Cohabitation vs. Marriage: What’s the Difference?

We have been asked this question more than once: “Why should we get married? Isn’t living together easier?”

We understand that many young adults are keenly aware of the fragility of marriage today. They see so many people getting divorced (in many cases, their own parents) and they often know firsthand the heartbreak of divorce. So what is their answer? They decide to just live together with the mistaken notion that if it doesn’t work out, they can call it quits and it won’t hurt at all.

cohabitation-marriage-difference-americas-family-coaches-blog

Statistics reveal that over half of the population thinks that living together before marriage (cohabitation) seems like a good way to get some of the benefits of marriage and avoid the risk of divorce. Many young couples are saying to themselves, “If we’re going to marry for life, then we need to have a test run first.” Sounds logical, right? More and more, people of all ages are deciding to live together—to the point that today the majority of couples who marry have lived together first.

Cohabiting may seem like a good idea at first, yet the consequences are significant. By just “testing out” whether you can be married, you’re already starting on the wrong foot. You see, marriage is based on a commitment that you’ll stay together for better or worse. By living together with the option to get out if things go bad, you’re not actually trying out marriage at all.

In fact, there’s more than one reason why it’s a bad idea to live together when you’re not married.

  • Maladjustment and high probability of divorce. You get married and then have to work out a whole new way of dealing with each other than when you were just living together. This in itself causes stress on the marriage that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
  • Sexual difficulties. Oftentimes sexual dissatisfaction will develop. In order to live together, couples often use the excuse that they need to find out if they’re sexually compatible. Problem is, they are again “testing” in the wrong venue—with the option to get out, look for others, or even have sex with others during the “living together” period. Marriage changes all that, often for the worse in the minds of cohabiters.
  • Comparison issues. Dissatisfaction begins to haunt your marriage bed, which may explain why married couples who didn’t live together before marriage have more satisfying sex than couples who had lived together before marriage.
  • Eroded trust. If you were both willing to compromise before you got married, that lingers over your marriage. If you both were willing to take short cuts before you got married, what will stop either of you from cutting the corners once or twice after you’re married?
  • Biblical disobedience. We guarantee you: It’s not God’s will.

It is far better to take your time in any relationship. Make sure you have a friendship. Seek advice from trusted friends and guidance from God. Enter marriage with your eyes wide open and the back door closed. Enter marriage with the idea that it is for keeps. Then, as you weather the storms together, you are that much stronger for it.

For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Women Spell Intimacy T-A-L-K

When most men hear the word intimacy, they think of a passionate physical experience. But when a wife hears the word intimacy, she thinks about emotional connection and communication. In other words: Men spell intimacy S-E-X. Women spell it T-A-L-K.

It’s no secret that God wired men and women differently. Gary and I (Barb) have seen that time and again over the years. Physical intimacy is just one area where that shines through. A man’s sex drive is connected to his eyes; he becomes aroused visually. A woman’s sex drive is connected to her heart; she is aroused only after she feels emotional closeness and harmony.

Another difference is that a man can compartmentalize sex from everything else in his life. A woman sees everything connected to everything else. A husband feels less masculine if his wife resists his sexual advances. A wife feels like a machine if she doesn’t experience sexual intimacy flowing from emotional intimacy.

Understanding Your Wife’s Need for Emotional Intimacy

women-spell-intimacy-talk-americas-family-coaches-marriage-blog

Emotional intimacy is so rich, so fulfilling for a woman. It doesn’t replace the need for sex, but for her, the emotional need is as intense as the physical need. And when that need is fulfilled by her husband and sustained through thoughtful T-A-L-K time, it is much easier for her to move more quickly into a sexual mode.

But what if that doesn’t happen? A woman has a God-given need to connect emotionally, but if that need is either not recognized or is cavalierly dismissed, she feels that her husband is only using her to gratify his sexual desires.

For many women, talking is a way to work through thoughts, feelings, ideas, and problems. It’s the way we’re wired, and it’s solid wiring. Sure, just like your wiring, it can short-circuit sometimes. But overall, it’s a positive way to express and process her thoughts and emotions. Be wise: Listen to her and draw her out. It will draw you closer as a couple.

What Happens When Your Wife’s Need for Intimacy is Not Met?

If you do not meet your wife’s need for emotional intimacy, you will leave her vulnerable. She may withdraw from you or may not feel free to respond to you sexually. Ultimately, she may begin to look elsewhere to have her needs met.

She Will Withdraw.

One indication that your wife may be starved for emotional intimacy is that she may withdraw. When you sense your wife’s wall going up, you know that something is very wrong. From a woman’s perspective, it means that her husband is not a harbor of safety but a threat. This pattern of withdrawal can do significant damage to a relationship. And if this remains unaddressed, over time you can end up as two strangers coexisting under the same roof, sharing meals and the same bed but walled off from each other emotionally.

