“My mom thinks Satan is making me live with my girlfriend”

“My mom thinks Satan is making me live with my girlfriend” October 15, 2012

Got this letter in:

I grew up in a very conservative Christian environment and as I have grown into adulthood I have gravitated away from that view of Christianity in favor of, for lack of a better word, liberal Christianity. Recently I brought up to my parents that my girlfriend and I plan on getting an apartment together (my girlfriend and I are both 25 and have been together for a year now). They reacted like I murdered an entire village of orphan children and vowed to disown me should I “live in sin.”

As a Christian myself I have been doing a lot of research on this topic, but I have struggled mightily explaining my views to my parents. My mom has told me many times that by doing this I am going straight to hell. I find this very troubling because she was there when I sought Jesus as my savior and knows how that event changed my life. She is convinced that I did not mean it at that time and that I have let Satan enter my life and tempt me. I love my girlfriend and we plan on getting married and ideally I would like to have a relationship with my parents, but I am at a loss as for how to reconcile our differences on this issue. I would very much appreciate any insight you could give on this topic. Thanks

Really? Satan? Your mom goes straight to Satan?

Worst debater ever.

How come she couldn’t just talk to you about this? You know: “Well, honey, you might want to think about living together before getting married. Because . . . ”

Anyway, I assume your mom’s worried about you having premarital sex. There’s nothing in the Bible saying that unmarried couples shouldn’t live together; it’s just assumed that doing so means such couples will also be having sex—and many Christians, of course, agree with your mom that having premarital sex is like … having a threesome with Satan, or whatever.

Have you already slept with your girlfriend? If so, maybe you should tell your parents that you have. Because I think that a solid biblical argument can be made in support of the idea that once you have slept with someone, the honorable thing to do is cleave your life to theirs in the way that moving into together does do. It shows how seriously you take the relationship.

Fundamentally, of course, I have no idea how to advise you on this. Because I don’t know your parents. If they’re intransigent dogmatists, then it’s not likely they’ll change their view on this. If they’re just having a knee-jerk reaction to their little boy being all grown up, then they’ll probably come around about … I dunno … six months after you’ve moved in with your future wife. (Or, if they’re hardcore cases, pretty much during the reception at your wedding.)

Lately I’ve had a spate of letters from young Christians asking me what amounts to this same question; namely, “I’ve changed my theology and my parents are freaking out. Help!” And what I’ve been generally recommending to such people is that, if it’s true, they tell their parents that they still believe in Jesus. That’s what parents really want to know: they’re much less concerned with their child getting this or that tenet of Christianity wrong than they are with their child  abandoning Christianity altogether. (If they can’t tell their parents that they believe in Jesus, I advise them [again, assuming it’s true] to tell their parents that they believe in some sort of God, and that all they want to do is spend some time figuring out what exactly that means.)

In your case, you do believe in Jesus. If I were you, then, I would (gently, always gently) insist that my belief in and understanding of Jesus, God, and the Bible does not tell me that it’s a sin to live with the woman whom I fully intend to marry. You’re twenty-five. That’s old enough for your reflections and conclusions on such matters to be taken seriously.

You’re reading the Bible differently than they are, is all. Thoughtfully and lovingly present to your parents your case for why you do not believe that it’s a sin for you to move in with your fiancee, and then leave them to their thoughts and convictions. (You said you have difficulties presenting your case to your parents. I would suggest, then, that you first spend some real time carefully preparing what you have to say, and then asking your parents for an hour of their uninterrupted time. Then give them your speech, Bible notes and all. Tell them they need to save their thoughts and objections until after you’re done talking. Fair is fair.)

In life, we have to choose our battles. This battle sounds like one you’re going to fight; that is, wanting to please your parents doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a strong enough reason for you to choose not to live with your girlfriend. If that’s the case, then, as I say, make your best argument for the morality of what you’re doing, and see what happens. Always remain good-natured and respectful: always let your parents know that you love them. Then it’s on them. Because then you’ve done all that you can do to fix things with them. And that makes you free to move on with your life.

Here’s a short thing about my wife Cat and I on the morning following the day of our wedding–which came after some three years of our living together: The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

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  • Calvin R. Griffin via Facebook

    A well thought out and carefully worded response.

  • Tim

    Good one, John.

  • Paul Haynie

    The first question that always comes to my mind in cases like this, and that you failed to ask, is, “Why not just get married?” If the answer is, “Because it will take three years to plan and finance the wedding we want,” well, someone needs to work on their priorities. And if the answer is, “We’re not quite sure, yet,” the answer is, “You will NEVER be sure. Either commit, or don’t.” What is the difference between “planning to get married” and actually being engaged?

  • Jill Hileman via Facebook

    You make learning fun, John Shore.

  • “How bad is living together before marriage?”

    Only slightly less bad than living together after marriage.

