Dr. Wall starts a series on Cohabitation by exposing some of the unintended consequences of living together without marriage.  It’s not the road to happiness.  To see the other blogs in this series click here.

Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Genesis 24:67

Let’s get one thing straight. If you come to see me and you aren’t married, I’m going to treat you as if you are. My reasoning comes from my belief that when the Bible says Isaac took Rebekah into his tent, that that was their wedding ceremony. So I view it that when you invite this person of the opposite sex into your apartment, you are as good as married. No one else views you as such. You don’t view your live-in as your spouse. Your parents don’t. Your co-workers and friends don’t. Your live-in partner doesn’t either. That’s the problem. The advantage of an “official” wedding is that is serves notice to everyone, most importantly each other, that you are in it for the long haul, rich or poor, sickness and health. I see my job as to help the two of you to get along well enough and to have enough confidence in each other and the relationship to commit to each other officially. Why? Because I know that the longer you cohabit without marriage, the more likely you’ll have relationship problems and the more likely you will break up.

Hey, I’m not making this stuff up. This is what happens. I’m sort of like an odds maker. You come see me. I’ll tell you your odds.

Without the ceremony and the “blessing” and the emotional support from friends and family, the commitment of cohabiting wears pretty thin. If things get a little dicey your support system may encourage you to break up. It’s hard enough to stay committed without having your loved ones fighting you on your “significant other.” These couples almost always keep their money separate, setting the foundation for money problems later. Trust is an issue. If you were willing to sleep with me without being married, how do I know you wouldn’t sleep with someone else outside of marriage, even if you are married to me? Sex is a problem. As I’ve commented elsewhere (“Honey, I’m Sorry. I Can’t Tonight. I Have An Excuse”) married couples (sorry…you know, with a man-husband and a woman-wife) who go to church report the most sexual satisfaction. Cohabiting couples are down the list. Why? I guess I’m entitled to an interpretation of the data as well as anyone else: Because husband and wife married couples who go to church together view sex as created by God and special and needing to be protected by the sanctity of marriage. People who cohabit? It’s no big deal. So if it is so worthless that it doesn’t need to be protected by marriage it’s not worth anything. There you go.

Do we need to go on and on and mention that cohabiting couples have higher incidences of child sexual abuse and domestic violence than married couples? Let’s just put it this way: If you cohabit without marriage you are begging for trouble and chaos in your life isn’t far behind.

One of the most common reasons couples tell me why they haven’t married is because they don’t want a divorce. Have you ever talked to anyone who lived with their live-in lover (of the opposite sex) for awhile and then they broke up? They are broken people. Just like people who divorce. Probably worse. Why? Like I said, I view them as married. Even though they didn’t marry, they quickly find out that NOT marrying didn’t take away the pain of breaking up. By NOT marrying they told each other that their commitment to each other is rather cavalier. Too bad the break-up didn’t feel that way. Pity the kids that have parents that choose to live like that. Talk about a mess. Of course, who can afford to have kids and support them on one income? Very few of us can do that anymore. So now the parent rushes headlong into another relationship to help pay for the rent and now the problems are even worse. AAAAAAAH!

Now here’s a curious thing: Cohabiting conveys to the state government that you are, indeed, married!  So much for avoiding the pitfalls of divorce.  Common-law marriage in Iowa doesn’t say how many years a couple has to be together before they are considered “married.”  Consider the section below from a recent article in the Des Moines Register about how after the recent supreme court rulings on same-sex marriage (see my recent posts on this here and here) same-sex cohabiting couples can now expect lawsuits when they break up over property rights, let alone charges of bigamy when they break up and move in with some other same-sex person.  Welcome to the world where sin no longer exists and chaos is the order of the day.

Attorney Jonathan Wilson of Des Moines:

Iowa law recognizes so-called “common-law marriage.” In fact, the law already reads broadly, “A man or woman who was or is held out as the person’s spouse by a person by virtue of a common-law marriage is deemed the legitimate spouse of such person.” A couple deemed married by the common law is legally married for all purposes just as surely as the couple that goes to the courthouse and gets a marriage license. A split-up requires a court-approved dissolution of the marriage before either partner can “re-marry” or un-do those marital “defaults.” Skip that step before a new marriage (by common law or otherwise), and there’s a criminal violation of Iowa Code §726.1 that reads. “Any person, having a living husband or wife, who marries another, commits bigamy;” and “any person who marries another who the person knows has another living husband or wife commits bigamy.” So both parties to that second marriage would be criminals who can, hopefully, serve their time in the same jail cell….

