Chaste Cohabitation


I have heard a lot of Catholic speakers talk about how research shows cohabitation increases the risk for divorce. When they cite individual reasons though, it generally all boils down to them blaming premarital sex as the cause of problems. As it so happens, cohabitation and premarital sex are different things–yes, they often occur together, but chaste cohabitation is certainly possible.

Is there any research suggesting chaste cohabitation increases the risk of divorce?

If not, why are Catholic speakers blaming cohabitation when clearly the real culprit–according to studies–is just premarital sex?

If chaste cohabitation does not increase the divorce rate, why shouldn’t Catholic couples consider chaste cohabitation as a valid marriage preparation/discernment tool?


An interesting consideration in thinking about chaste cohabitation:
So how old should couples be when they commit? The research shows that at 23—the age when many people graduate from college, settle into adult life and begin becoming financially independent—the correlation with divorce dramatically drops off.

Kuperberg found that individuals who committed to cohabitation or marriage at the age of 18 saw a 60 percent rate of divorce. Whereas individuals who waited until 23 to commit saw a divorce rate that hovered more around 30 percent.*



Because it is rather silly to do so.

Living together is a rather long temptation to put yourself in. It is simply not wise to do so. Do you sleep in the same bed? Temptation. Do you sleep in separate beds or rooms? What’s the point, then?

Helen Alvare once mentioned that the age where people start to cohabit (23 ish) is almost the same age where people used to get married. Don’t know if that’s relevant to the discussion but I found it to be interesting.


And it’s not just premarital sex. It’s both living together and sex. The couple essentially behaves like a married couple, and when they get married, the only difference is that they now have a piece of paper telling them that they are married. And hence, they don’t view marriage the same way as a chaste couple living separately.

As with chaste cohabitation, they kind of behave like a married couple. You know…the whole cleaving to the woman thing :slight_smile:

Living together chastely for a month while one of them is finding for another place to live in and the only choice is the partner’s place for the meantime is different than ‘hey let’s move in together and discern’.

Valid discernment is not living together, imo. I don’t think that helps at all. Just me 2 cents


I skimmed the article and didn’t read the research. However, I see flaws. Maybe age 23 *used *to be an age when people settle into adult life and begin becoming financially independent, but that’s far from the truth now.

Graduating from college and becoming financially independent are nearly mutually exclusive at this point. I’d go further to say that most 23 year olds I’ve met are hardly “adults” in the same sense that a 29 year old is. When I was in graduate school in the very early 1990s, the difference in maturity between a new college grad and someone who was only three or four years older was remarkable.

As for this part:

Kuperberg found that individuals who committed to cohabitation or marriage at the age of 18 saw a 60 percent rate of divorce. Whereas individuals who waited until 23 to commit saw a divorce rate that hovered more around 30 percent.

It states that they compared people who committed to cohabitation or marriage at 18 to people who waited until 23 to commit. Were the 23 year olds also committing to marriage or cohabitation? I’m wondering what lifestyle arrangements the second “commit” includes.

It seems to me that the determining factor is age. Well, they didn’t really need a study to know that. People who commit to long term relationships when they’re too young, whether they shack up or marry, are making a mistake.


On The Hill:

I agree. My parents are nearing 80 and in their generation, a 23 year old back then was like a 30 or 32 year old today. I’m in my late 40’s now, and at 23 I was working two jobs and going to night school, that I didn’t have time for much else. In fact, some older adults thought I was strange because I wasn’t interested in hitting the bars on Friday and Saturday night.

I did go back to school full-time at 25,(graduated at 28) and while I was an engineering major, there were quite a few of us in engineering in our early to mid-20s as juniors. Some of us came from the Armed Forces, others came from the school of hard knocks, and some of us were retreads who at 18 went to college and majored in frat house, and after experiencing some extended adolescence, dead end jobs, got our act together and returned to college. Many of us were more serious the second time around, and watched our grades, mostly so we could get a good job and we paid our own tuition.

One problem with cohabitation is it delays making a commitment. Playing house one party can walk away at any time. It’s like a “trial marriage”. I had friends who played house and regretted it later on.

Another thing that is sad today is many young couples are expected to cohabitate before marriage. That was not the case forty years ago. The average age today for a first time marriage is 30 for men and 27 for a woman, and part of that has to do with college debt and career preparation time. It’s also due to the fact that many people today are not meeting their spouse in college anymore, which is also depressing.

I have several buddies that didn’t get married until they were in their mid-30’s, and I even have some good friends who didn’t marry until they were in their early 40’s (one of my buddies became a first time dad at 46, marrying a nice 38 year old woman when he was 45). Part of this has to do with the time it takes to build a career and financial independence (my older friends tell me it was much easier in the 70s to build financial independence), and most of the attorneys that I know - male and female - didn’t marry until they were 35, 38, 40, or older, mostly because of student loan debt and 70 hour work weeks. The corporate world in general is not “family friendly”, but some professions and some employers are more understanding than others. I spent about six years working 60-80 hour work weeks myself in my early to mid 30s, and while it helped me professionally, it took a toll on my personal life.