She Will Not Feel Free to Respond to You Sexually.

A second indicator that your wife’s emotional needs are not being met is that she may not respond to you sexually. Husbands tend to interpret their wife’s resistance to their sexual advances as rejection. Often her resistance is not rejection, however, but an indication that she may not feel safe or that she can’t get beyond a conflict the two of you are having.

She May Look Elsewhere to Have Her Needs Met.

A third consequence of your wife’s unmet need for emotional intimacy is that she may become involved with another man. This is a worst-case scenario, but it does happen. If a woman is not understood and cherished, if her need for emotional intimacy is not met, she becomes vulnerable to other men who show interest in her thoughts and emotions.

How Can You Meet Your Wife’s Need for Emotional Intimacy?

Nothing satisfies a woman’s emotional need like her connection with her husband. She trusts you to stand by her no matter what—when even closest family members may not be able to be there for her or understand. And friends may come and go in her life, but you are her constant  companion; you are always there for her.

By way of example, Gary and I treasure our sharing time at the end of the day, and it sets the tone for the entire evening as we stay connected. When Gary shows me his continual love and active presence, when he openly shares with me about anything and everything, I see his devotion to me. And I am so attracted to him.

A woman is eager to hear about the smallest details in your life, from what you ate for lunch to what you would lay your life down in defending. She wants to know what you’re thinking and how you think, and she wants you to do the same for her. You want to keep the chemistry in your relationship with your wife? Ask her what she thinks! Women love a conversation that volleys back and forth. Open up and articulate what you’re thinking about, and you’ll be amazed at how exhilarating it is for her. When she sees you growing and developing, she is challenged to do the same.

This kind of connecting, of taking the time to tune in to each other, builds security and intimacy in a relationship. It’s part of what makes a great marriage.

When a woman feels secure and safe enough to fully disrobe emotionally with her husband, that’s as good as it gets. And I’ll give you a clue: If your souls undress before one another, your bodies will follow. If you provide this kind of intimate emotional environment for your wife, your life will never be the same!

Church Choices: Can we Worship Separately?

Spiritual intimacy is a vital part of your marriage relationship. A big part of your spiritual growth as a couple is being part of a church community. But if you both came from different types of churches - how do you find a church where you both feel comfortable?

Here’s what one wife asked us:
“My husband and I are having a hard time enjoying a church together. I want to know how you guys feel about each of us going our separate ways? Do we enjoy two different types of churches? Or do we stay together? Or do we alternate churches? One Sunday go here, one Sunday go there?”

church-choices-worship-seperately-americas-family-coaches-marriage-blog

We answered this wife’s question by saying that we believe that the outcome of this should be the two of them worshiping together on a regular basis. They also had children in this mix, which made it all the more important.  How you get to that point when you’re struggling to find a church that “fits” both of you? It doesn’t need to be “yours” versus “his.”

When you come from different backgrounds and styles of worship, it may take some time. First, decide on the things that are not up for discussion: You want to find a church that opens the Word of God, teaches the truth, believes in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and as Lord and Savior, preaches the message of salvation, etc. Those are not to be compromised (and you’ll be able to find plenty of compromising churches out there). After that, consider what is negotiable. Is the size of the church an issue? The type of music? What about Sunday school and youth programs for the kids?  Your goal is to find a place where you come together as husband and wife to worship and pray, and where your kids are enjoying that time with a mom and a dad together. 

It may take a few months of going back and forth between the types of churches each of you is used to. Be open. Communicate. But only do that for a season or so and not let that be long-term. In the end, you may need to try some churches that are new to both of you. Plenty of couples face problems in this area. But if the problem is not whether to go to church, but where, you can count your blessings. 

Remember that God gives headship to the husband. As the wife supports him in his spiritual leadership, it will grow him as a man. So if a husband feels strongly in this area, the wife might do well to allow him that leadership. She could still have other spiritual needs met through attending a women’s Bible study at another church. The point is, let’s make this Sunday morning thing work and trust God for the outcome. Scripture that says a house divided will fall. If your children are in the backseat of your car and they’re watching mom and dad go different directions on Sunday morning, they’re going to get this lost feeling when it comes to having faith and a relationship in God. Husband and wife need to pull together—for the sake of their marriage and for the sake of their kids. 

For more helpful marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!

Make a Date for a Date

Are you and your spouse making time to “date” each other? Whether you’ve been married a few months or a few decades - dating your mate is vital to keeping your marriage relationship fresh and vibrant!