  • I’m not sure the “hey, we’re engaged, so it’s okay!” argument is helpful in a lot of cases like the one in the letter. The letter-writer doesn’t say that he and his girlfriend are engaged or have decided that they’re definitely going to get married. Sometimes it takes moving in together for a couple to realize that they aren’t compatible as life partners. A couple doesn’t need the pressure of using a formal engagement with a set wedding date to prove the validity of their decision to move in together. If they’re not married or engaged yet, there are probably good reasons, and they need the freedom to explore those reasons together without additional pressure to “make it work”.

  • Barbara Rice

    *concerned with maintaining the integrity of your relationship with your parents*

    *she’s likely going to have to live in harmony with your parents*

    I know you didn’t mean it this way, John, but the way it’s written it sounds like all the impetus to find common ground is on this young couple. Both sides want the other side to come around to their way of thinking. But this couple can only go halfway. At some point, the parents will have to choose whether dogma trumps family.

    At 25, they’re adults. The parents aren’t willing to extend that recognition and are attempting to keep him under their religious thumb. I know how difficult it is to make that enormous break, but at some point this young couple will have to say, “Sorry you feel that way. Here’s our new address,” and let the parents do as they wish.

  • ” … and that you failed to ask, … ” Why add that?

  • Elizabeth

    Your moderately big word alert brackets made my day. As a never-married thirty-something, I wouldn’t presume [assume, conjecture, speculate] on the etiquette for young love. If the couple has already done the deed, admitting it seems like an easy way to get the parental blessing to live together.

  • Barbara Rice

    They’ve only been together a year and it will be far less damaging to all concerned if they live together and find out it isn’t going to work, rather than get married and THEN discover it won’t work.

  • Elizabeth

    Ha ha ha ha ha! No, really. That’s not true OR funny.

  • thanks!

  • maria


  • Rachel

    It never stops amazing me how the sexual purity crowd is not content just to look after their OWN sexual purity, but have to pronounce on everyone else’s. Just like the crowd that doesn’t drink is mortally offended if drinks are even *served* at a wedding reception. They are all welcome to not have sex and not drink, without offending me. But they almost always insist that everybody has to do it their way. I get so weary…. The young couple in your post have enough to worry about getting their relationship right without trying to please outsiders. It is hard to live in love in the face of so much unloving family interference.

  • Joel

    I’m a Christian, believe in Jesus, etc. I lived with my husband for almost 15 years before we got married. But I’m also a man, so until fairly recently we couldn’t get married (still can’t in the state we live in). We didn’t have a choice but to live together if we were going to have a life together.

    There is nothing sinful about living together and making a life together. It’s nice that the government bestows certain rights and responsibilities when a couple marries. It’s really great that their community witnesses and supports the relationship. But God cares that you love one another enough to put up with all the difficulties that come with living with someone else in an intimate relationship.

  • jesse

    While i have zero desire to get married myself, i am a HUGE proponent of test driving the car before you buy it. i’m not just referring to sex (but really – sex can and should be a very important part of a marriage). Some people absolutely cannot co-habitate in harmony. Sure they may love each other but if one person has (for example) OCD and the other person doesn’t work with them and accept it and chooses instead to roll their eyes, etc., they’re going to have a whole heck of a lot of problems. There are so many things that you learn about yourself and a loved one once you are occupying the same space day in and day out.

  • I put those in there because of you! Somewhere back there you mentioned something about my use of Big Words–to which someone added something about how I make them go to a dictionary, and I thought, “Oh, no. I don’t want to make anyone work. So … I thought I’d just start jamming in a little Webster now and then. So, really, this is your fault, Elizabeth.

  • Paula Hepola Anderson via Facebook

    model for every pastor and counselor

  • Lymis

    I remember long ago hearing someone say that there should be both a law and a religious commandment requiring that people who wished to be married had to go on a vacation together – preferably a two week long car trip, or a trip to somewhere that neither spoke the local language. If both survived, they could proceed to marry.

  • Like the gay marriage issue, the “living together before or without being married” issue seems to be a generational one. My girlfriend’s mother knows that the two of us live in the same house, but she is in denial about us dating, so she still thinks her daughter sleeps on the couch and I sleep in the bedroom. Most of my grad-school colleagues, however, assumed we’d move in together after we’d been dating for a few months. And we do plan to get married at some point, but we’re waiting until after graduation (and until we move to a state where it’s legal).

  • Matt

    First, let me say that I agree with John that this situation will only be resolved with communication by all parties involved. There is potential for a deep hurt by many in this instance, so being clear in communication is key.

    However, I hear lots of deconstructionist views about relationships, and I would say, John, that this is another. So, how does it positively reinforce the relationship and strengthen it by lessening any type of commitment (a constructivist argument). You’ve done a good job at constructing solid gay marriage arguments, but I don’t know if there is a solid constructive argument to: let’s play married before we marry (As you note, if they are serious about the relationship, then take the act of making it serious by getting engaged)

    This is by far the “normal” for many couples now (to live together before marriage), and it is often done within the guise of this will strengthen our “future” marriage/relationship, or it will help us understand one another more so that we can get out to this thing while we still can sans divorce.

