimacy, and stability. In regards to intimacy, couples are correct that their desire to fully and freely give themselves to one another is a good thing. The problem is that this desire becomes disordered when that full and free gift of sexual union and domestic partnership are coupled with the partial and transitory conditions of cohabitation.
Unlike the marriage covenant, cohabitation is a temporary arrangement that is akin to a business deal. With roommates who have a non-sexual relationship, it is fair to give “30- days notice” and simply walk away from the relationship. But the heartbreak that results from cohabiting couples doing the same thing shows that such arrangements only lead to a weakening of the ability to have romantic bonds with anyone. In regards to stability, cohabitation actually reinforces a dangerous belief about marriage; that marriage can only work if both partners have a warm romantic “feeling” towards one another. Sometimes marriage involves sacrifice that cannot be prepared for in a cohabitation setting.
If you are an engaged couple who is currently cohabiting and seeking to be married, we encourage you to sign up for our class "God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage" so that you can learn all the facts and be equipped to have a life-long healthy marriage.
Q: Why does the Church interfere in the sex lives of couples? It's really just a private matter between us.
A: Sex is intensely private and personal, but it also has deep moral and social dimensions. Sex works as a primary bonding agent in families and the family is the building block of society. Sexual rights and wrongs influence the health and happiness of individuals, families and neighborhoods. That's why sexual behavior has always been the subject of many civil laws. The Church, of course, wishes to safeguard the family and society. But, more than that, the Church wishes to safeguard your relationship with your future spouse and with God. Sex is the act that seals and renews the couple's marriage covenant before God. Sexual sins, then, are not just between a man and a woman, but between the couple and God. And that's the Church's responsibility. Sex is not simply a private matter. If it's between you and God, it's between you and the Church. You need to ask yourself: "When do I stop being a Christian? When I close the bedroom door? When does my relationship with God cease to matter?"
Q: Why should we need to separate now? It's just an arbitrary rule of the Church.
A: The Church's teaching on cohabitation is not an "arbitrary" rule. Living together before marriage is a sin because it violates God's commandments and the law of the Church. St. Paul lists this sin - technically called "fornication" among the sins (whether within or outside cohabitation) that can keep a person from reaching heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9) Cohabitation works against the heart's deepest desires and greatly increases the chances of a failed marriage.
If you are honest with yourself, every practical consideration will tell you that separating before marriage is the right thing to do. It is a decision to turn away from sin and to follow Christ and His teaching. That is always the right decision. But it's a good decision for other important reasons, too:
- it will strengthen your marriage
- it will deepen your friendship
- it will foster deeper intimacy and communion
- it will build up your problem-solving and communications skills
- it will give your marriage a greater chance for success
You may think you are unique and that your passion for each other will never wane. But that's what most couples think. No one goes into marriage planning for a breakup; yet a majority of couples today do break up. You want to be one of the exceptional couples who not only succeed in marriage, but also live together in happiness and fulfillment.
Some couples who are living together think that separation before marriage is artificial or meaningless. Some fear that halting sexual activity will be harmful to the relationship. But this is rarely the case. Sometimes in marriage, too, a sexual relationship will have to be suspended for a time due to illness, military service, business travel, or the good of a spouse. Relationships not only survive this , but actually grow stronger. God rewards such sacrifices with graces for a good relationship. Abstaining from sex will also enable you to rely on other means of communication, which ultimately will empower you to get to know each other in a deeper, lasting way.