Dating your husband or wife will be very different from dating a potential husband or wife. Yet it is just as important. When you were single, dating was a time to get away alone, to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You took time to learn more about each other, about your past and your dreams for the future. You gradually felt at ease with each other. But, you see, even though you’re married, the two of you still need the same thing. You need to get away alone and continue to talk, laugh, and have fun together. You need to learn more about each other, your past and your dreams for the future. You need to feel at ease with each other as you face new challenges together. That’s why dating shouldn’t stop with marriage.

make-a-date-americas-family-coaches-marriage-blog

Too often, married couples get settled, caught up in the routine of jobs, church, parenting, and other commitments. Many couples are so busy that they don’t take time to nurture the foundation of their family—their marriage and their relationship with each other. As we know all too well, when that marriage foundation begins to crumble, everything else comes down with it.

Your marriage is your most important relationship after your relationship with God. Your marriage needs nurturing. Like a plant needs water or a car needs an oil change, your marriage needs consistent attention. It needs care and nurture every day; it needs a special “tune-up” once in a while. You need to reconnect with your spouse. You need to work at your marriage.

Keeping a marriage together and the romance alive takes time. It means making one’s marriage and spouse a priority and setting aside time for only him or her. In other words, it means planning dates on a regular basis.

If you and your spouse are not currently dating, we want to encourage you get into that habit. The two of you really do need time to reconnect and continue to stoke the fires of the romance that brought you together in the first place. Your marriage needs to be strong to withstand the onslaughts of daily life. When you know that you both are on the same team working toward the same goals and cheering each other on, then even the toughest competition won’t be too much to handle.

If you already are in the habit of going on dates, we say, “Good for you!” Now maybe you could spice it up a bit! Perhaps only one of you initiates the dates and handles the details. Try switching it up! Or maybe you have your “standard” date. Maybe trying trying something new!

You might be asking, “Why can’t we just go to dinner and a movie?” Well, you can, and that’s a good place to start. But if you’re going to go out to dinner and a movie and spend the money on the date and a baby-sitter anyway, then make the date count! It’s what we call having a “date with a purpose.” Intentionally give your time together a purpose beyond just sharing an event. Focus on your mate’s love needs. Put him or her in the spotlight and nurture your marriage relationship.

Just think about how much your husband or wife (and you!) can benefit as you work at investing in your relationship. We encourage you to try making a date for a date with your spouse. Think of it as a way of loving your spouse more concretely. Affirm him or her as you begin, and start small, allowing the impact of the dates to stoke the home fires. Stay at it. Stay positive. We know it will be worth it!

If you need some ideas to get started, check out our book: 40 Unforgettable Dates With Your Mate.

When a Career Causes Conflict

There may come a time when your spouse’s job (or your job) begins to cause friction in your marriage. What can you do?

When the job is causing problems—and because the job is vital to your family’s livelihood—you need to make it a priority to work together on this issue. The workaholic spouse needs to understand that he/she is wanted and needed at home. Approach each other with love and understanding—not blame.

when-career-causes-conflict-americas-family-coaches-marriage-blog

Working spouses feel the pressure to make enough money for the family, so discuss together the family budget. Can you live on less? If you were to cut back in order to have more time, how can you adjust the budget to accommodate potential lowered income? If the extra time being spent is due to a temporary project that will soon be completed, communicate that this schedule isn’t always going to be the case. If the issue is a job that is too demanding, discuss how you’re going to handle that together. By all means, simply communicate.

Too often however, workaholism has nothing to do with an ornery boss or a need for more money. What can a workaholic do to overcome the constant need to be working and save some time and energy for the family? Following are a few suggestions:

Realize your acts of self-interest. Ask yourself a tough question: What are you doing (or neglecting) that makes your spouse or family feel distant? What needs to change in your schedule in order to restore closeness?

Affirm your family. Communicate the good you see in your family, and welcome the good they’ll in turn see in you. Let them into your work life by talking about what’s going on. Discuss your projects, even as you begin the process of cutting back.

Learn what satisfies your mate and your kids. Respect your family’s needs by putting their needs before your own. They’re not asking you to quit your job (unless it’s really hurting you and them) and, depending on their ages, they don’t expect you to be with them every waking moment. Find out what’s important. It’s a no-brainer that you should be at your children’s sports or artistic activities. What else would they like from you? Your teenage daughter may just need a breakfast with you on Saturday mornings once a month. Your spouse needs a date night once a month. What else is important? Then get these on your calendar as appointments that you cannot change for any reason.

Even as you schedule, realize that spontaneity is important. You need to be available to your children and spouse. Do they know they can call you at any time? If they catch you in the middle of an important meeting, do they know you’ll call right back? Realize, too, that quality moments with family happen spontaneously. Be there at bedtime whenever possible. Take time with your kids to wash the car or work in the yard. The conversations that can occur during those times are insightful and invaluable.

Above all, remember that your kids are only there for a short time. Don’t miss out on them by being too busy. Don’t make your spouse bear the brunt of full responsibility—and don’t let him/her be the only one to experience the joys of that great race time, that soccer goal, that piano recital. It will draw you and your spouse closer when you experience all of these things together.

For more helpful marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!