Love Month: The Beginning and End of Marriage

February 16, 2011

Well, the big, gross day of chocolate and hand-holding and cooties is over.  Did everyone make it out okay?  I think we all survived.

Now that everyone’s coming off their candy heart induced love stupors, I’m throwing out a montage blog, all about the tender beginnings and not-so-tender endings of marriages.  Now that people live so much longer before and after their marriages, it’s worth thinking about what we do with all the time we’re not in love with someone.

Test Driving the Car

When my wife and I got engaged, we rented an apartment, got some furniture together, and even bought a new bed and sheets.  It just made financial sense so we weren’t paying two rents, and we were eager to get our own place.  We were all set and ready to start our new life together…Then I promptly moved back in with my parents while she lived at the apartment until the wedding day.  Being the first time in five years that all four people in my family had lived together, those four months were, to put it delicately, hell on earth.

You thought we shacked up, didn’t you?  Well, we didn’t…but, I did come over to the apartment to sleep…while she was at work, and I was between seminary classes.  Ha, psych again.  Those two hours in that brand new bed were the best sleep I could get, since there was just a futon for me at my place, which was little more than a sticky hospital mattress balanced on some junkyard scrap wood.  I was very eager to get married, and sleep on a real bed again.  My back was in terrible shape after our engagement.

And when I told a new friend about how we didn’t live together before we got married, she thought that was “cute.”

Cute.  I didn’t quite take that as a compliment.

“Cute” is something naive, innocent children do.  It’s not something serious adults who are planning a lifelong committment together do.  I really didn’t know what to say.  But that’s where we are today.  Declining to “test drive the car” before you buy it is considered “cute,” if not a little naive.

As much as pastors won’t admit it, there’s probably not a lot of ammo in the Bible against co-habitating.  Except, have you ever known a co-habitating couple that wasn’t also co-fornicating?  Probably not.  I just don’t get why people want to get everything over with.  When I was a kid, I really wanted to grow up, and my parents warned me that you only get to be a kid once, so enjoy it.  Well, you only get to be newlyweds with someone once too.  If you really get along with someone, I ask why would you want to take that very short newlyweds phase, and get it over with by moving in together beforehand?

Kiss Dating Hello

Of course, for some people, co-habitation isn’t even a question, because dating is entirely off limits.  These people “kissed dating good-bye,” and good riddance.

Let’s face it, dating isn’t always a lot of fun.  But I actually think dating has a big advantage.

You can dump someone.  And you can get dumped.  I think almost everyone should dump someone and get dumped at least once in their life.  I know, ironic that dating’s biggest advantage also really isn’t fun. 

I followed my first girlfriend around like a pathetic lost dog, just trying to make sure I was doing everything right, so she wouldn’t dump me.  It’s a really good thing she dumped me.  I learned that following a girl around like a pathetic lost dog doesn’t make a girl respect you.

My next girlfriend almost constantly disappointed me.  She was a daily exercise in re-evaluating (read: lowering) my standards.  I think the turning point for me was my birthday, when she tossed a cheap, thoughtlessly unwrapped gift in my lap, and then asked for a shoulder rub.  Girl knew how to make a guy feel important on his birthday.  It’s a really good thing I dumped her.  I learned that it’s okay to have standards, and not put up with some slacker who never meets them.

And those are two real world “teachable moments,” that I probably couldn’t get any other way.  Maybe you married the first person you dated, but I think my marriage is better because I dumped and got dumped first.

Another Weird Phase

It was really weird when my circle of friends started getting girlfriends.  Then it was weird when our friends started getting married.  Even weirder was when they started popping out kids.  Now my friends are moms and dads.  But weirdest of all is that I’m now entering the phase where some of our friends are divorcing.  I thought that was something all you older people did.  But even the small world of Christian blogging has sad announcements of divorce recently.  If you know who I’m talking about, I don’t need to spread the word.  It’s not like I even know these people as friends, but it really troubles and affects me to see the marriages around me crumble.  I thought our generation would be different.  Didn’t we all?