    Living together does not make this any more possible than before because the couple has to be committed to the relationship, and living together (or having sex) is not always a sign of commitment. It can be, but it is not a de facto case of commitment.

    I would say to this young couple that they ought to do the serious work of building a relationship before they try to build a home. If the relationship is there, then moving in together will be just fine and they are well on a road to a happy future together. If it is not there, then moving in together could be disastrous.

    Any maybe the parents can see this but the son cannot. (But, based on the letter I would be willing to bet the parents are just emotionally knee-jerking the situation)

  • Barbara Rice

    I don’t think marriage is the real issue here. As I read it, the issue is the parents telling their son he’s going straight to hell if he lives his life differently from how they believe he should.

  • Matt

    Yeah–that is bad. But if that is the case, then I would say the title of this post is misleading.

  • Elizabeth

    I remember it as someone complaining about your Big Words, and I said that’s why I read you. Either way, I take full responsibility. A little Webster never hurt anyone!

  • Thanks, you guys, very much.

  • mike moore

    I had the same threats, and a few more, leveled at me by my parents when I came out and a year later moved in with my BF. Given what you’ve written, your Mom is not going to change her attitude – which needs a major adjustment – without some tantrums, kicking, and screaming.

    I found the simple and semi-cordial strategy of Disconnection to be very helpful. I’m too hot-headed to have pulled it off successfully 100% of the time, but when I did pull it off, it worked well. Give it a look:

    Step 1: Disconnect.

    Example: “Hi Mom, sorry you feel the way you do, we’ll miss you’ll being a part of our family, but I feel the problem is with you, not us. Really sorry you’ll miss our house-warming party, so many great people will be there. I know God still loves you, though, and so do I, bye.”

    Note the turn-around … you must dismantle her arsenal of threats and punishments ( the threat of disowning you; making you feel guilty for harming her when you are only following your own heart; you’re going to Hell, etc..) Remove her weapons, and see how she responds.

    By saying, if you do indeed believe it, “God still loves you, though, and so do I,” you make a clear statement to her that her threat of hellfire has no effect on you (even if it does.) Think of it as a declaration of your spiritual independence from her and of your belief that she does not speak for God nor does she act as the conduit between you and God.

    Be clear that she has ZERO power to “disown” you. You do know that don’t you? (hug)

    Be clear that, as a loving couple in their 20’s, you and your GF are now building your own family … and that your Mom is the one walking out of YOUR family. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of your Mom — and perhaps other members of your family — learning that you and your girlfriend are now your own family, one which your Mom can choose to be a part of, or not, and that your life and family will move forward, with or without her. She needs to know her departure is sad for you, but not a thing you consider a punishment.

    Step 2: Equally important, stay disconnected.

    Stay away from the phone. No checking in. No revisiting the same argument over and over again. Don’t respond to emails or letters (or familial interventionists) in which she talks about how you’ve harmed her and wrecked her family and made her suffer. Rarely can rational conversation be had with someone determined to be a martyr.

    With my Mom and Dad, it took 9 months of zero communication for them to finally move past the threats/tears/guilt-trips/dogma and actually communicate. However, it was Thanksgiving and Christmas that became the ultimate deal-breakers for my Mom. My parents refused invite or welcome my partner into their home, and so I did not visit their home, ever, though my partner and I made sure to always invite them to our home for holidays and such. After 3 years of no holidays, I got the “how could you do this to your family?” phone call. I responded that “my family”– our friends and family members who accepted and loved us just as we were — had had a great holiday, though it would’ve been even better if they had joined us. Both statements were true.

    Step 3: Don’t pretend on these things. Actually begin building the family you would like. Your girlfriend. Your good friends. Supportive family members. Your family is so much bigger than blood.

    Work through this with your Mom, now – for good or bad. Let’s say you and your girlfriend cave on this issue … what’s your Mom’s next move? Obey her forever or go to hell? Telling you what church to attend or forcing attendance should you and your mate stop going? How to treat your girlfriend/wife? How to raise and school your kids?

    Consider that your Mom may never come around.

    And, if I may, two more things: never allow your Mom to vilify your girlfriend or to hassle her … it’s your job to run interference and protect your GF from rude family.

    Also, and it’s really tough, but I know my brother played the “grandkids card” to keep my parents in check … when they got rude about his wife, whom they kinda disliked, he simply said, “I can’t risk you speaking to the grandkids about their Mom and me in the way you speak to us. You’ll never know your grandkids if you keep this up. It’s your decision.”

    Good luck, I know this sucks.

  • Barbara Rice

    Mmmm – yeah, I see your point about that. But it’s also a lead-in to the heart of it, I think – “How bad IS it? Is it go-directly-to-hell bad? You-can’t-take-communion bad? Or is it just you’re-not-sitting-with-the-grownups-at holidays bad”?

