Comments on Cohabitation

Every pastor will agree that marriage prep in our day present some impossible moments. The fact is, the majority of couples who present themselves for marriage in the Catholic Church are co-habiting. Furthermore, they don’t see any problem with it, and seem rather surprised when the priest challenges them on their living situation. I have recently come across some good priestly comments when presented with cohabiting couples who want to be married in church.

See what you think:

1. I’m so glad you want to get married. That’s certainly the right thing to do as you are already living together. The church is free next Saturday at 2:00. The two of you turn up with a couple of witnesses and we’ll tie the knot.  Of course, since you’re already living together it would be artificial and pretty tacky for you to have a big, fancy wedding, so there’s no need to have all those bridesmaids and groomsmen and limousines and so forth. You’ll also save yourselves a lot of money. So is that settled then?

2.  So let me get this straight. The two of your are living together and having sex right? To the girl: Are you sure you really want to get married to a man who is has sex outside of marriage? If he treats marriage so lightly what reason have you to think that he would change after marriage? To the guy: Ditto.

Usually the couple offer the excuse that it is cheaper for them to live together.

3. So you’re living (and sleeping) together because of economic reasons? In other words, living together is cheaper than living separately and sex is part of the deal? This means money is more important to you than sexual morality. Look at it another way, you’re being financially rewarded for having sex outside marriage. Many people would have another name for this. To the guy: is this the sort of girl you want?

4. To the girl: Help me understand: you decided to move in with this guy so that you would help pay the rent and utilities. He gets sex whenever he wants it, (because of course you are using contraception) and I wonder who ends up doing most of the housework and washing and cooking and shopping? You get all the responsibility of marriage, but no security, no legal status and he could drop you whenever he wants–maybe with a baby on the way? And you call this women’s liberation?

5. I see. You are living together because you are hard up and can’t afford to live apart. May I ask what your budget is for this wedding? $30,000.00? Why not ask your parents to pay your rent for the remaining time before your big wedding and then cut back on what you spend on the wedding? Cut the limo, the big honeymoon, the expensive rehearsal dinner and so forth, and you’ll have all the money you need to live separately.

6. So money’s the issue? You can’t afford any place for the girl to live on her own chastely until she gets married? Hang on a minute, I’ll call Mother Veronica over at the convent and see if we can arrange a room for her there for a year or so until the wedding. That’s no good? How would it be then, if the parish pays her rent for six months. You cut right back on the wedding expenses and then we’ll cover the rent. Sound good?

Couples argue that it isn’t anyone else’s business…

7. But marriage is a public sacrament. You’re either helping us uphold marriage by living chastely, or you are not. You want to come to church to have a public wedding, and yet whenever the neighbors and your family and friends see you sharing the same front door without being married they hear you saying that marriage doesn’t matter to you. Christians are often blamed for being hypocrites. Don’t you think your behavior is hypocritical?

UPDATE: Err, for those who are taking this post too seriously I should add that I wouldn’t actually say these things to a cohabiting couple.

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  • Mr. Aitchison

    AWESOME. It would be great to hear stories of faithful priests who maybe didn't use those exact lines, but at least spoke the truth to the couples who came to them for marriage prep. My perception is that it doesn't matter one bit if a couple is cohabiting because the priest will let them get married regardless – and give them a self-esteem boosting homily to boot!

  • Emily Malloy

    BEAUTIFUL article.

  • catholic4areason


  • Deacon Dick

    Hurrah for treating a touchy topic with such alacrity and enthusiasm and truth. No put downs and no blame placed,just left with WELL, THINK ABOUT IT! What is the truth?

  • Shaughn

    Good stuff. As an addendum, you may want to be prepared not to dump exclusively on the guy. Several friends of mine had it happen where first a tooth brush wandered over, and then a change of clothes, and then a curling iron, and before they knew it, they had a room mate. It takes two to tango, as they say.

  • Whimsy

    These are things a mother could say only if she were willing to endure the silent treatment.It would be a great favor to her to have a priest cut the cake so plainly.

