Living Together Before Marriage

I’ve been asked a couple times to share my experience living with Jonathan before we got married, and I’ve been hesitant to do so for a few reasons. On the one hand, at times I feel like my private life is nunya business. On the other hand, I know some people look to me for guidance on various aspects of their life, from things as trivial to hair to something as serious as faith, so I’ve decided to go ahead and share MY thoughts on living together before marriage, from my perspective as both a Christian and an African. Pull up a chair and pour some tea!

Disclaimer: A few months before Jonathan and I lived together for the first time – yup, we did it twice – I remember Facebook messaging a woman I knew from church who had also lived with her future husband before they got married, so I know what it’s like to be seeking guidance on this topic. If I’m being honest with myself, I reached out just to get affirmation that I was making the right choice, because in my heart I had already made my decision. Before I get started with my own story, just know that at the end of the day, this is a decision you have to make for yourself, between you and God. The same way that whether one person drinks shouldn’t determine whether you drink, whether someone lives with their boyfriend before marriage doesn’t automatically mean you should too. If you feel conviction about ANYTHING, then it’s probably not best for you. Different situations cause different people to stumble, so if you’re approaching this from a Christian mindset, just continue to be prayerful about it throughout the whole time. 

How We Ended Up Living Together… Twice

After dating in our senior year of college, Jonathan and I were in a long distance relationship for four years. At one point, I didn’t see him for over a year – our relationship was sustained through Skype and Whatsapp. After he returned to the US for business school, things got much better, but I had made it clear that I wasn’t interested in long distance anymore, and since I was stuck in a PhD program for the rest of eternity (I kid, but that’s what it felt like), he’d have to come to me. By God’s grace he secured a summer internship in NYC for the summer of 2015, and we lived together for a little less than three months in my tiny Harlem studio.

We definitely got closer that summer, but being together most of the time put a lot of additional strain on our relationship. At some point I got scared that I’d become one of those women who “shacked up” for years and never got married – and if that doesn’t bother you then no judgment, but that’s not what I wanted for my life – so I pretty much gave him an ultimatum that we needed to be engaged in a few months or call the relationship off (yes I know, ultimatums are bad but he’d actually already bought the ring by that point, unbeknownst to me!). Living together definitely accelerated my desire and timeline to get married, and not in the best way. More on that later.

The second time we lived together before marriage was for a longer period of time, from his graduation in June 2016 to our wedding in April 2017. We were engaged, planning a very large African wedding, and Jonathan was trying to get a start up off the ground. Based on the mistakes we’d made the first time living together, we actually didn’t plan on doing it a second time. We looked for apartments for Jonathan in Jersey City, where I’d moved to, but couldn’t find anything affordable enough to cover the cost of two rents plus the cost of the wedding, especially while he was on his startup grind. So we moved him in with me, but approached it in a very different way than the first time.

Reasons Why You Might Want to Live Together Before Marriage

There are some people who believe that living together before marriage helps test compatibility. I think that’s complete BS. A successful marriage isn’t based on who does the dishes and who does the laundry, or who leaves their socks on the floor and who is a neat freak. All of the home stuff can be figured out, and doesn’t need to be tested beforehand. So if that’s your only reason for wanting to live together, then you’re on your own.

Other people live together out of convenience, because they end up spending tons of time at each other’s places anyway. Once you live with someone, you can never get back all of your independence, so if you already have your own space, hold onto it as long as possible until you’re joined together by vows, or at the very least by a ring.

Living together for financial reasons is probably the most common driving force behind the decision. Depending on where you live and what your financial situation is, paying two rents, or a mortgage and a rent, is often less attractive than consolidating household costs and two incomes. Under absolutely no circumstances do I recommend letting a man move in with you if he has no job or no promise of a job, unless you’re engaged or married. My dad actually told Jonathan he had to get a job or raise money for his startup before we could discuss setting a wedding date, which at the time I found hurtful, but in the end I was grateful for that wisdom.

Why I Wouldn’t Recommend Living Together Before Marriage

Living together without being married can definitely cause unnecessary emotional, sexual, and spiritual strain. Emotionally, it can cause you to question the direction and timing of your relationship, wanting it to move faster than it needs to, which can end up in one person pressuring the other to get married before they’re ready to. This definitely ended up happening with us, and I felt pressure to get married out of fear that Jonathan would get comfortable and never make a commitment. Luckily, our fairly long engagement (a year and a half) gave us time to work through some of those emotional issues, but they can be avoided if you stay apart.