Just three elements must exist to create a common-law marriage: (1) intent and agreement to be married; (2) continuous cohabitation; and (3) a public declaration that the parties are spouses. But get this: The intent and agreement can be implied, there is no particular time that cohabitation must exist, and a substantial representation of marriage to some third party is enough – even though other public declarations may be to the contrary…

Talk about a practice that needs to stop. Talk about getting married without ever having to ask – just live together and introduce your “spouse” to others and, if they don’t object on the spot, you’re married, baby. Talk about mucking up asset ownership without even trying. Talk about unlimited liability to support your ex, of all things. Talk about complicated estate litigation. Talk about inadvertent crimes. Talk about unexpected and unintended consequences. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and ignorance in this context will not be bliss.

(See August 23, 2009, Des Moines Reigster):

People cohabit to avoid the consequences of divorce only to expose themselves to other unintended consequences. If you have a cavalier attitude toward sex and you have a cavalier attitude toward marriage, it shouldn’t surprise you when you get married and have sex later that it doesn’t mean much. It didn’t mean much before. Why should it mean much now?

Here’s another example of unintended consequences: He’s out with his buddies drinking and comes home in the wee hours of the night. He doesn’t call his live-in female lover. Why should he? He’s not married! She’s madder than a pistol when he gets home. Why? Because she’s been sexual with him. She’s living with him. If she got married she has nothing more to give to him. Emotionally, she’s married! Spiritually she’s married! So is he. Who are we trying to kid? She feels justified in saying, “Hey, let me know what you are doing. I’m worried here.” He takes that to mean that she’s a nag and says to himself, “Why would I want to marry her? She’s a crazy woman.” And so, one nail is pounded into the coffin of this couple succeeding. She doesn’t trust him because he’s being secretive; he withdraws because her anger is chasing him away.

The theme of the article above I just quoted was to expose some of the unintended consequences of making marriage possible for same-sex couples. The writer listed some of those consequences around the common law statutes that are already on the books in Iowa. If you start knocking off historic sins one by one and say they aren’t wrong, you are inviting chaos into your life (see my blog: “Morality and Chaos”) that the avoidance of those sins was meant to promote. Did you get that sentence? Read it again. Let me say it this way:

Sin = Chaos in your life and in society

For example: your son steals from Wal-Mart and is caught. The store manager calls the police and they haul him away. The police call you at work and tell you your son is in jail. Your workmates see your horror. You’re with a major client. You lose the sale. You don’t care. You call your spouse. Both of you get off work and lose pay. You go to the jail. You are beyond yourself with grief. Your son is released to you with warnings. You ground your son. You’re lucky. He obeys. He’s put on probation. He has to do 50 hours of community service. You take off work to make sure he goes. You have to go with him to the probation officer. He gives your son a tour of the jail. All of this just because he stole one Nintendo game.

This little episode occurred because stealing has historically been called a “sin.” It is wrong. Okay. Now let’s say the courts decide that stealing isn’t wrong. You can steal all you want because to say that stealing is wrong is discriminating against thieves and they have rights, too, you know. So everyone steals from everyone because there’s no such thing as private property anymore and pretty soon we have NO Wal-Marts and everybody has guns to protect themselves from people without restraint and society as we know it ceases to exist.

All this because we just got rid of ONE historic sin.

Hey, there’s a reason that for thousands of years homosexuality was underground and illegal and wrong and shameful. There’s a reason why shacking up and living together without marriage was considered “WRONG!” And the reason is because if you do it you introduce chaos into your life and into society. And if you say it is fine and do it anyway, you still have the consequences. Chaos is introduced. You can’t avoid it. You can call it what you want; you still get the consequences.

We are going to see a degeneration of morality society-wide if the courts, which are supposed to be the beacon of righteousness and fairness and justice in society, are going to be cavalier about marriage. Their recent ruling on same-sex marriage says that marriage doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Marriage has become worthless. We’ve watered it down. Morality has become worthless, too. Homosexuality not only USED to be considered wrong, but one of the worst sexual sins a person could commit. Now it’s fine. It’s not only legal, it’s blessed. We’re going to have teachers teaching this in our schools and kids aren’t going to know what morality is anymore and there won’t be any boundaries around sex, so why limit yourself. Go for all the gusto. Marriage used to protect sex and make it holy. Now it’s used to justify and give a stamp of approval on behavior that leads to societal breakdown. Great. What’s next? That’s the scary part. Once we say there’s no wrong in this area, what’s to stop it in that? I’m afraid to imagine it.

But look. I hope, just because marriage has no value in society at large, that that doesn’t mean it needs to mean nothing to you. It still means something to me. Cohabiting is just begging for trouble. If you are a heterosexual couple cohabiting and aren’t married, give us a call today. Let us help you work through your relationship problems so you can make each other honest. Life is tough enough. Let’s not borrow trouble at the same time.


To see the other blogs in this series on Cohabitation click here.


Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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