  • Bender

    A little catechesis on reception of the sacraments in general might be helpful, especially that part about the necessity of being in a state of grace, which would necessarily preclude cohabitation.It might be helpful to remind the couple that, being in a state of grace not being an added-on option, but a sacramental-theological necessity, whatever their living arrangements might be, making a good confession beforehand would be appropriate, which would of course require acknowledgement of the sin and sincere contrition for it.No need to beat people up for living together, no need to treat them like disgusting lepers. Augustine lived with his girlfriend and had a son out-of-wedlock, and few would berate him for such conduct (his mom certainly did not). But matter-of-fact, straightforward honesty that it is wrong is proper. And, truth be told, 99 percent of those cohabiting couples already know deep-down that it is wrong, but no one has ever bothered to come out and say so.

  • karenkehk

    Well said! Something needs to be done to change the blase attitude that so many men and women have about marriage today. I wish I could say I'm surpised to people's reactions when a priest questions a couple's living arrangements. How can we save marriage if the majority of couples getting married in the Church are living in sin by co-habitating as they prepare to partake in this beautiful sacrament?I wish the priest who had married my sister was harder with them he found out they were co-habitating. Now she's divorced and living with another man. I also aask you to pray for her.

  • Elizabeth

    We can sin by silence if we have an obligation to try to correct someone who is sinning, and we refuse to. I heard recently what the percentage is of couples seeking marriage in the Church in my diocese, who are cohabiting, the situation is dire. Not just priests need to speak the truth, but we all need to be willing to speak to our family and friends, not to mention educate and form those who we have an influence on so they can avoid Satan's traps. And rejoice when someone DOES repent, and encourage and help them.

  • Brent Stubbs

    What amazes me, is that when you hear a cohabiting couple say their vows, what's assumed by "this day forward" is that all those days of cohabitation before were a big LIE. Without repentance, their vow becomes their own judgment.

  • Joel

    Good point Shaughn, but I reckon number 3 dumped pretty well on the girl – that she's engaging in sex outside of marriage for economic benefit! The priest might want to duck quickly after saying that one…

  • mundabor

    Congratulation, Father. If Catholic priests started to talk about this issue with your openness -from the pulpit, and with beautiful regularity – in just a few years the problem would be greatly reduced. Mundabor

  • Teomatteo

    Are not the statistics clear that those people who live together before marriage have a higher incidence of divorce? I also like the argument that if sex without marriage is morally acceptable then a little bit of infidelity should be simply a moral hiccup. No biggy!

  • Warm Southern Breeze

    Love it! Reminds me of Mad magazine's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" feature! Sarcasm and irony are often effective communication tools, when used properly.

  • Teomatteo

    On a similar note. I had someone ask me if I would ask my girlfriend's father for her 'hand in marriage'. I told them I would be more likely to do that if she (and I) were virgins. But I would not take the old fashioned route if we had been sleeping together from the getgo. I'd feel that respecting the father by asking him would really be a lie.

  • Bill Cork

    I'd suggest you read the bishops' guidelines on Marriage Preparation and Cohabiting Couples.

  • Séamas Seosamh

    I knew a young lady who indeed did live with the sisters, but this didn't stop her from making late night phone calls to her boyfriend (who she later never married).True story.

  • Rudy

    Yikes, hard hitting! If only our priests could so direct and honest as these comments. Cohabitation is a big, big issue in the Catholic Church today.

  • Fr. Damien Merrin

    Hey Fr. Z, great ideas! I'm a new priest heaven bent on getting couples to seperate before marriage. I have used a couple of those lines like "if you can't find a place to stay I got an elderly couple with an extra room." But by far the best is to turn to the guy and ask him, "What are you looking forward to in marriage," and just let the silence hang in the air in front of his girlfriend. Then turn to her and ask, "How is your wedding night going to be different than the last 365 nights," again let the silence hang in the air. Then swoop in with the answer, "what if there was a way to prepare for marriage that made the wedding night special and made you look forward to the marriage?" Then when they say, "what is this a new program?" I say, "No, its old, its called seperation." This might seem pollyanna but it has worked on probably 50% of my couples so far and they tell me its the best thing they could have done, and thank me, and say they will talk to any cohabitating couples on the phone that are having doubts about seperation.Have faith! God's ways are true!