Obviously, living together – and more specifically sleeping together in the same bed – can lead to sexual temptation and sin. If you’re a Christian, the Bible is clear about sexual immorality and the design of sex between a husband and a wife, so having sex before marriage is not God’s plan for us. Living together makes it easier to fall into that temptation, though there are plenty of people who don’t live together and still have sex.

If you experience emotional and sexual strain, then you’re likely to also run into spiritual issues. The worst thing you can do is to let any guilt or conviction shame you into no longer having a relationship with God. If you do stumble (more on how to avoid that later), whatever you do, DON’T stop praying and seeking out guidance and counsel from your spiritual leaders. Even just talking to your Christian girlfriends about it can help. Nobody is perfect. But we all can receive God’s grace, so don’t isolate yourself because you’ll only make things worse.

If you’re worried about compatibility, consider attending pre-marital or pre-engagement counseling. We found ours incredibly helpful and way more insightful in understanding how we could live together than just trying to figure it out on our own.

If money is an issue, consider all other options first. Get a roommate, live with your parents, couch surf, pick up a side hustle. If you’re planning a wedding, think about ways you can cut down the budget so you can save more money (inviting fewer people is the fastest way to save wedding costs). Though I didn’t personally do this, I’ve even heard of people getting legally married first, and then having their wedding celebration later, so that they don’t fall into sin before marriage.

If You’re Going to Live Together Anyway, Here Are a Few Tips

Make sure your motivations are right. Be honest with yourself and ask if you really need to live together, or if you just want to. Also you both have to be on the same accord – if either person feels conviction about it, it’s not worth jeopardizing your spiritual or emotional health or the health of your relationship.

Have a timeline. Try identifying a specific period of time when you’ll start and stop living together. Ideally, less than six months, or less than a year, which is the typical rental lease cycle.

Establish boundaries. We learned from our mistakes the first time and successfully avoided sexual temptation the second time by establishing the following boundaries around sleeping, nudity, and alcohol.

  • Not sleeping in the same bed – Jonathan slept on the couch in another room for the first few months of us living together while we were engaged, and when it got cold, slept on a floor futon in the bedroom. Even when we discovered we had a rodent problem (eek!) Jonathan still didn’t sleep in the bed with me until we got married. By the time we got married though I never wanted to see that futon again and promptly threw it away!
  • No nudity – We agreed that we wouldn’t see each other naked, wouldn’t be in the same room while we changed, and wouldn’t even see each other in towels. If someone showered, they had to get dressed in the bathroom. If clothes were on at all times when we were together, then it was more likely that we wouldn’t find ourselves in sin.
  • No excessive drinking – Alcohol inhibits your decision making skills, so when we’d go out, we’d limit ourselves to only two drinks each, even though we can both drink more before we feel any effects (no lightweights in this house lol!). By maintaining a clear head, it was easier for us to maintain our boundaries around sleep and nudity, again avoiding temptation.

Regularly pray. While we lived together while engaged, we made it a priority to pray together daily, a great habit that we brought into our marriage. I don’t know about you but it’s harder for me to get tempted when I’m regularly praying and in general feel closer to God.

P.S. What We Told Our Parents

To be honest, I don’t think we ever explicitly told either of our parents that we were living together ? I’m sure they knew – mine certainly did – but we never came out and said anything. Whenever my parents came to visit, we made sure that Jonathan wasn’t there and any signs of his existence were nowhere to be seen – his toothbrush was put away, his shoes were put in a closet, etc. We really treated it as if the apartment was mine and he was just a guest temporarily passing through. In many ways that was the truth – my name was the one on the lease and the mailbox (I still joke with Jonathan that’s he’s just a guest since we never remembered to add his name to the lease). I don’t know if how we approached it with our parents was the right way, but it did get us through that time relatively unscathed!

To summarize, although it’s not my first choice, I do think it’s possible to live together before marriage without falling into the temptation of sin IF you’re doing it for the right reasons, have a timeline, and establish boundaries. At the end of the day, make sure that you stay prayed up THE ENTIRE TIME to keep your hearts and minds strengthened as you navigate what is hopefully a brief season.

I know this is a sensitive topic, but I hope sharing my experience and approach to living together before marriage helps you if you’re thinking about it.

TL:DR is don’t do it if you don’t absolutely have to, establish strict boundaries if you do, and continue to keep yourself and your relationship in prayer the whole time.