  • Elizabeth

    Holy bleep. This is brilliant, Mike. This is a blueprint for every high-stakes family argument ever. *I* needed to read this. Thank you.

  • mike moore

    I believe living together can indeed be a great way to learn if you and your partner are good for the long haul.

    Most simply put, it’s one thing to seriously date a person. It’s another thing entirely to share a life and a bathroom with them, 24/7.

  • mike moore

    How about: I proscribe everyone from using “prescribe” when they mean “proscribe.”

  • Paula

    You didn’t SAY this John, but ohmigosh, it sure happens in a lot of relationships between Christians. How many of them end up MARRIED, because they slept together, or want to sleep together? They get married way too young — because they can’t keep their hands off each other and they think that means they’re ready for marriage.

    I don’t know what’s going on with this young man, but I assume they aren’t getting married yet because they don’t want to get married yet. Please don’t urge them to hurry up in order to patch things up with the in-laws. Something must be telling them to hold off — and I think that’s likely to be the voice of wisdom.

  • jesse

    Wow. That is stunningly full of logic. Is there any truer test of a relationship than a long car trip?!?!

    Btw, you are one of my favourite posters here. You are made of win.

  • This.

  • Rachel G.

    This is brilliant, however, it did not work with mine. We’re going on thirty years of disconnect; my nieces and nephews are strangers to me, I don’t know my cousin’s married names. You do have to pick your battles and be content with what you wish for. It has been a matter of who will blink first, and I’m happy with the life I have created. And I did it on my own terms.

  • *like*

  • Rachel G.

    I, too, remember that advice. Going anywhere together, that neither has been before, is a faster way to get to the answer than living together. A completely different environment brings out the true self, how you handle, or not, any crisis, how you treat strangers, etc.

  • Allie

    No advice, just wanted to offer my sympathy. I still have a scar on my foot from very suddenly hiding under my husband’s bed when his mother showed up during a time period when he was pretending we weren’t sleeping together to appease his mother’s puritanical beliefs. Note: giving your mom a key to your apartment so she can feed your cat when you take camping trips only works with certain types of moms. And the type of mom who just walks in as if she lives there without knocking or calling first is NOT that type of mom. So there I am, stark naked, trying not to breathe, with one inch of clearance between the top of my nose and the bedsprings, and a massive gash on my foot from the metal bedframe, while she snoops around pretending to offer to do his laundry so she can peek into his closet, because she can tell by his demeanor that something’s up and he wants to get rid of her.

    Yeah. Anyway, if you had pushed me at that age, the grand old age of 20, to stop my sinful ways and marry the man of my choice, I would have picked the OTHER guy I was dating. Who I hear from occasionally. Today he’s about as appealing to me as a worn-out shoe by the side of the road. I would have made the wrong choice. Because I was 20, and 20 is not an age when most people have an abundance of good sense.

    I don’t even slightly regret not settling down earlier. And I don’t believe either he or I sinned, with sin defined as “treating other people as you don’t want to be treated.”

    One thing I will tell you, while we were slathering my foot in neosporin and bandaids, we had a little talk about his mother, and shortly after that he told her that while he had lived under her roof, he had followed her rules, but under his roof he was going to follow his own rules, and that meant sometimes he would have overnight guests and she needed to call first. Continue to be honest with your parents. It’s not doing anyone any favors to pretend to believe things you don’t believe.

  • Diana A.

    “And what I’ve been generally recommending to such people is that, if it’s true, they tell their parents that they still believe in Jesus. That’s what parents really want to know: they’re much less concerned with their child getting Jesus wrong than they are with them altogether abandoning Jesus.”

    Makes me grateful for my mom. When I was in my twenties and wondering if I was still a Christian, my mom would say “Well, do you believe in Jesus?”

    Me: Yes.

    My mom: Then you’re still a Christian.

    And eventually I realized that she was right.

  • Diana A.

    It depends on how desperate the individuals are to keep the relationship. Sometimes women (in particular–men may do this too) tolerate things in living together that they wouldn’t tolerate in a marital relationship because they’re so desperate to get that ring.

    Of course, as marriage becomes less of a status symbol for women, this will change (one hopes.)

  • jesse

    i agree to a point, but there are still some things that you only learn through living with someone else. Are you the type to walk in the door, throw your clothes on the back of the sofa, and feed the dogs? Does your partner mind or does it drive them crazy? Even the little things like that can end up adding up.

  • Jill H

    Good luck on that front, Mike.

    My brain expands with each post. Having to look up the Big Words is just an interactive bonus.

  • Jill H

    If I ever grow up, can I be as wise as you?

  • mike moore

    My brain exploded years ago. Now I take the ‘Wizard of Oz’ scarecrow approach … as my brain leaks out, I just stuff more straw between my ears.

  • Jill H

    Aw, thanks Diana for putting that out here. That made me get teary, but in the good way. That’s one cool mom.