  • Paul Rimmer

    To start out: My wife and I did not live together before we got married. Statistically, it seemed imprudent, and it is morally unacceptable.That stated, the "responses" listed here are so snotty, I think they'd be counterproductive. If my son, God forbid, decided to live with his girlfriend before they were to get married, but finally (maybe tentatively?) came to want to do the right thing, to really tie the knot, and a priest said that, I would prefer never to step inside his dirty little parish again.It's not only snotty, most of the responses lack wit or intelligence. They make the priest look like a pig and a fool. And priests aren't that. None of the ones I know would say things like this.I mean, if these responses had some sort of humor about them, or something… if they didn't drip of sarcasm without being tempered by a bit of whimsy."So let me get this straight. The two of your are living together and having sex right? To the girl: Are you sure you really want to get married to a man who is has sex outside of marriage?"Could you imagine Chesterton or Lewis saying something so droll and uninspired, let alone something so mean? To be honest, you are such an excellent writer, and typically show such love and care, especially in your criticism, I can't imagine you saying half these things. You are smarter than that.Chesterton could be caustic, but he always presented his criticism in love. There is no love in this (or most of the other) responses.I am not amused.

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  • Maiki

    I think the problem is that the hypothetical couple would be having sex regardless of cohabitation or not — so the living together *is* really just a convenience since chastity is not being preserved. Moving them in to a convent to save money on the wedding is really not the issue at all. The best solution is the first one mentioned, just getting them married ASAP, and many couples would gladly quickly resolve it this way — however, as you said, marriage is a public thing, and with relatives now living far away, everyone would likely make a huge fuss at such a "selfish" wedding arrangement, not to mention most parishes have 6 month + pre-cana.Education on chastity and marriage can't start when the couple wants to get married. By then it is too late. It is often too difficult to resume a chaste relationship, sometimes too difficult to break off a bad engagement, and cohabitation is really just the visible icing on the unchaste cake.

  • Howard

    I have to agree with Paul Rimmer on this one. Is the priest just talking to vent or to hear his own voice, or is he really speaking to the couple with the intention of drawing them back into the fold? These comments may be what a priest would LIKE to say, but he needs to be a grown-up, bite his tongue, and phrase his advice in a way that might actually work.

  • nearstar

    You're a funny guy, Longnecker. Is that your job – to point out what's wrong with a stupid, wise-ass comment? Or is it to help prevent problems before they happen?

  • Janet

    I think parents and family members, not priests, need to take the lead in preventing cohabitation. They know–or should know–what their children are doing.

  • April

    My goodness, Mr. Rimmer, you must be an intellectual. Your comments are as uncharitable as the ones you accuse the good priest of making. And it goes 'round, and 'round, and 'round. My teens tried to say similar things to my godchild (and their cousin) until the wee hours of the morning just one year before making her co-habitation legal and "sacramental." It didn't work. Truth that falls upon dead ears somehow bounces right back at you. Nevertheless, they married with their two-yr-old in tow (ringbearer) and we pray that the grace of the sacrament will convert them over the years to come.

  • The Informer

    don't need all the "attaboy!" comments here.Imagine all the crisis management situations a parish priest could avoid if he were to preach something substantial from the pulpit, not only on morality, but on finance, history of the Church, on the liturgical season/year, on any virtue etc. Instead we get pablum from the pulpit and more like, "be nice and smile and hug more, and don't be too pushy driving out of the parking lot"…….Sanctity is easy I guess. I rarely hear anything that would distinguish saintly behavior……..

  • deacon tony

    The Deacons oppose co-habitation also. We will make comments like, " why not live apart until you get married" Marriage prep usually takes 9 months to a year. So it is not only the priest who suggest this.

  • Paul Rimmer

    April,I don't know if I qualify as an "intellectual" or not. I do work in academia. It is sad, isn't it, that what intellectuals are known for is being needlessly harsh.You are at least partly right: I should have tempered my comments a bit. But I did at least try to be charitable. I said that I couldn't imagine Fr. Longenecker saying any of these things, and (rightly) complemented his writing.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Mr Rimmer, its odd how groups of people are perceived. I don't perceive 'intellectuals' as being harsh at all. Usually I think they come across as spineless.In reference to your comment I have added an update so that those who are taking my post too seriously realize that I wouldn't actually be so crass as to say this to a couple.

