Jillian says: Sean and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last year. We are not overly devout Catholics, but it was always known that we would abide by the rules set up in our homes (both very strict Irish Catholic), especially with respect to staying at home until we officially got hitched.
Like many other couples, we were not virgins at our wedding, but we had lived at home and were respectful of what our parents expected in terms of not living together before we got married.
We have six children … a wonderful family. They have been good boys and girls. I would not describe us or our kids as being very devoted to prayer and church-going. We are respectful of our faith even though we do not preach it to others like some people do. We may miss Mass occasionally, but for the most part, we honor our Sunday obligation.
Our oldest son just came to us to tell us he and his girlfriend, Linda, are moving in together. They have been dating for two years, so we did figure they would choose each other for a life partner, but we assumed they would first get married and we are a bit upset at the idea of them living together without being married.
My husband Sean is not one to share his feelings or discuss things, but this has really weighed on my heart. I genuinely do not know how to approach this situation.
Do I just support them? Do I hope that eventually they will go to the priest to bless their union? What if they have children? Due to my son’s employment situation, they will be moving to another town, so we will not see them as much as we see them now. How should I handle this?
Sean says: I am not the greatest Catholic in the world. I’ll admit that. But, I have to acknowledge that I was more than a wee bit upset when our son told us about his plans to move in with his girlfriend without the benefit of marriage.
I really like Brian’s girl. She is beautiful inside and out. She seems to be suited to Brian and he appears to really be in love with her. They have gone out only on weekends and have never stayed out all night. They have appeared to respect each other’s need to get up for work on Monday morning by getting in early on a Sunday night.
Both Jillian and I were quite surprised by this announcement that Brian and his girl have taken an apartment for next month and plan to live together. What is happening to our little world where there were some things that just did not get done?
What do they do?
All parents dream of a faithful, loving and committed partnership — marriage — for their daughters and sons. We recognize God’s blessing in and for such relationships.
However, cohabiting — living together as a sexual couple without being married – has become common in our culture today. And there appears to be little difference between the attitudes and behavior of young adults raised in a religious faith and their unchurched peers.
As troubling as it is for Jillian and Sean, their son and his girlfriend need to know that their parents love them and only want what is best for them.
Of course, the families involved must remember this is not just about Jillian and Sean; there is Brian and his girlfriend Linda, and her family, if they are in the picture. All need to address the situation in a rational, calm manner — “Know this, my dear brothers, everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1:19) – and keep a few points in mind:
— In addition to “talking to them,” it is important to “listen” to Sean and Linda to hear their minds and sense their hearts.
— Be forthright, as well as gentle. Explain your concerns.
— Ask questions: Why are you living together without getting married?
— Hold off on judgments. In our youth culture today, for some, cohabitation is a kind of commitment toward faithfulness.
— Back off on the scare tactics so often used against cohabitation such as:
- 40 percent of cohabiting couples break up before marriage;
- Cohabiting couples who marry are almost twice as likely to divorce than those who don’t live together first;
Though claimed by many Christian sources, some of this data has been called into question. It is the casualness of the relationships, rather than the cohabitation itself, that predicts future trouble.
Do not be afraid to point out that God does want his people to live within marriage covenants. God affirms marriage as a symbol of his relationship with his people.
“The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment. The sacrament is a gift given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses, since ‘their mutual belonging is a real representation, through the sacramental sign, of the same relationship between Christ and the Church’” (The Joy of Love, Amoris Laetitia, apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis).
Finally, if Brian and Linda choose to cohabit, Jillian and Sean should continue to love and pray for Brian and Linda, advocate for faithfulness and commitment in their relationship (even though it lacks the legal status of marriage) and use this important moment to deepen their own relationship and love and trust in Jesus Christ.