It used to be that pastors could rant and rave about how God hates divorce, and it would maybe hurt one person in the audience.  Now, any sermon on divorce is bound to affect half the congregation.  However churches deal with it, the key word is God hates divorce, not people who get divorced.

Well, I’ve thrown three more big topics out there.  Tell us what you think about shacking up.  Is it really against the rules, or was it the best thing you ever did before you got married?  Do platonic coed roommates count as co-habitating?  Did you kiss dating good-bye, or was getting dumped the best thing that ever happened to you?

40 responses to Love Month: The Beginning and End of Marriage

  1. I’m in the phase where a good number of people are getting engaged or popping out babies. (Thankfully, not both at the same time.) For now, dating has kissed me goodbye, but I’m sure we’ll make up sometime in the future.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friends/ acquaintances; it really as a sad and troubling thing to hear. Good thing we have a God fixes broken people in broken relationships. Wishing them the best.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..An Un-pedestrian Experience

  2. It is tough reading about the breakups although I am sure I am not as aware of them as you are since my blog footprint is not as big as yours. To answer your questions: We did not shack up together. Wasn’t even considered an option. Yeah, we were both virgins when we got married. As a pastor, I struggle with this. For the longest time I would not marry anyone who was. Be it right or wrong, I have slacked up on that. I do feel sorry for those who “want their cake and eat it too.” They have nothing to look forward to. how can there be the excitement of learning what the other’s body is like when you just saw it the night before? Second, my wife dumped me twice. I told her when she asked to come back, “Yes, but third time is no charm.” We celebrate 38 years in June. Painful experience (not the marriage but the dumping) but worth it. Good thoughts Matt.

    • That’s awesome, Bill! About marrying people who are living together – I had a prof who said he’d marry them…if they seperated and abstained for the engagement. He actually got a lot of couples who would comply! I guess they really wanted him to officiate, or he was the only pastor in town.

  3. What’s with the “response cached until 11:05 GMT?”

  4. I don’t really see the point in “test driving” by living together for a while. It isn’t the first year or two living together (married or otherwise) that are hard anyway – it’s the 5th of 7th or 9th year living together that you realize “crap, this is hard”. So unless you’re planning to live together for a decade before you get married, you’re not really learning if the relationship can last. And if you DO live together that long before tying the knot, and it gets that hard, why would you stay together if you’re not married? I don’t see how this ever helps. You either go in with a commitment or you don’t go in at all.
    David N. recently posted..Top Five Tuesday- Most Popular Screaming Kettle Posts

    • That’s a great point! Hadn’t thought of that.

    • I don’t know. When we went thru pre-marital counseling, all the other couples (3 of them) were living together. They were all young. And they were all fighting about toilet paper and tooth paste and sharing chores. We never really understood why such issues were worth fighting over. Still don’t. But it sounded like their first months together were hard.

      I don’t know what happened with those couples. We had our 6th anniversary last fall, which isn’t a big deal, but we don’t seem to have ever had the adjustment issues other couples have had.
      Kathryn recently posted..Sunny- snowy Saturday

  5. I don’t like the idea of shacking up, but I don’t think that platonic co-ed roommates are anywhere near the big deal some make it out to be. Particularly in this generation, where people are coming out left and right, if you’re going to have a roommate at any point in your life, there’s a chance he or she could be attracted to you or vice versa. My rule: don’t make out with roommates, because it tends to cause trouble. Unless you’re married. Then… go for it.

    The comments about your friends getting engaged, married and now divorced… I echoed the exact thought to friends this weekend (about my friends, not yours). Which has created a whole new issue in my head: if I really believe in redemption as much as I say I do, then is it more in holding with that line of belief to be open or closed to relationships with divorced men?

    The thought: believing that God can redeem the relationship, I struggle with the idea of a relationship with him until his ex is safely remarried. But believing God redeems individuals, I struggle with the thought that he doesn’t get to be made whole outside of his first marriage being redeemed.

    I’ve gone around in circles on these questions involving a theoretical guy… Thoughts?

