“Human love does not tolerate “trial marriage.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another.” (CCC 2391)
Cohabitation, living together in a sexual-relationship before marriage, or “trial marriages” do not ensure sincerity and fidelity between a couple as marriage does. These arrangements are most often preceded by premature sexual relations. While it is popular for couples to live together before marriage in society, we are called to a different way. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” (Genesis 2:24)
This topic can also be difficult for parents to discuss with their children because they know family members who are cohabitating or parents themselves may have done this. It is still important to discuss with children though, so they have a full understanding of the impact of their choices.
Discussing cohabitation and why it is morally problematic with your child during high school is a way to get ahead of this issue. Your discussion can set clear expectations early, before it is a possible source of confusion or contention. Brainstorm with your child the practical issues that may make your child consider cohabitation in the future and what possible solutions to those could be (ex/helping them start a savings account that they can access to help with housing in the future).
Some parents find it difficult to talk with their children about cohabitation because they lived with someone before they were married too. If you’re in this situation, consider that this is an opportunity to be vulnerable with your child, and share with them if you have regrets about your decision and the concerns you have for them entering into this type of relationship. Consider talking it out with a trusted friend or parish staff member to help you process your feelings on the subject before speaking with your child.
If your child comes to you and shares that they plan to live with their boyfriend or girlfriend, what can you do? First, ask how they came to that decision. Listen, without interruption, to their story. Ask them clarifying questions, if needed. Then consider offering options that could meet some of the concerns that brought them to this decision. Share why you would ask them to wait until they are married to live together and what your rationale for that is. Why this subject matters to you personally will likely go much further with your child than a simple “because the Church says so.” Then let them digest the information. Ask if you can get together another time, perhaps over a meal, to discuss this further. Encourage them to not only discuss these points, but also to pray about them. Let them know you will be praying for them as well.
If your child is already living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, what now? Start with prayer. Pray for them and the situation. When talking with your child, speak from a place of love. Let them know that you—and the Church—desperately want what is best for them and that you would like them to reconsider their current living situation. Ask them why they think this is the best choice for them as a couple, how it is helping them grow in holiness, and what is making them choose this instead of marriage. Actively listen to their feedback. Consider if there are resources or options you or your parish could offer them to help them in this decision. If needed, you may want to share the statistics that show that couples who cohabitate, then marry, are not promising. Also, review the articles on cohabitation below and share them with your child when you feel they are most open to listening.
Want to learn more?
Learn more about Sexual Education
Learn more about Discernment
Learn more about Sex Before Marriage