  • mike moore

    I understand the words and reality of what you write … but I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t people work it out as it comes up?

    I have a friend whose wife – whom I adore and who is totally fun – is a total slob in the bathroom. Make-up and hair stuff all over the bath counter, underwear and clothes laying around, wet towels everywhere, etc.

    We mock her ruthlessly, of course, but my buddy told me that the bathroom mess drove him insane, and he was so glad they lived together first … that’s how he knew they’d need a home in which she had her own sacred space, her own bathroom and closet, spaces upon which he could simply close the doors.

    They remain one of happiest couples I know, and he never gets close to her bathroom.

  • n.

    So wish i had done these things when i got married. to a person of the opposite gender, but who rescued me from my dysfunctional family, some of whom never forgave him for that. You came out as gay… i came out as a separate person, wanting to live with *another* separate person. I’m not sure my mother could have reacted any worse if i had come out as lesbian, which (if you knew her homophobia level) would be saying a lot.

    Anyway i ended up doing the disconnecting things late… Thankfully not too late for our marriage. But literally too late for me to ever reconcile with my mother.

  • n.

    That kind of means it *did* work. You protected your current family from the other one. That part, according to your last 2 phrases, seems to be working.

  • n.

    Yeah i could totally see somebody other than my dh being way less (or not at all) patient with my hoarding. Not sure if that’s the kind of OCD you meant but that’s one kind in this house. And i had to figure out that i cared more about him than about stuff. But it’s still taking me a long time to get rid of it. He appreciates that i even try though. Some guys would have brought home a dumpster the first year (month?) and we’re going on 7yrs of working on everything gradually.

  • mike moore

    Your Mom sounds great.

  • Lymis

    Oh, I wouldn’t make it an either/or. I fully support living together before marriage, but after a serious commitment.

    And it helps to practice a wide-eyed innocent look and staring straight into people’s eyes and saying, “Whatever gave you the idea that we were sleeping together? Goodness, do you ask everyone that? Why, how is YOUR sex life?”

  • mike moore

    A 30 year estrangement is sad, and my heart goes out to you.

    You didn’t write much, but it sounds like there was no ‘blink’ involved. If you left the door open for family to accept you, or at least create a familial detente, then that’s all you really could’ve done.

    Most importantly, you’ve done what so few people are able to do … create a life which makes you happy, and on your own terms. Your new family – no matter if its just you or a multitude of friends – sounds like one of which to be proud xoxoxo.

  • nice post…of course, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to NOT live together before getting married…but that’s just me…and I have no moral scruples about any sort of sex between any (enthusiastically) consenting adult individuals at any time….that’s my caveat…ENTHUSIASTIC consent ;-)…oh, and adult…yes, that one too.

  • I used to work with great older black christian lady who said “The only thing nasty about sex is if you ain’t gettin’ any!”. God bless her heart!

  • I’m a Methodist and couldn’t care less what people do as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Jesus didn’t condemn anyone and anyone who does is waaaaaaay out of line as far as I’m concerned.

  • Whestley Spangler via Facebook

    Are you asking the question through a wormhole from 1955?

  • Pat Hux via Facebook

    Great answer, John. My son has lived with his girl friend since 2007. I love her like a daughter. I have no problem with it (but my church friends would, if I were still in church, which I’m not). I don’t think Jesus has a problem with it either.

  • Matt Muecke via Facebook

    It should be mandatory.

  • QK

    “…weapons in some epic battle in World War Stupid”. Classic line.

  • The point of not living together before kind seems silly when you then find out you can not stand living with each other?

  • Robert Morwell

    The overwhelming majority of couples who come to me (yeah, I’m a minister) have been living together. Neither my own observations, nor marriage statistics, validate the claim that living together before marriage offers serious insurance that the marriage will succeed. In fact, there are studies that indicate that coyuples who live together before marriage have a HIGHER rate of divorce than those who don’t.

    I frequently ask co-habiting couples why they want to get married…why not just keep living together?

    I often get rather blank looks or fumbling attemots to explain why they just feel that it’s time. So, I offer what I suspect is their rationale. Living together arrangments are founded on their disposability. The assumption is that they will be emotionally and financially less messy to dissolve. Neither assumption is actually that safe in real life, but they are common. But, there comes a time when the partners don;t wish to feel so disposable, and seek the reassurance of a more formal and binding (though certainly not indestructible) relationship.

    But, when you change the foundation of the relationship, you change the relationship. That change is not usually instantaneous and dramatic, but it IS inevitable. And some couples find themselves surprised by the changes. They assumed they had marriage all figured out because they had lived together. The assumption makes them complacent, and the changes can prove to be even more disquieting, as a result. Some folks don’t recover.

    A relationship posited on its disposability may well be a house built on sand.

  • Abso-friggin-lutely. My wife’s grandpa always said happiness in marriage comes down to two things: toothpaste and toilet paper. Do they roll the toothpaste from the bottom or squeeze from the middle? Do they hang the TP from the outside or the inside? Do they like the same kind of each? My wife and I compromised on Scott Extra Soft.