  6. That first time you are dumped, you have such little perspective in life that you think the world is literally going to end. Its good to experience it so that you can see later on just how stupid you are and how there are bigger fish to fry in life.
    Jeremy Statton recently posted..Eye surgery

  7. My husband and I did shack up a few months before our wedding. I had lost my job, and he was paying my mortgage and his rent, which was getting to be too much. So, he moved in with me. It didn’t take long for the Holy Spirit to convict us. So, a couple months before our big wedding we secretly got married at the county courthouse. 80) We still had a big ceremony less than 2 months later, even though it was basically for pretend – but very few people knew that.
    Sarahbeth recently posted..Valentines Day Dinner

  8. My dad wrote “Dating with Integrity” which I read to mean: don’t date. But then my wife–who wasn’t my wife at the time–came in an messed everything up. Thankfully, life is better because of it and I’m thankful she did. Now. Then it was just a mess.

    Not totally related, but close to the topic, is that we’ve had a friend of ours living with us practically since we got married. At first it was one of our female friends. Now it’s my best friend (a sweet-awesome dude). So, in that sense, my wife and I have had both male and female roommates in our home. And, honestly, it’s been awesome.

    Luke Holzmann recently posted..Essays

    • Luke, I always took that book to say that we should keep our physical relationship and legal commitment levels in sync with one another. John encouraged group dates, just not the pseudo-marriage that so many dating couples end up living out. Those break-ups are more like divorces (just without the attorneys).

      While the book never gained the attention of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” I still think it’s well worth reading. We may not agree with everything he says, but he makes some very valid points.
      Leslie recently posted..Perfect!

  9. Living together…I always thought of it this way; “I want to see if I want to make an unconditional vow of lifelong love to you and I am going to do that by moving in with you on a conditional basis and make sure that you meet all my expectations and THEN maybe I can love you w/o conditions.” Absurd. Why not say it, that moving in isn’t about the finances, it is about the SEX!
    Brian recently posted..I Don’t Call Quitters

  10. All good stuff , Matt!

    Did you know that “drive before you buy” marriages are more likely to divorce? I think I head that from Jimmy and Karen Evans.

    I also heard that prearranged marriages end up in divorce much less often than others. The reasoning was cultural commitment and lack of unresonable romantic expectations.

    I made a lot of relationship mistakes. I think if I had to do it all over again, I would simply wait for the one. As I watch my 24-year-old doing the dating, dumping and getting dumped scene, I am not so sure this is good experience. She seems a lot happier when she goes out with her guy and girl friends to hang out.

    I am just glad that God prearranged my marriage with Mary Anne. It came via prophetic word from South Africa. She is everything that he said she would be.
    David recently posted..Fixing the Church from Your Pew – Part 2 of Many

  11. The first time I married I had test drove everything. And we really test drove, if you catch my meaning. Looking back after it finally ground to a stop I realized that basis of living together and everything else did nothing but provide a substandard foundation upon which we built a rickety house. That’s why for my second marriage I insisted we didn’t live together until we actually married. I knew the test drive method just didn’t work.
    Jason recently posted..Day 46- Moving the car

  12. Pete and I didn’t co-habit until we were married, even though it meant he had to sleep on a friend’s floor for a month. Of course, that was a long time ago, when waiting was more normal. When our daughter got married in 2008, the florist was astonished to find they weren’t living together during the engagement. They were the first couple she had encountered who waited until after the wedding. She said that made the wedding more special.

    When we go along with the culture in ways like this, we’re missing an opportunity to reflect God’s character to a dark world.

  13. Hi Matt,

    Again you bring up interesting points here– you almost always do.

    Two things puzzle me and I hope you consider addressing them in the future.

    When does a marriage begin? Doesn’t our culture confuse “wedding ceremony” with “marriage”?

    As a history buff, I read that on the American frontier, a circuit rider preacher might come by backwoods communities only once every few years. When he arrived in a settlement, he’d hold a wedding ceremony for couples and baptize their children on that same day. The ceremony formalized an existing marriage.