  • Kevin J. Jones

    What's even odder in our times is that you have young, apparently well-formed unmarried Catholics who see nothing questionable about having a platonic roommate of the opposite sex, or going on a vacation alone with their significant other.The old culture of discretion and modesty is almost totally destroyed.It's so strange to hear chastity praised on Catholic blogs, and hear the reverence for the theology of the body, and then see what goes on in the average parish. Even the most pious-seeming individuals who are chaste in other aspects will casually refer to depraved acts later that evening which were once regarded as unspeakable.

  • Paul Rimmer

    Fr Longenecker,If that is the case, I sure don't want to be mistaken for an intellectual!Academics do have a well-deserved reputation for being passive-aggressive. That's related to spineless.Thanks for the update. And please forgive me for that terrible sin of lacking a healthy sense of humor.God bless.

  • Red Cardigan

    In the same spirit:(To the prospective groom) "So, you finally decided to make an honest woman of her, eh?"(To the prospective bride) "Interesting; most men who are getting the milk for free will only buy the cow if she turns out to be a nag…" Kidding, kidding.In all honesty, while I realize the importance of marriage prep., is a year really prudent? It used to be that long engagements were considered a near occasion of sin, to be avoided.

  • April

    Mr. Rimmer, and Fr. Longnecker, I apologize for being categorical. That is not necessarily charitable either. Thank you for your thoughts after my comment.

  • Fr. Frank

    Janet — thank you for mentioning parents! Why do these things end up in the priest's lap? Why do so few parents dare say a word about their own children's living in sin? From experience preparing scores of couples for marriage I'd say two reasons are nearly universal: 1. The parents are afraid of their children's anger; and 2. A huge percentage of the parents themselves cohabited, their children know it, and they don't know how to deal with being called hypocrites.If parents don't have the backbone to deal with an issue that affects their own child's salvation, they shouldn't be angry when they pass the situation on to me and I DO deal with it. I once cancelled a wedding 6 weeks before the wedding date when I learned the couple and both sets of parents were lying about cohabiting and absolutely refused to separate. I've had it!As a priest I will love you, counsel and support you, and do all in my power to help you arrive safely at the Father's house. But I will not be complicit in your lying to God before His altar, and lying to His Church. That's precisely what a priest does when he makes a private truce on the issue of shacking up before marriage. Why do parents let their children threaten and blackmail them with their own love? They should be clear about what they will not tolerate, and dare to make it stick.

  • Mary Ann

    I am in my mid-thirties, and have been married since I was 18 years old. I have to say that the LACK of stern and true teaching is what is leading us AWAY from the church. Put up or shut up. Our generation is searching for some TRUTH and AUTHORITY. How are we supposed to believe that the Catholic Church has any authority if the priest is a big wimp.

  • Holly@A Life-Size Catholic Blog

    This is the second time today I've been directed to your blog. After writing a post "I'd be a Fool for you" about a women called to stand on her head by God The name of your blog caught my attention. Now, a follower has highlighted you on "Pay It Forward" @ A Life-Size Catholic Blog and here I am again. I guess I better become a follower because apparently I'm being directed here over and over again.Thanks for your great service! Many blessings…

  • A Sinner

    I think likely most people see it as annoying because it's a double-standard.Cohabitation, morally, includes sex. It's not just sharing a domicile. If there were no sex, it wouldn't be a problem.I know a few Catholic couples who DID save sex until marriage but who were living together for those same economic reasons; they had separate rooms or whatever.So there's the "jumping to conclusions" aspect.But, granted, oftentimes the assumption is probably true (or they tell you, outright, it is).Still, it's probably true for a couple who aren't living together either. So, she spends weekends at his place and they have sex there, but she has her own place…is that really any better? And yet, if they kept their mouth shut about the sex…priests would be less inclined to probe.I feel like part of this is a "mind your own business, we're trying to get married, we shouldn't have to play weird games" sort of thing. Yeah, their fornication is wrong, but it can seem an odd battle to pick at the point of trying to get married.