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Comments

  1. Please I need your help on more details on avoiding this sexual sin. Have been born again since July 2019 through my man friend but only got to experience Jesus 1st of January 2021. I currently stay with with my man friend who is also a born again but hasn’t experienced Jesus. We have been in sexual relationship but I had to stop and explain to him that no more sex or we call off the relationship. He agreed and we have been doing partially fine. He gets tempted sometimes and makes approach and with grace am able to resist and he later regrets his actions. I found myself for no reason having sexual desires for him today and him been weaker encouraged it but he knows how much my passion for Christ is and he also with grace, didnt attempt to fornicate with me but touched me to desire him the more. I have had urges which I thought normal but only focus on God and it goes away. But today I found myself wanting it, quote all I could from the bible, walked away, strolled out, came back and same feeling. Decide to seek for spiritual help from my elders online and I saw this article. Now am calm and more in control of my body and can only still focus on Christ. Nothing I desire more than to walk with Christ for the rest of my life. To serve him in truth and in spirit. Please help me with more details on how to overcome this temptation. I will follow any discipline you give me as far it’s pleases God and in accordance with the bible.
    Am staying with him because God wants me to be here. Ordinary if not for Jesus I will not be in his house. I will explain more if you reply me. I don’t have a church or a pastor to talk to and I sincerely don’t trust anyone with this my new passion. My case is confusing I don’t have anyone to talk to. Only me and my Bible with the holy spirit. Please help me.

    1. I really advise that you seek out spiritual counsel (I’m not a pastor and have not been given the gift of shepherding, so I can only talk about my own experience.)

  2. I was curious as to how you would approach this really sensitive topic. I am really impressed as you didn’t disappoint!I just discovered your blog a few days ago by chance(during a Pinterest rabbit hole spiral lol)and I’m deep in the archives now!!! Your blog & instagram aesthetic is flawless.Suffice to say I’m now a fan!!!

    -P.s I read this line “ So if that’s your only reason for wanting to live together, then you’re on your own“ in a Nigerian accent in my head!!!

  3. let me start by applauding your content…i mean WOOOOOW!!!Sis you’re creaative!!
    your writing…so authentic,honest,insightful,profound..you’re amazing,may God continue to bless your marriage and this talent you possess,much love.

  4. Thanks for sharing sis, def a lot of great lessons to be learned. I pray those who want to follow Gods will in their life, will carefully consider this arrangement before doing it.
    God bless your home.

  5. You know….this is unbelievably fresh, realistic and much needed. I love that you were elaborate as much as you could, guiding us through how you met and the reasons why you both lived together and also the pros and cons etc. Im a christian who has considered this and also considered sex before marriage but i am very aware of the inner conflict (emotional,spiritual) and perhaps guilt i can experience which would then lead to a strain ultimately. you laid it out based on your personal experience and it felt like i had an honest conversation with a friend.

  6. Your content is absolutely amazing and i must admit your blogging is very relatable*,educative and captivating. Good job Ijeoma

  7. You make it sound so easy… but at least, this shows that it is not an impossible thing. Thanks for sharing

  8. Ijeoma this was powerful. We Christians can be quick to judge each other and say “oh this is not Christian minded you should not even stay over one night!” The truth is the world is changing and you may find yourself visiting your boyfriend in a country where u hardly know other people and might have to be under the same roof. So I found this very very practical( already married with 2 kids?) that you you anticipate the pitfalls. Sex before marriage is a sin and that’s what’s key. We can have head knowledge of this but we need practical wisdom which is what you delivered. What one decides to do is up to them. You shared your truth and you encouraged people not to live under condemnation which leads to shame and which is definitely of the devil. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing. Lord knows how many Christians need to hear this. Because sometimes you try so hard and still fail.

  9. Wow, I love your honesty.I made a mistake too with my then boyfriend,but when i met my husband we made priorities right,never moved in together until our wedding night.Oh God i don’t know about others,but even though i had brought clothings and what a few a day before,i felt like a visitor the first night..;) Luckily we were going on our honeymoon the following day,so by the time we were coming back,i got used…Am still learning though..Married for a month now.

  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I’ve been following you for years and appreciate your honesty about your relationship and experience. This will help guide me as I navigate future experiences as I’ve definitely struggled with the same temptation. God bless you, Jonathan and your family!

  11. Very proud of you, lady. I am the sister of one of your college buddies and I am finally getting introduced to you via your blog. Your blog is literally everything I ever wanted to do, be or create.
    Endless blessings to you and yours. Thank you for sharing you and yours with all us. It is a privilege and an honor.
    I am sharing this wildly. I support anything and everything you will so.
    Sincerely,
    A Nigerian-Ameerican woman who will unapologetically continue to be.

