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.