    Aren’t people married when they say publicly that they intend to live together permanently? Thus, the moving in together constitutes marriage; the wedding ceremony, civil or religious, smooths out stuff like health insurance, etc.

    Doesn’t intercourse constitute a marriage union? Even though a wedding ceremony has taken place, a couple is not considered actually married until there has been consummation.

    Am I wrong in thinking that fornication involves sex with multiple partners, not sex before marriage?

    Just wondering.

    And divorce–isn’t that similar to working on the Sabbath rules? Jesus acknowledge that it was right and proper to observe the Sabbath, yet He did not condemn the guy whose ox or ass fell into a ditch on the Sabbath. He acknowledged that sometimes circumstances overruled the ideal. I wonder if when a person marries and wakes up later to find his ass in the ditch, it’s ok to pull it out.

    Maybe I have that take on things because after 11 years I divorced my first wife (Ginny, my second wife and I have been married for 43 years now).

    Also, I wonder how your Church Of No People advises other people who have been divorced and remarried? That’s a moot question for me because my first wife died about ten years ago. But people do sometimes ask me where to go from where they are.

    Comes down, I think, to did Jesus die to save marriage or people?

    Don’t mean to put you on the spot with these questions, but, since you are dabbling in questions about love this month, I would value your opinion.

    John Cowart

    • Those are incredible questions, John. I don’t think I have a great answer on all of them, but I’m really interested in your point about when marriage begins. It’s a two-edged sword. If consummation seals a marriage, then some would say (I suppose) that is the reason why “pre-marital” sex is unlawful, because it actually isn’t “pre-marital,” it’s the consummation of a marriage (whether the people intend to marry or not.)

      Then again, I think our Christian culture probably assumes the Bible says much more about sex and marriage than it actually does. “Biblical” sex is pretty hard to come by. Most of the examples of sex in the Bible is fornication, incest, and adultery.

      I think we live in the kingdom of grace, and there’s never anything that grace can’t heal. God hates divorce because of the destruction and pain it causes to people. He doesn’t hate people who divorce.

    • I really liked your questions. Very interesting. :)

  14. I watched something the other day that mentioned “something so fragile as love” and I thought I might throw up.

    Not to be cheesy, but my love for my wife is not fragile. Attraction is fragile, feelings are fragile, and happiness is fragile.

    It’s this mentality that’s lead our generation to such a high divorce rate. And the worst part is that it just breeds more divorce. This is why there’s so much co-habitation. People want to experience people past the dates, but they’re basically doing the same thing as divorcing when they live together then separate. I wonder when people will finally admit that the American view of love and marriage is far beyond broken?
    bman recently posted..Adventures of Tiny Superman!

  15. Well, I suppose I’ll stand up for all of out there who lived together before getting married. :)

    Yes, my husband and I did live together (for three years) before getting married. Part of it was indeed financial and part of it was simply that we wanted to be together. We already spent practically every waking moment together, so why not make it all of our moments. Were we having sex? Yes. And I won’t apologize for that. We had (and still have for that matter) loving, wonderful, God-given sex. Neither of us have ever slept with anyone else, and never will.

    I personally wouldn’t trade that time of living together before getting married. Moving in with someone is HARD. Sharing space with someone is HARD. Living together helped us to see and accept the other person’s foibles and grow more compassionate before we got married. I can’t imagine the stress of not only just having gotten married, but suddenly be coming face to face with different ideas on cleaning, chores, etc. All of which we ironed out before getting married.

    Finally, to those who think that living together (or sleeping together) before marriage will make getting married “no big deal.” All I can say is that it doesn’t. We viewed our wedding with love and anticipation, and there was a definite difference after getting married. We truly became of one flesh, and we could feel that in our relationship.

    Living or not living together before marriage is not any magic spell that makes a marriage better or worse. What makes a marriage better or worse is the thoughts and actions of those in the marriage toward their spouse and the union. Live together, don’t live together – what matters is loving the other person unconditionally, treating them with love and respect, and working to keep the bond strong.