  12. I love you so much for just sharing your journey with us, like u said, ist really a personal decision.
    The Bibel dies not actually Quote that Living together is a sin, having sex before marriage is. Anyways very helpfull. Love from Germany ❤

  13. “Before I get started with my own story, just know that at the end of the day, this is a decision you have to make for yourself, between you and God. The same way that whether one person drinks shouldn’t determine whether you drink, whether someone lives with their boyfriend before marriage doesn’t automatically mean you should too.”

    This entire post… You stated that one shouldn’t have sex before marriage but under the right circumstances, it’s okay to live with a significant other? I’m sorry but this is not a Christian mindset. God wouldn’t ask you to sin in order to make something work. He’s much too powerful for that and I am glad you stated that you had already decided to live with J despite the conviction of the Spirit. You never gave God a chance to make your relationship work – His way. Call a spade a spade. It would be a shame to see your self-justification lead others into sin.

    1. Actually her post doesn’t sound self justifying at all. She actually advocates lots of alternatives to living together and refutes or gives other options for most of the reasons people give for wanting to live together. If anything the post is very balanced and makes it sound like living together is a last resort. I appreciate her transparency about what is ideal and what her ended up doing (including challenges and pit falls). She already put out disclaimers so it’s left for those reading to apply the necessary wisdom to decide what they should/should not do.

  14. This is a topic I rarely see people discuss and you approached it with such grace and transparency. Thank you for sharing your experience…clear boundaries are definitely important at every step in a relationship…learning this.

  15. Great post. Even with boundaries, you both dis well not jumping each other ?..it’s not easy. The world is evolving, even for Christians and we must find a way to manage our lives while still honoring our faith and holding on to what we believe.

  16. Extremely relatable. I love your work because your heart always comes through. God bless you boo. This was especially well written and sincere

  17. Thank you for sharing Ijeoma. Funny I was doing a Q&A recently and was asked how to overcome temptation in a Godly relationship. And this post links so well with the tips I mentioned one of which I stressed on was boundaries. Thank you for sharing, I’ll be linking it to my blog post once its up and this just gave me the push to publish too, I had been stalling due to the delicate nature of the topic. I admire the transparency.

    Princess Audu

  18. I typically don’t comment but I just had to say thank you for this! It’s one of the most honest and practical write-ups on this topic. Writing it Pilsner have been easy but it was soooo helpful! Thank you! God bless you!

  19. You honor us with your truth, thank you. Well put and well done!! Girl my parents would kill me if I did and I’d be fornication before he even closed the front door???.

  20. Thank you for being so honest. I know doing this must have placed you in a pretty vulnerable place. I’m grateful you did it anyway. Thank you.
    Overall, it was uplifting, affriming, and in no way pretentious or the least bit condescending. Thank you, Ijeoma.

  21. Very insightful ❤️❤️ thank you for sharing. Question, let’s assume you had been traditionally married and only waiting for the white wedding, would anything be different in that one year of living together?

    1. I think it depends on what your definition of marriage is. For me the traditional was just as important as the religious ceremony, which is why we did them on the same day.

  22. I enjoyed reading this. Living together before marriage, especially as Africans, is a sensitive issue, but really, people who don’t live together still engage in sexual activities .Although living together can trigger sth like that, it all boils down to setting boundaries and being responsible. So thank you for being open. I hope for more posts like this, yes, it’s not our business, but you are an inspiration, so we don’t mind getting an all-round dose! #winks

  23. Awwwww, my fave! Thanks for sharing this. First, you’re right…none of our business really but we’re happy you shared. I just read some research yesterday about how the idea of cohabitation for the sole reason of assessing compatibility is BS?. I’m 100% with you on assessing the reasons though and staying prayed up. Things you mentioned like sleeping in the same bed, nudity, drinking too much are some of the things I would catch myself doing just “sleeping over.” But I’m doing this long distance thing now and might have to face the reality of living together for a short period, so these tips are actually really helpful. But honestly, I’ll rather not like you said. And I can totally imagine the feeling of just living together and never getting married. I’m like sirrr, this will not be us.

    1. Those boundaries are definitely useful even just for sleepovers – things I wish I knew ahead of time! Again everyone has to decide for themselves, but it’s really not necessary, especially if you’re not yet engaged/have a wedding date coming up.

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