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Cohabitation and Marriage Contrasted

It’s been a few weeks now since the sale at my folks’ place.  My head’s still whirling with images of my mom and dad’s things flying into the hands of dozens of other families and all the hard work involved by so many people (thanks to all of you who helped!), but mostly the melancholy and conflictual feeling of the brevity of life and the legacy of a life well lived.

How fortunate I am to be from a father and mother who love each other genuinely (mom’s in a nursing home memory unit and dad in assisted living) and who drew all those years from the well of their faith and nourished us in word and deed.  How may people can say, not only were their parents Christians, but they actually lived what they believed?  How can you scoff something that is the real deal?  If you do, it says nothing about what you scoff and everything about the hardness of your own heart.

Hardness and coldness and sadness.  You don’t walk in my shoes so let me tell you what I’ve pondered.  It’s more like a burden that won’t go away.  It’s one of the downsides of my job, this hearing of stories shy of goodness and light.  People sharing with me the shrill results of a life thrown to the dogs, of dads who drank their lives away, of moms who never married or married everyone in sight or of parents who fought with each other or shook their fists at God or who themselves admit they mocked the very idea of marriage by living together for nothing and told themselves it was fine and now they look down at their heritage and wonder what it is they will leave as a legacy.

These two lifestyles, a life well lived and a life scorned, rush across the front of my brain: one from my past, graciously left at my door by two faithful parents who only loved God more than each other, contrasting with many of my clients who live together in order to share rent and their bodies, but not their wills (marriage is an act of the will: “I do”) and then wonder why their hearts are filled with sadness.  The contrast, the difference is day VS night.

I was sitting exhausted in my folks’ backyard on one of their chairs that hadn’t sold yet, physically and emotionally spent, when all of a sudden my sister came out the back door regaled in my mother’s wedding dress.  It was a moment to behold, similar to waves of the sea parting and 2 million refugees walking through the sea bed unscathed.  Sixty-three years ago my mother wore this dress as she proudly, sacrificially and willfully gave herself to her groom and now here was my sister bringing us all back to that sacred day.  And like that day so long ago, the ladies crowded around my sister as she showed off her mother’s dress, seemingly unscathed by the years and years in the trunk in the basement and they noted the buttons and the hooks and the little this and the little that and oohed and awed as they gently touched the delicate cloth and my sister beamed and the ladies faces glowed and eyes sparkled in the knowing of it all, that we were on sacred ground, the wedding dress said what we were all feeling, something tangible touching something so resplendent, so precious, so eternal, so spiritually alive.

If marriage is just like cohabitation and it’s just a piece of paper and there’s no difference why these ladies’ joyous voices and mingled praises?  Why my sister’s stately presence?  Why keep a dress, that dress, carefully packed away for sixty-three years?  Why cry, like my sister did, when she found out that the dry cleaner returned the wrong wedding dress to her after she had it dry cleaned and stashed it away so she could wear it again for her husband on their first wedding anniversary (She never did recover her wedding dress)?  What’s so special here?

If you cohabit, what will your prodigy discover in your treasure chest?  What will symbolize your life?   Your first lease?  This is what cohabiting is: A business relationship, which, if you think  of it, is the nature of divorce, too.  You say it’s just a wedding and you’ve not enough money?  It’s not the wedding.  Please.  It’s the “God hath put together” part.  And God doesn’t put you together unless you have the guts to stand up in front of the whole universe, not just a pastor or an “official”. You are standing in front of all the archangels in glory, including the present and future generations and saying that we two are starting a new family until death us do part.  It’s not just another party.  It’s not HER day.  It’s not his opportunity to get drunk and make a fool of himself.  It’s of cosmic import and pictures for us the eternal glory of Christ giving himself up for the Church in all her majesty, majestic only because of the sacrifice of the Lamb.

Marriage is our willingly sacrificing our lives in order that a new life, our new family, may be born.  Our wedding is our born on date.  And just like the ladies glow at the sight of a new born baby, they glow at the sanctity of a wedding dress that symbolizes the reality of a new born family: From this day forward.

A wedding of a husband and wife who wait for each other and give themselves to each other on this day for the rest of their lives is a little glimpse into heaven, a peek.

And in your cohabiting you mock all of this.  You mock God, too.  It doesn’t matter that marriage was instituted and is blessed by God and the Bible says sexuality outside of marriage between a husband and wife is immoral, wrong, a sin and breaking the Ten Commandments.   It doesn’t matter to you.  You say it doesn’t matter and you’ll make up your own rules and, see, we have all the ingredients of a marriage.

Except one.  The one that matters.

But you don’t have a marriage and you know you don’t and you are fooling yourselves and your “partner” and your kids and your folks and your friends and everyone is in on the ruse:  Clouds without rain, automobiles without fuel, wires without electricity, a river with no water, and no wedding dress in the basement cedar chest and no wedding ring and no wedding pictures, just you and your roommate playing house.

And then you wonder why he won’t take you seriously?

Cohabiting is a defiant act of atheism.   It doesn’t matter what God hath said.  I make up my own rules.  There are no consequences.  I can do what I want.  “In your face, God” is my middle name.  I mock your heaven.  I mock your path.  I mock your Son’s sacrifice.  It’s an act of idolatry with you as the idol.  Me first.  Selfishness as a lifestyle.

Take your pick.


To see other blogs on the pain of cohabitation click here.

Dr. Bing did a series on cohabitation.  You can see that series here.

To see Dr. Bing’s blog after his mom and dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary click here.


Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults 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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