    • This raises a bunch of questions for me…

      1) what happens in the instances in which the couple decides not to marry, after all?

      2)How many people is it permissible to move in with and then not marry before you are really just “shacking up”?

      3) what are the future relationships for each individual going to be after the one with whom they shacked-up-but-did-not-marry? Will they see moving in as less of a big deal, since it is a boundary already crossed? [just like how much more difficult it must be for someone who has previously been in a sexual relationship, to have a relationship and decide not to “do it” than it is for those who have never crossed that line?]

  16. Good thoughts Matt. You did fake me out a little bit in that first section. I am a sucker for drama I guess.

    I really liked the second section. I have always wanted to write a book called, “I kissed dating hello while we were making out on her parents couch in the basement”. I don’t know that I would sell a lot of copies in Christian circles, but I could easily fill a book with my frustrations of the inadequate christian view of dating.

    Thanks for the post. Good thoughts.
    Darrell recently posted..Homeless Party

  17. Talking about divorce during a sermon is a land mine but something that must be done. But it must be done with grace and love, otherwise the wounds will never heal.
    seekingpastor recently posted..Looking Older

  18. I’m glad that my husband and I did not cohabitate until after we were married. I moved my things into his home during the week before we got married, and yes, some of my things remained at my mom’s house until she sold it to move in with us ten years later.
    Is it wrong to live together before marriage? I think intent is important. If we are talking some pre trial marriage or substitute marriage, then yes, it is wrong.
    But we have friends who lived together when they were engaged because she got very sick, was far away from home because she was away at college, and was in no position to take care of herself or fly home. I never asked why her mom or sister didn’t fly in… I met them after all this, and I don’t wish to judge their choice. (After she got well, they still lived together. I personally think it would have been silly for him to pack up, get an apartment of his own, and leave at that point, only to not finish out the lease because he is moving back…)
    Is there a point between the two extremes where it is okay to live together? I have no idea. I think waiting until the wedding is CLEARLY right, and anything else is murky, and I need to accept that I am not authorized to judge water quality. ( I may have carried out the metaphor a little to far there at the end.)
    Helen recently posted..Why I Dont Need An E-book to Help Me Buy a Car- Thanks!!!

  19. I think, regardless of the numbers affected, pastors have to continue to preach the Truth. If we don’t tell people of a better way, how can they choose it? I think the relaxing of standards on test driving the car (am I the car, or is my wife?) is probably a reason why the divorce rates are high on the other end. Nothing goes wrong during the test drive, but once you sign your name, something always breaks in that car.

    My wife isn’t perfect, but neither is my car. If I can put up with less-than-perfect vehicles, I can put up with a woman who puts up with me. Sounds very romantic, doesn’t it?
    Rick Nier recently posted..How Much Do You Want

  20. I don’t think there is a problem with co-habitation at all. Although, people do have a tendency to “co-fornicate” when moving together, which I 100% disagree with. The Bible doesn’t mention co-habitating at all. If co-habitating really is so bad, why is it okay for two guys to share a dorm during college but bad for a girl and guy to do that same (even if there is a relationship involved between the guy and girl)?

    I can’t speak from experience but, as a guy, it’d be so hard to live with another girl, especially one you’re in a relationship with, and not be tempted to fornicate. As soon as you open the door an inch the devil takes a mile, even if it a harmless and sinless decision to share a dorm.

  21. My wife was about to respond to this when I came home. I will do it for her!

    We were both in relationships that eventually fell into sex. I was engaged to be married. Her boyfriend admitted to just seeing her as a conquest.

    When we met, our friendship started out with complete honesty about where we have been. 16 days into knowing each other, we started our romantic phase with this: Holding hands and the occasional hug is okay but that is it. We dated and did a lot of things together, but I was not allowed to ask her to marry me until she met my parents (who live 1500 miles away). When that finally happened a year in, the rules got even more strict to, as we agreed, preserve the marriage bed and each other. We were to work on our relationship with God first and foremost.

