Catholic teaching now has further research to back its unpopular guidelines that say couples had better hold off until after the wedding to share a roof.
The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, surveyed more than 1,000 married men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 who had been married 10 years or less.
Here’s what lead researcher Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver and colleagues found out: Couples who move in with each other without a firm commitment to marriage often tie the knot after several months or a few years without having made a clear and conscious choice to commit themselves forever to the other person.
They base their decision on other things in their relationship such as the cool living room set and the 40-inch plasma TV — not on the desire to grow old with the person snoring beside them. Sometimes more deliberation was spent on choosing the color and style of the bridesmaids’ dresses than on marriage itself and whether or not the commitment has sticking power.
Ironically, the whole "try before you buy" logic doesn’t hold up in this study or in another one led by Rhodes. The latter was published in the February issue of the Journal of Family Issues and featured by senior writer Jeanna Bryner on LiveScience.com.
Writes Bryner: "Those who listed ‘testing’ as the primary move-in reason were more likely than others to score high on measures of negative communication such as ‘my partner criticizes or belittles my opinions, feelings or desires.’ Such testers also had lower confidence in the quality and stability of their relationships.
"Overall, those who want to test the commitment might want to think again, according to the February study."
Why do as many as 70 percent of American couples move in with each other?
More than 60 percent listed "spending more time together" as the top reason, followed by 19 percent who ranked financial savings as the primary objective. Only 14 percent said they wanted to test-drive the relationship.
Of Rhodes’ 1,000 participants, 40 percent did not live together before getting married, 43 percent did and another 16 percent waited until they were engaged.
Says Bryner of LiveScience: "Those who moved in with a mate before engagement or marriage reported significantly lower-quality marriages and a greater potential for split-ups than other couples. For instance, about 19 percent of those who cohabited before getting engaged had ever suggested divorce compared with just 12 percent of those who only moved in together after getting engaged and 10 percent of participants who did not cohabit prior to the wedding bells."
After reading these statistics I was curious about how the teaching arm of the Catholic Church has incorporated studies such as this one into its message to young adults. I found the following item on USCCB’s Web site. Titled "Why Isn’t It Good to Lie Together Before Marriage?" it states in its conclusion:
"Many young people … want an intimate and enduring relationship where they can share their deepest dreams and desires. In a misguided effort to achieve this intimacy, they often enter into a cohabiting relationship. In so doing, they undermine their chances of attaining the very thing they most want.
"The Catholic Church understands this quest for intimacy, which God himself has placed within the human heart. Sexual expression is a means of achieving marital intimacy, where the spouses are committed to each other and to the marital relationship.
"The Catholic Church has consistently taught this truth, and social science research now confirms it."
Therese Borchard is a columnist for Catholic News Service.