  • tavdy79

    In situations like this, I ALWAYS go straight for Romans 14. Usually it’s in reference to the “gay sex = sin?” debate, but it applies equally to premarital cohabitation, drinking alcohol, equality of the sexes, wearing clothes of more than one fabric, or any number of other similar debates.

    (For the record, the clothes I’m currently wearing are made of cotton, linen, hemp, wool, leather, nylon, polyester, polycarbonate, steel, brass, rubber, resin, strontium aluminate and scorpion, so I well and truly break the “clothes of more than one fabric” rule. The strontium aluminate & scorpion are a glow-in-the-dark pendant, if you’re wondering. Anyway, back on track…)

    My understanding of Romans 14, taken together with Acts 10 vs. 9-16, is that we should be obedient to what we believe God’s will is, not what others tell us it is. “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then FOR THAT PERSON it is unclean.” (Rom 14 vs. 14, NIV, emphasis mine.)

    This is the entire point of the cross: there’s no way any human could obey every single law in the Torah – the simple fact that we are imperfect prevents it. Even the greatest Old Testament heroes – Abraham, Moses, David, etc. – failed in some way or other. But the cross provides a way for sin to be forgiven, so that our ability to obey God’s law is no longer relevant. What counts is our love for God, expressed through obedience to our personal and individual understanding of what God’s law is. Your mother evidently regards cohabitation as sinful, and so it is – for her. You evidently don’t, and so it isn’t – for you. The cross totally demolished the “one size fits all” type of legalism that still has conservative Christians trapped after almost two thousand years. It has been made totally irrelevant.

    That said, attention does have to be brought to Rom 14 vs. 15: “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.” This verse could seem to put the kybosh on your plans, since your mother is clearly distressed at you living with your partner. However that isn’t necessarily the case: if you take time to explain to your mother this understanding of scripture, using Romans 14 and other passages to back up your position, she will hopefully come to realise that it isn’t necessarily a wrong decision, and cease being distressed.

    You won’t necessarily even have to explain why you don’t think cohabiting is wrong, only why she doesn’t need to fret about it. If she accepts this then she will be less likely to be distressed over any potential issues in the future, and more free to enjoy her relationship with you both.

  • In case anyone cares (and hasn’t read it before) here’s a short thing about my wife Cat and I on the morning following the day of our wedding–which came after some three years of our living together.

    The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

  • Elizabeth

    I loved this one. You and Cat give me hope for the institution of marriage. Yours is just so… cool. The comment thread is also classic.

  • Matt

    Ditto. Gotta love a pair of people who flip the world the bird and keep on loving.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m actually OK with this to a point. Deciding to live together is a big decision, but it’s not “’til death do us part.” As the link John just added clarifies, going from cohabitation to married feels different. You don’t take off the tux and the dress and go back to what you had before.

    I draw the line at disposable, though. The couple in question are taking this decision and its effect on their families very seriously. Many people are in committed relationships — real, valid, supportive partnerships — without rings. Sometimes those relationships last forever. Sometimes they don’t, just as with married couples. That doesn’t mean the integrity of love in those relationships is inferior. Living together may not be the best “test drive” for marriage, but it’s a commitment of its own.

  • Jill H

    Man, if you two couldn’t BE any cuter?! Holy cats. (Is that a touch of Elvis in that smile?)

  • Ruth

    Sinfulness aside, I have mixed feelings about living together.

    It’s a good idea: You should know what it is like to live together, day in and day out, with that person. You need to know whether you can share all of the same personal space. How much their nasty habits oog you out. Whether you can divide chores fairly. You will never, ever know this unless you live with this person.

    It’s a bad idea: You can remain the relationship far longer than you should out of sheer inertia. You share a year lease on the place, moving is a pain, finding a new place is a hassle, and all that.

    And as for what Robert Morwell said above, “I frequently ask co-habiting couples why they want to get married…why not just keep living together?”

    I think there are different levels of trusting another person and being invested in a relationship, and different people hit those levels at different times. There is emotional intimacy, and there is sex. There is living one’s life together in a shared household, and there is combining one’s finances and operating as a single economic unit. There is having children, and planning a shared future.

    For me, marriage marks the first point when you operate as a single economic unit, plan a shared future, and feel ready for children. For others, marriage includes all of those things, plus sex and a shared household. On the other hand, I knew of a couple who married, maintained separate households, and raised several kids together that way. Some people marry and never have sex.

    So, marriage is what you make of it. Any of those definitions is fine, I think, as long as you and your significant other both wholeheartedly agree on what you want at that time, and how you view marriage.

  • vj

    “Rarely can rational conversation be had with someone determined to be a martyr.”

    THIS I need to remember… 😉

  • mike moore

    if one starts out with a blase’ “sure, why not…” attitude, but 20-30 minutes later finds oneself highly enthusiastic, does that still count?

