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Integrity Series:  2. The Wholeness of Integrity in Marriage VS The Lack of Integrity in Cohabitation

integrity boat

When I was teaching the adult class on integrity at my church I defined integrity at the beginning of each session as “there’s no holes in the boat.”

Oftentimes we think of integrity as having to do with morality, like not having an affair, but it’s much more than not doing bad or immoral things. Dr. Cloud’s definition in the title of his book on integrity seeks to get at this idea of how all encompassing integrity is.

Dr. Cloud’s subtitle is “The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality”.  What does he mean by that?  Reality can be fun and exciting or drab and depressing.  It can be good.  It can be bad.  No matter what goes on, the person of integrity rises to the occasion.  They don’t fold when the going get’s tough.

Dr. Cloud gives an example of what he means by suggesting integrity is like the wake of a boat.  When you look at the wake of a boat, the wake tells you what kind of boat it is.  There’s two sides to the wake.  He writes the one side of the wake represents your work and the kind of job you do there.  The other side of the wake represents your relationships.  Since the word “integrity” means “wholeness” (as in whole number.  See the first blog in this series.), when it comes to looking at your own integrity, you want to look at the results of your life.  What kind of wake are you leaving?

You may do awesome in your career.  Your colleagues think you are wonderful.  The results you leave there are impressive.  But what kind of trail are you leaving at home?  If everywhere you go, there are hurt people, the results you have at work won’t mean much.

Dr. Cloud’s book primarily addresses integrity in the business world, but we could easily apply the principles to married life.  Couples often do fine when they are dating.  They have a lot of fun together and think they will make a great match.  Too often in our society, couples become sexual before they are married and the sexuality is hot…at least for awhile. They might even move in together.  Everything is great.  Everything is fine.

Or so it seems.  Or as long as everything is fine.  Cohabiting couples are like little children not wanting to grow up.  They fear marriage maybe because they’ve seen other marriages crash and burn.   They associate marriage with pain.  Well, duh.

Marriage, like integrity, is about wholeness: your whole life.  It includes the good and the bad.  Fifty, sixty years?  Yes.  In these many decades together a lot of good and bad things are going to happen.  You face them both together.  Some of these problems are of our own doing; others of them are imposed upon us from the outside.

In both cohabitation and divorce, we are saying we only want the good part and we’ll run away from the bad.  I’ll stay with you as long as everything’s fine, but as soon as reality sinks in, as soon as the problems start, I’m done.  This isn’t reality.  This isn’t realistic. This isn’t integrity.

In divorce people run from the bad.  They can’t learn to rise above the bad or set an example of how to not let the bad get you down.  Cohabitation says I only will love you as long as everything is fine.  If it’s not, I’m outta here!  Marriage says: sickness and health, rich or poor, good and bad, for the rest of our whole life.  Marriage is actually the proving ground of integrity.  I think of marriage as God’s gentle way to knock the selfishness out of us.  You can’t really enjoy marriage if you are selfish.

Cohabiting is a couple of adults acting as children playing house.  If you don’t play the way I want, I’m gonna leave.  Cohabiting is more akin to two two-year olds, both playing their own separate version of house, each doing their own thing.  Each paying their own bills.  A couple of roommates pretending to be mature.  They smile, wipe their mouths and say they didn’t do anything wrong!

There’s no integrity here, people!   You say marriage is just a piece of paper?  This is insulting.  Marriage is like buying a car.  Yes, you sign a piece of paper.  But it’s not just a piece of paper.  It’s the exchange of ownership. It’s now your car.  You paid for it.  Cohabiting is stealing the car.  Yes, you are driving a car.  But it’s NOT YOUR CAR.  You not only didn’t sign the purchase order, you didn’t pay for it!  It’s NOT JUST A PIECE OF PAPER.  And because you didn’t sign that piece of paper AND pay for it you are inviting the police to come after you.  When you cohabit you are saying you won’t sign that marriage license because you won’t give your life away.  When you marry, yes, you sign a marriage license.  But in marriage you give your life away to start a new family.  It’s called “The Marriage Altar!” for a reason.  You sacrifice yourself.  FREELY.

And everyone knows this and your relatives and friends come from near and far to help you celebrate the birth of this new family at your wedding.  The sharing of two wills and two lives and the union of a man with a woman is a big deal worthy of speeches and accolades and high fives and toasts and tears and gifts and laughter and dancing and flowers and the most beautiful dress you’ve ever seen and the exchange of rings and kneeling and prayer and blessing and vows and dignity and the giving of your life for the making of a new family.

Cohabitation says, NO WAY.  I just want the fun, adrenaline part.  Any problems?  That’s it, man.

Or as many young people (sadly) have told me, “It’s just a lot easier to break up if we’re not married.”

You want problems?  Try stealing someone else’s life away without giving your own.  Then look at your trail of tears, the bodies of those you’ve strewn aside when you were done with them.

Cohabiting couples have no integrity from the get-go.  They are both stealing from each other, using each other for their own ends.  If you are sexual with me without marriage, how do I know you won’t be sexual with someone else later when you are not married to her, just like you did with me?  Sexuality is so tender, it needs the promise and security of a life and marriage to protect it.

Cohabitation used to be called “living in sin” and “fornication.”    May I be so bold as to say IT STILL IS!

Cohabitation is the complete lack of integrity.  Integrity means whole.  Cohabitation means part:  I’ll take all of you but I’ll just give you part of myself.  The “will” part?  I’ll only marry if you jump through all these hoops and do this and that and this and that.  Here.  Let me use you for my own ends and you should be happy about it.  If you complain about it, of course, I could never marry you…

Sexuality, marriage, wholeness, integrity, blessing…they all go together.

Selfishness, abuse, control, feeling used, cohabitation, fornication, sin and did I mention selfishness?  They all go together.  Just a couple of 2-year olds playing house.  Pretending.

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