One of the problems with cohabitation is that, with respect to making decisions regarding marriage, it has higher exit costs than living apart.

Increased exit costs might contribute to cohabiting couples marrying who are not suitable marriage partners for each other.

It might be the case that sexual cohabitation has higher exit costs than chaste cohabitation. But even chaste cohabitation, with respect to making decisions regarding marriage, will have higher exit costs than living apart.

With respect to making decisions regarding marriage, entering into a situation that increases the exit costs without a corresponding benefit seems unwise.


It is uncharitable to give scandal (bad example) to others that are weak and so may fall into sins. If may dishonor ourselves and our parents or relatives or community. Also we are to avoid all the near occasions of sin in addition to sins. Living together may give rise to unnecessary temptation for sins of lust and jealousy in thought, word, and deed.


Well said on all counts !

Plus can I add that I simply don’t believe that a young couple, sufficiently attracted to each other to. E considering marriage could be living together (as man and wife except in terms of avoiding actual sex) without it being to some degree sinful. It is scandalous, it is a near occasion to sin it is a temptation, it is highly unlikely to be modest and I suspect one of them at least will find it sexually arousing. To think otherwise is just unrealistic.


There are a number of aspects to these questions, but I’ll just mention a thread I started a few days ago: Scandals … contraception, homosexuality, etc.

Note: Don’t get the wrong idea from the thread title. For one thing, cohabitation isn’t mentioned in the title but it’s one topic in the thread. Also the first point I make in the thread is that Christ said not to judge, but I didn’t put that in the title either.


Andrea Day:

One thing that has not been mentioned here, is that a boyfriend/girlfriend who are living together without doing **R-Rated activities ** are seen by others as making an appearance that they are impersonating a married couple, even if they are engaged. I am sure there are some engaged couples who are living like this, without doing R-Rated activities, are setting boundaries, and have separate bedrooms. Some engaged couples might be able to make an arrangement like this work for a short period of time (i.e. like the one month you mentioned, or even longer if a wedding date has already been set, and some priests might be OK with it), but it would be a little easier for the couple to fall into temptation.

From experience, I would say that as a man, temptations are a little harder. Most men would not date a woman they didn’t find attractive. I have gone on vacation with a girlfriend and while we have shared a hotel room, (and enjoyed spending time together at the beach), we weren’t doing R-Rated activities, and slept in separate beds. It takes quite a bit of discipline, for both men and women. I also have had to make sure that if I was at my girlfriend’s house in the evening that I always left at a reasonable hour so she could get ready for the next day, and I never stayed overnight, as that alone could make an appearance of scandal.

I have friends who are now married (and have been married over 10 years) who said what was a big help when they were dating was respecting boundaries. It’s good to go on dates in public places, and if you are over at your boyfriend or girlfriend’s place in the evening (even watching a movie together on DVD and it’s Saturday), you still had to make sure that even if it was 11:00 p.m. or midnight, you still had to drive home. That was a big help preserving chastity, even if you were in your late 20’s or even close to 40. This also helped develop self-control.


Other reasons aside, it’s a situation for scandal and certainly a strong temptation to sin. The merging of households should also be connected to a true merger of the lives of husband and wife, which doesn’t occur until there is a marriage.


Because cohabitation of people who desire one another physically is going to lead to sex, with the exception of a very few heroically virtuous people.

We are called to be a practical people.


One must choose good means to the a good end (the Sacrament of Marriage).

Not only can there be a near occasion of grave sin (and entering into a near occasion of sin can already be a grave sin).

There can be also actual falls into other grave sins.

There is also scandal.

And no it is not a good way for discernment of a marriage.

It is simply not a marriage and does not really tell you how a marriage would be.

What it can tell one is that each person is willing to make this terrible choice to live together -a choice contrary to the good of the other person and ones self and others around one. Not a good foundation for a marriage.

But thankfully one experiencing the subtle temptation to this choice and see it is not good and choose against it.

Thankfully God gives grace to help the couple avoid this choice and to make good choices or if they have made this choice to make another.

CCC: 2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

Such “testing” does not include living together for that is for marriage. Nor is it a help towards growing in Chastity but would run the other direction…Such “hope of receiving the other” is a hope…not an anticipation of such by moving in together…


What if they live with others?


Am I the only one who sees a disconnect here? People on this forum continue to come down hard on CHASTE cohabitation citing scandal…meanwhile a growing number of bishops are permitting those living in a state of perpetual adultery to receive communion. And we’re spending our energy coming down on those who AREN’T having sex?


Surely you’ve heard that two wrongs don’t make a right? Right?


Let’s make the proper distinction here.

The OP is not about couples involved in very difficult situations which are hard to extricate from due to all sorts of factors from finances to family cohesion.
It is about the wisdom of couples choosing to cohabit before marrying to derive the benefits from chaste cohabitation.

The person who is formed in the virtue of chastity already knows this scenario is unrealistic.


I’m just saying pick your battles. It’s also difficult to explain to a young couple who are NOT having sex how their situation is still sinful yet the “married” couple in the next pew gets a free pass. There can be very difficult practical and economic reasons that lead a couple to chastely cohabitate prior to marriage.


Interesting question.

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