  • Jill H

    Well, one would hope!

  • SG and I lived together approximately four months, but it was what you said to me, John, that helped me understand that an intimate relationship was a big enough deal to warrant a more formal commitment.

  • I don’t see anything wrong with it…I think it’s good to live together before getting married. You start to become a bit closer to the person if you really love them, and plus you are thinking about marrying them, so….You obviously have to get used to living together if you’re going to put up with all of their crap. :DDD Have to see if you really want to spend that time with them in marriage, and you have to know how to fix the problems you both come across in that time of living together before marriage. If you can’t solve them/deal with them as a couple or come to some kind of peace, then I don’t think the marriage is really worth it.

  • Jill H

    This reply never stops being awesome. I’ve resorted to turning pages like this one into too many of my Favorites links.

  • Elizabeth

    not really wondering,

    Esther 2:16-17. Ten months of cohabitation and a night of premarital sex so good he marries her immediately. Of course, the young man above doesn’t *have* to keep a second house for his concubines. And I really hope he doesn’t wage war against his girlfriend. She’d be a prophet and feminist icon and he’d… still live in the twenty-first century. My cat is named Esther. That’s as pertinent as yours. Fetch me a verse.

  • vj

    Or, how about Exodus 21:7-11. A man could have a female slave (specifically *not* a wife), but “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.” (v10). So, even under Moses it was at least not unheard of for a man and a woman to live together without being married (but, by implication, having sex – if the slave was entitled to marital rights when the man eventually married, I’m guessing she would have been expected to do more than just cook and clean…). There is also an OT story of the Levite and his concubine. This was in the days of women being treated as property. In the modern era, when women are legally independent – surely they can make up their own minds?

    God-honoring sexual ethics is more about acting with integrity and not dishonoring one another (through deception, cheating, false promises, etc) than about ‘putting a ring on it’ (which is in itself no guarantee of fidelity, etc). Can it be good to wait until marriage, to stay together until death? Well, of course (it’s working pretty well for me, so far) – but people need to be free to choose what’s good for them. If both parties are in honest agreement about the status of the relationship, then what business is it of anyone else? The guy is 25, not 15 – his mother needs to mind her own business and stop her manipulative tactics…

  • mike moore

    (needle-scratch sound-effect) wait ….what? I’m just now hitting your favorites list?!

    that’s like being so far down on your speed-dial favorites that you still have to scroll 7 pages before getting to my name! And there I thought we were going cyber steady. I guess I now know you’re just not a one-guy kind-of-gal … untamable like the sea …. fly free, butterfly.

  • jesse

    Your last paragraph is a HUGE part of why i don’t get why folks are so appalled by same-sex relationships. Because you KNOW they can’t get past the “sex” part of “homosexuality”. Who spends their time obsessing about the sex lives of complete strangers?! That’s just flat-out creepy!

  • Jill H

    Oh, jealous much?! 😉

    (Note my exact words were “too many”, as in, too many of *your* posts have made it in *my* favorites.)

    Although I am fairly untamable it’s true, I’m still all yours…

  • mike moore

    me? jealous? never. Just making sure I don’t end up sleeping on the sofa (again.)

  • Jill H

    You’re way too cute to throw out on the sofa again.

  • Eugene A

    I loved your response on this topic as it seems to be a mega issue for us Christians. Like you said it primarily boils down to abstinence/purity which in my upbringing was just about the best thing you could do outside of performing miracles. I was wondering if anyone on here has some verses they can share that maybe tell a different side (I know John made mention of them in the response) of the premarital sex issue than the one I heard growing up. Thanks.

  • Erin D.

    This is a tough one. At 23 I was not strong enough to tell my parents to shove it, so my poor darling hubby rented a room in a friend-of-a-friend’s house so we could keep up the appearance of having separate residences, but of course he was at my place every night until we got married and he could move in the few possessions that were not already at my place, LOL. Now I’m in my mid-30s and if I was just now meeting “the One” I think I would laugh if my parents gave me some mumbo-jumbo about morality and blahbadeblah. Could NEVER have done that at 23! Where you are in your life and in your own self-journey makes a big difference. I think I was one of the last people to manage to not live together before marriage, but of course we were already “active” and “sleeping over” so it was really just a sham. I won’t expect my kids to live a sham.

  • Erin D.

    wow, great story, thanks for sharing!

  • Erin D.

    Ohh, so true…my husband and I joke that our kids are “The Great Equalizers.” After 10 years of giving us a hard time about this, that, and the other thing, they are BLISSFULLY QUIET on all those things they said they couldn’t stand about us. Thank you Jesus for children! 😀

  • Erin D.

    “They” being my parents. Whoops!

  • Erin D.

    I’d argue that living together before marriage as a “test” is only a true “test” so long as the parties still have an easy enough “out” if things aren’t going the greatest. If their lives, possessions, animals, etc, become too intertwined, it’s too much work to get out and they’ll be more likely to plod along and keep telling themselves it’s a great relationship, even if it’s not. So that is one reason why I think living together leads to more divorces down the road. I’ve seen it happen that way!