    Not only did we not “shack up”, but our first kiss was at the altar. About two years in, it seems we have a better marriage than most people we know … including many newlyweds, some of whom “shacked up”. We were both in relationships that went the “worldly route” and found them lacking. I know I could never imagine being with anyone else!
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Happy Singles Awareness Day!

  22. God has clearly shown me that He is not going to present me as a wife to a man through “dating.” He has told me in various ways that the man he has set aside for me will see my value and pursue me whole-heartedly, with everything he’s got. God has been very clear that HE is arranging my marriage.

    Understanding this, I can’t justify dating. If we claim to know the Creator who knows us intricately, knows all our ways– when we sleep and when we rise– How then can we adopt a worldy perspective on finding a suitable companion? Dating has such a “trial and error” feel to it.

    I am not saying that unmarried people should not seek marriage, or that we are to take a passive attitude to finding a companion– but that as people who know God, who knows everything, we should seek His counsel above all else. Above our desires, above our sense of reason, etc. How much more confidence would you have if you prayed and God said, “yes, that one” or how much less hurt and emotional destruction would you experience if you prayed and God said, “NO.” [I have personal experience with the latter, a very godly man was pursuing me, clearly seeking marriage– but I asked the Lord and He was very clear that the answer was a resounding NO– and in retrospect I am SOOOO glad I listened.]

  23. Awesome post, Matt!
    As a person who “kissed dating goodbye” for the time being (mainly because I’m just “fed up” with men in general), I enjoyed the “dump and be dumped” section. I’ve done my share, and I’ve been the recipient of said dumping my fair share as well. :] And I’m okay with it.

    I truly believe that couples who live together before marriage lose something very special. The honeymoon is supposed to take place AFTER the committment has been made (at the wedding), not 6 months prior to said committment.
    Because without any committment, a person could feel it’s their “right” to just up and leave if they don’t think it’s working out how they think it should. When that happens, you’ve not only cheated the girl/guy of their honeymoon, but you’ve cheated yourself and both your future spouses. You’ve taken something that wasn’t yours to give.
    And if the relationship does work out? well, then good. but waiting is still the right thing to do.
    Heather Joy recently posted..Confessions of a RIFB Girl of 20-something I shop at Victoria’s Secret

  24. If you have to “test drive” marriage by living together, that means you are just making sure the relationship focuses on meeting your needs first. That’s probably a HUGE reason why divorce is so prevalent anymore.

    Let’s pop some bubbles first:

    Hey ladies, most guys like living together because they get free sex while being able to dumb you any time they see fit.

    Hey guys, most ladies want to live together because they want to push you closer to marriage as much as they can.

    I would apologize for being offensive, but stats say that people who live together are upping their chances of splitting up by 60%. Not a big number, right?

    And I think the NT writers used “porneia” to address all the sexual sins because they knew if they were specific in wording, people would try to get as close to the line as possible without crossing it. Besides, while there isn’t any Scripture against co-habitation, show me a verse where God encourages it.

    And, Matt, I feel the same way about when people say, “How cute.” Great post.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Doused in Joy

  25. I was 15 and had never had a boyfriend when I first got a hold of Joshua Harris’s book. As a kid who had never been in love but had recently had my heart (mildly, in retrospect) injured by a boy from church, I thought his book was the greatest epiphany of my angsty teenage life.

    He seemed to offer the perfect solution: promise yourself and God that you won’t date until you’re ready to settle down. It was the only way to prevent all parties involved from getting hurt or giving into temptation.

    Then I fell for my best friend when we were 17 (a sweet, Christ-loving guy) and decided Harris didn’t know what he was talking about. So I adopted the “dating with purpose” model instead of the “courting-only” model. As a now 23 year-old in another serious relationship, I firmly believe that kids and adults both need a LOT of guidance while they’re learning how to date, but I think we give ourselves too much credit if we think we know God’s plan for us as individuals better than He does. The best friend-turned boyfriend and I broke up after three years, but we learned astronomical amounts about ourselves and God’s plan in the process of that dating relationship.

    Harris’s method might work for some, but I don’t think it should be held up as the gold standard.

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