  • Deacon Ed

    Which is a greater moral failing – a priest who knows the truth of God's commandments and Church teachings and intentionally fails to disclose and defend it or a couple who are engaging in sex outside of marriage?

  • veritas

    I am surprised by some of the comments here that suggest that above all we must not offend the sinning couple. God's Holy Church has very clear and God desgined laws that safeguard the sanctity of marriage. Living in a sexual relationship before marriage make s a complete mockery of those laws, and therefore makes a complete mockery of marriage. If a couple will be offended by hearing those facts then – tough. It's about time they were told how beautiful and holy marriage is and why God made it that way.As I said, I am concerned that a several of the comments here are saying that the priest must not offend the couple or sound critical of their immoral lifestyle. So much for the Bible's warning that the prophets who saw God's people sinning and did not warn them of God's judgement would themselves come under judgement.

  • Ioannes

    Oh, but Fr. Longenecker, you SHOULD say those EXACT things to the co-habitating couple. Fornication is fornication. Disrespecting the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony by fornication IS sexual depravity.And YES, I wish some priest had told me that cohabitation is a sin when I did it with my now ex-wife. Is it any wonder she is "ex" given our blatant disrespect for marriage while we were fornicating?My life is the way it is because I fornicated. Yes, there are other exacerbating factors, but that's how it began. Pure and simple.

  • gpiner

    Two thoughts/commentsI wonder what Padre Pio would say to a cohabiting couple?Why not just say, if you want to get married here, you must not have sex for 6 months before being married, and explain the necessity of being chaste as a preparation on entering a sacramental marriage.

  • EP

    GREAT ARTICLE!!! Thank you! My uncle told my wife and I that we were in sin and to pray. We laughed at his old ways and then over the next few weeks the Holy Spirit started to show us he was right. We entered the process and finished with a sacramental marriage. I am very grateful for having a family member that loved us enough to say the tuff stuff. Uncle Bill is the best!

  • Alfred

    So let me get this straight. A young couple wants to get married and the priest is supposed to berate them for not being already married?After all, if they do get married then they won't be cohabiting, the problem solves itself.I can't imagine what real man would stand by and allow another man(priest or not) to compare his fiance to a whore. You better hope the woman is strong enough to hold her man back from making a sucker punch at you. It's hard to see your comments, Father, as anything else than a masturbatory gesture. Sure it must feel good, but it doesn't accomplish anything.

  • Sheba

    The solution to sin is repentance. Marriage is a sacrament, not repentance. No matter how much you try to make up your own solutions, the sin persists and will eat you up, married or not

  • Ioannes

    Alfred,You just don't get it. Cohabitating IS fornication.It is SIN.You sin and don't repent, then you send yourself to hell.Period.A couple that lives in fornication and wants to be married Catholic MUST first stop fornicating.

  • JM

    You never hear anyone say with any genuine serious that premarital sex is sin. Even the book "How to Get to ‘I Do’: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women" by Bonaccorso suggests that while chastity is a nice *idea,* we all know that most men won't wait, so if he is a good man but INSISTS on sex, well… THIS is from a faithful Catholic, so you can imagine what the rest of the parish will be thinkng/living…

  • Whimsy

    Well, I'm glad it was tongue in cheek. A mother or MIL could never get away with that type of rudeness!I do hope you someday post what you really say to couples who find themselves in this situation.

  • Archaeology cat

    Great post, Father. I teach NFP, and so speak with marriage prep presenters a bit. Some of them have expressed reluctance at including NFP because they don't want to offend the couples, many of whom are cohabiting already (and the presenters assume they are also using contraception in that case). I know it's not a popular thing, but I feel these things should be addressed before the wedding.

  • veritas

    Ioannes,Your reply to Alfred was excellent and straight to the point.However, Alfred's totally unsuitable and insulting remark to Fr about "a masturbatory gesture", shows what sort of moral framework he is living in, so I don't think your point to him will be understood at all.