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One warm autumn evening, I passed a pizza shop and decided to pick up something to eat. Stepping inside, I noticed a young man in line ahead of me playing with four children who appeared to range between three and seven years old. They pulled on his trousers and clung to his legs. The man, whom I judged to be about twenty-five, obviously loved the children. He picked them up and hugged them and kissed them.

Quite impressed, I asked if the children were his.

"Yes," he said.

"You're quite young to have four children!" I said.

"Not only am I young," he said, "but each of these children has a different mother."

"So you've married four times?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I prefer not to marry. I've just lived with these women."

"Why haven't you married?" I asked, continuing my indiscreet interrogation.

"Well, as you know," he said, "when you buy a car, you try it out first to see if you'll like it. You only buy it when you're sure it's the one you want."

"But what does buying a car have to do with not getting married?" I asked

"You have to try it out first, Sir," the young man said. "Try it out first!"

"Try it out first"

Those words still ring in my ears. "Try it out first" means living together with no commitment whatsoever. The purpose is "to see whether we're compatible," or, to paraphrase the words of that youthful father, "to see if she's the one I'm looking for." And this is the experience of 11 million couples in the United States!

Sensible as "trying it out" may seem at first glance, there's a problem. You can "try out" a car, and if you don't like it, you can try out another and another—and none of the cars will feel hurt over the way you treated them. You can even wreck the car, and it will never cry, because cars don't have feelings. But people do.

This idea of "trying it out first" has a number of other serious disadvantages.

First of all, women find it difficult to maintain long-term "try it out first" relationships. They need the emotional security that commitment to a relationship brings. Otherwise, they get the distinct feeling that "this car isn't getting me anywhere," and the relationship deteriorates into a miserable burden.

Domestic violence

Another disadvantage for women—an actual danger, in fact—is the high rate of domestic violence among couples who are just "living together." Studies have shown that domestic violence is nine times greater for these women, including a much greater risk of death. Some authorities estimate that hitting, shoving, and the throwing of objects occurs five times more often in "try it out first" relationships than in married relationships.

Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health have shown that the incidence of depression is five times greater among women who are "just living with" their partners than it is for married women. These women also have twice the incidence of mental illness. And the feelings of insecurity thus generated have an important part to play in how the relationship as a whole will go.1

Several studies by the University of California show that the likelihood of infidelity is twice as great for couples who are living together than for those who are married.2 According to the National Sex Survey, men are four times more likely and women eight times more likely to be unfaithful.3 On the other hand, the University of California studies show that the commitment of marriage gives greater security to the relationship.4

Financial disadvantage

There's also a financial disadvantage for people who are living together. According to The National Marriage Project, only about 6 percent of married couples live under the poverty level, but 31 percent of those who are only living together live in poverty.5

And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that the rate of divorce is much higher among those couples who lived together before marriage than it is among those who married first.6

Conventional wisdom suggests that living together before marriage leads to more stable marriages. But a researcher with the University of Victoria in British Columbia noted that a significant body of scientific evidence shows just the opposite: that living together before marriage contributes to less stability in marriage.7 Other researchers have found that living together leads to less interaction between the partners, more disagreements, and, again, general instability.8

Marriage as God planned it

The best relationships are based on marriage as God planned it. The Bible says that God created human beings in His image.9 We all desire a close union with another person. That's why God created the first humans male and female, one man and one woman.10 God made us so that we attract one another, sometimes with something as simple as a glance or gesture. We all feel this attraction from time to time.

We also compliment each other physically. God created men and women with the capacity for sexual attraction and intimate sexual relationships. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."11 This is the most intimate of all human relationships, through which a man and a woman come to know each other to a degree that they could not experience by simply "living together." For "living together" does not provide the atmosphere of confidence and commitment that's required to establish a deep and permanent relationship.

Instead of going around experimenting throughout life, I prefer to love and give myself to a sacrificial love that is committed, regardless of the difficulties.

How about you?

1Lee Robins and Darrel Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America, 64. 2John D. Cunningham and John K., Antill, "Cohabitation and Marrige: Retrospective and Predictive Comparisons, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11:1994. 3Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage, 93. 4Judith Treas and Deidre Giesen, "Sexual Fidelity Among Married and Cohabiting Americans," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62:2000. 5David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Should We Live Together? 6Catherine Cohan and Stacey Kelinbaum, "Toward a Greater Understanding of the Cohabitatioin Effect,"Journal of Marriage and Family, 64:2000. 7Zheng Wu, "Premarital Cohabitation and Postmarital Cohabitation Union Formation," Journal of Family Issues, 16:1995. 8Allan Booth and David Johnson, "Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success," Journal of Family Issues, 9:1988. 9See Genesis 1:26. 10See Genesis 1:27. 11Genesis 2:24.

Sergio Torres writes from Miami, Florida.

Living Together: Does It Work?

by Sergio Torres
From the May 2005 Signs