    And what’s the deal with unmarried people buying HOUSES together?! That to me seems like a very dangerous thing indeed. Even getting a pet together makes you feel like you have to stay together even if it’s not the best idea. No mortgage before a marriage! Just my thoughts.

  • In the Middle Ages (in England, I believe), didn’t the priest visit the outlier villages only now and then? My CHurch history told me “once a year”.

    So what people did was convene the people of the village and jump over a broom.

    And the priest would bless it at his next visit.

    First of all, the Church did not invent marriage. It pre-existed Christianity and even most religions.

    I believe that what is important here is the intent, the honesty.

    Now, I really don’t know what to say about your parents.

  • Church history professor, sorry.

    To be a priest, you had to know how to read. Not so common in the Middle Ages.

  • LVZ

    Though I respect Robert’s opinion, he’s treading close to the Victorian idea that marriage is a one-size-fits-all good idea for everyone, and cohabitation is a no-size-fits-anybody bad idea for anyone. I know of two couples who met at church, had completely chaste courtships, and moved in together after marrying. Their marriages fell apart after a year or two when they realized the only thing they had in common was they went to the same church.

    On the other side of the coin, I know of one fellow who dated a woman who flirts with everyone. They moved in together, and she kept flirting… but he persuaded himself that she would change if they got married. They got married, and she didn’t change. Last I heard they were still married, but his jealous rages only make her behavior worse. It turned out that getting married brought out the worst in them, not the best.

    After my wife and I got engaged, we both lost our jobs six months before the wedding. We could no longer afford two apartments, so we moved in together. We took some heat for that from my conservative family, but (I later learned) none of them were planning on coming to our wedding anyway! We’ve been happily married for over ten years.

    People are complex creatures. Every person is different, and every relationship is different. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, and vice versa. Before making any decision about cohabitation or marriage, the couple must look at the situation realistically, talk with each other, and pray.

  • Mark B.

    Even if it is a sin, aren’t we all sinners forgiven by God? Doesn’t God have more to worry about than cohabitation and pre-marital sex?

  • Rick

    Good thing the poor guy is not GAY and living with his BOYFRIEND. His mom might conclude that he IS Satan.

  • Rick

    …and regarding changing beliefs/theology, my mom found out recently that I’d stopped going to church. I came to realize that I’ve been hurt by the religious culture far too many times to continue within it’s ridiculous boundaries.

    Her words to me were (note: my two younger brothers also do not attend a church): “I’ve lost another son.”

    Bear in mind that my mom and I have a fairly deep mother-son relationship. But because I – still a person of very deep faith – do not participate in any religious body, she has somehow concluded that she’s lost me.

    I really don’t get it.

    Some people, I guess, are just so steeped in their religious culture that they cannot discern reality when it bites them on the nose.

  • Jennifer Vance

    Thank you for the laugh. Now, about that soda that shot out of my nose when I read your comment…..

  • Rick

    LOL, Jennifer. Glad it wasn’t milk. That is SINK-KEEEE!!! 😉

  • Rick

    …should have read: STINK-keeeee

  • Jonathan

    Sin is sin. One cannot say, “Surely God has more to worry about than pre-marital sex and the like”. Sin is sin because whatever the sin it means you are disobeying God and not following his way. And no, we are not all forgiven by God. Only those who surrender themselves to Christ and ACCEPT that he died on the cross for THEIR sin will be forgiven and made clean in the eyes of the Lord. But you cannot use Christ’s sacrifice as your scapegoat to continue living in your sin. That would defeat the purpose of accepting that you are living your life wrong. Sure, even when we try to walk in his footsteps we still fall short, but it is a day by day commitment that we must strive to give up the ways of the world and follow him. As for pre-marital sex, that is a very great abomination of God’s will. Read the Bible if you really actually want to get an idea of just how big sexual sin is. You need to understand what God’s will is and his intent and purpose for the things he created, such as sex. We can either honour him in the life he gave us, or we can disgrace ourselves.

  • I’m just gonna guess that you believe it’s a sin for a man to live with a woman before they get married. Because you find evidence for that conviction in the Bible … well, you tell me where.

  • Anakin McFly

    Cohabitation =/= sex. I cohabitated with my parents for years and sure as hell didn’t have sex with them. I’m currently living with a girl and, nope, no sex happening either. (Admittedly that’s mostly because I’m gay.)

  • Elizabeth

    So much Paul I can’t even see straight. I’m abstinent and, frankly, tired of anyone promoting it as a virtue. I can accomplish fucking with the best of them. It’s, um, not hard. You’re looking for Mary of Magdala and, unfortunately, you found her. Educated women called whores are kind of my specialty.

  • Andy

    This is a great idea.

  • rhianna8

    This comment made me laugh considerably also!!