Tag Archives: Relationships

William Lane Craig’s secret weapon is his amazing wife Jan

My favorite painting: "Godspeed" by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900
My favorite painting: “Godspeed” by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900

I want to draw your attention to a talk on “Vision in Life” given by Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is the ablest defender of the Christian faith operating today. He has done formal academic debates with all of the best known atheists on major university campuses in front of thousands of university students.

It turns out that he owes a lot of his success to his amazing wife Jan.

The MP3 file is here. (32 minutes)

This talk was Dr. Craig’s chapel address to Biola University students.

About 11 minutes into the talk, Bill describes what happened after he finished his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton:

And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.

And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.

So their reason for getting together was because they thought that they would be more effective in evangelism and discipleship if they worked as a team.

It is at this point in the talk where Bill begins to explain just how Jan molded him into the lean, mean debating machine that travels the world striking terror into the hearts of atheists.

Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:

And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”

And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

In an article on his web site, he talks about how Jan encouraged him to do his first Ph.D:

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

And in the same article, he explains how Jan encouraged him to get his second Ph.D:

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

Both of these Ph.D experiences are also described in the talk. And the talk concludes as follows:

I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.

And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages.

And now you know the rest of Bill’s story. The person you marry will have an enormous influence on the impact you will have for Christ and his Kingdom. It is up to you to decide whether that influence is going to be positive or negative, by deciding if you will marry, and if you do marry, by deciding whom you will marry.

You may also be interested in this talk given by William Lane Craig, entitled “Healthy Relationships” (National Faculty Leadership Conf. 2008) (audio here) In that talk, he offers advice to Christians who want to have a marriage that is consistent with their Christian faith.

Study: couples that delay sexual activity experience higher quality relationships

Relationship stability, quality, communication, satisfaction
Relationship stability, quality, communication, satisfaction

From Family Studies, news about TWO new studies.

Excerpt: (links removed)

[T]wo recently published studies call into question the validity of testing sexual chemistry early in dating.

My colleagues and I published the first study a few years ago in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology. This study involved a national sample of 2,035 married individuals who participated in the popular online couple assessment survey called “RELATE.” We found that the longer a dating couple waits to have sex, the better their relationship is after marriage. In fact, couples who wait until marriage to have sex report higher relationship satisfaction (20% higher), better communication patterns (12% better), less consideration of divorce (22% lower), and better sexual quality (15% better) than those who started having sex early in their dating (see Figure 2). For couples in between—those that became sexually involved later in their dating, but prior to marriage—the benefits were about half as strong.

[…]These patterns were statistically significant even when controlling for a variety of other variables such as respondents’ number of prior sexual partners, education levels, religiosity, and relationship length.

The second study, by Sharon Sassler and her colleagues at Cornell University, also found that rapid sexual involvement has adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. Using data from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children, their study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women. Their analyses also suggest that delaying sexual involvement is associated with higher relationship quality across several dimensions.

They discovered that the negative association between sexual timing and relationship quality is largely driven by a link between early sex and cohabitation. Specifically, sexual involvement early in a romantic relationship is associated with an increased likelihood of moving more quickly into living together, which in turn is associated with lower relationship quality. This finding supports Norval Glenn’s hypothesis that sexual involvement may lead to unhealthy emotional entanglements that make ending a bad relationship difficult. As Sassler and her colleagues concluded, “Adequate time is required for romantic relationships to develop in a healthy way. In contrast, relationships that move too quickly, without adequate discussion of the goals and long-term desires of each partner, may be insufficiently committed and therefore result in relationship distress, especially if one partner is more committed than the other” (p. 710).

The rest of the post talks about two reasons why this works: improved partner selection and prioritizing communication and commitment. Improved partner selection occurs because you haven’t committed too much too soon (sexually) and you have time to let things play out to see if you really fit with the other person. And if you take sex off the table, then you have to use other means in order to build emotional intimacy – communication, service, support, etc.

That’s two studies, and there’s a third. Dina sent me this article from the UK Daily Mail about a new study showing the importance of chastity for relationship quality and stability.

Excerpt:

New couples who jump into bed together on the first date do not last as long in relationships as those who wait a new study has revealed.

Using a sample of almost 11,000 unmarried people, Brigham Young University discovered a direct correlation between the length and strength of a partnership and the amount of time they took to have first have sex.

The study showed that those who waited to initiate sexual intimacy were found to have longer and more positive outcomes in their relationships while those who couldn’t help themselves reported that their dalliances struggled to last more than two years.

‘Results suggested that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes,’ said the report authored published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

‘This effect was strongly moderated by relationship length, with individuals who reported early sexual initiation reporting increasingly lower outcomes in relationships of longer than two years.’

The study examined four sexual-timing patterns: Having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date or shortly after, having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence.

Each one of these fields yielded different results in relationship satisfaction, stability and communication in dating situations.

Here’s another recent study that shows that if a woman has more than her husband as a premarital sex partner, her risk of divorce increases.

His findings:

Using nationally representative data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, I estimate the association between intimate premarital relationships (premarital sex and premarital cohabitation) and subsequent marital dissolution. I extend previous research by considering relationship histories pertaining to both premarital sex and premarital cohabitation. I find that premarital sex or premarital cohabitation that is limited to a woman’s husband is not associated with an elevated risk of marital disruption.However, women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship have an increased risk of marital dissolution.

Here’s another study that makes it even more clear.

Findings:

Data from the 1988 US National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) were utilized to assess the impact of premarital sexual activity on subsequent marital stability. Among white NSFG subjects first married in 1965-85, virgin brides were significantly less to have become separated or divorced (25%) than women who had not been virgins at marriage (35%).

[…]The lower risk of divorce on the part of white women with no premarital sexual experience persisted even after numerous intervening and background variables were controlled.

 

If you’re going to talk to a young person about sex, it’s a good idea to use these studies to explain what you lose by having sex too early in the relationship. Although they may respond with anecdotes to refute studies, studies are important because they represent LOTS of data points, not just one or two cherry-picked cases. My view on all this is the Bible’s view – no sex before marriage. But when talking to people about this issue, I find it useful to have evidence ready in order to be convincing in every way possible.

“The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” is required reading for women who want to marry

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

I’ve been re-reading my favorite book on marriage, and so I thought I would re-post something about it.

Sue Bohlin of Probe Ministries read “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands“, and her assessment is here.

Excerpt:

Talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger has written a book that is improving thousands of marriages: The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.{1} We need this book because millions of wives either don’t know how to love their husbands wisely and well, or they’re too self-centered to see it as important. Dr. Laura credits this dismal condition to forty years of feminist philosophy, “with its condemnation of just about everything male as evil, stupid, and oppressive, and the denigration of female and male roles in families.”{2} While the women’s movement certainly had a hand to play in the disintegration of relationships and the family, I believe the core cause is our sinful self-centeredness, just as the Bible says.{3}

Which is why we need help, and God instructs older women to train younger women to love their husband and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.{4} The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands is a great resource for learning these important values and skills.

She talks about men’s needs for direct communication, respect, appreciation, support, and sex.

And ends with this:

I can’t recommend The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands highly enough. In fact, I gave a copy to my new daughter-in-law! Let me close with one more piece of wisdom from Dr. Laura: “[M]en are simple creatures who come from a woman, are nurtured and brought up by a woman, and yearn for the continued love, admiration and approval of a woman. . . Women need to better appreciate the magnitude of their power and influence over men, and not misuse or abuse it.”{25}

Sue is the husband of famous Christian scholar Ray Bohlin, PhD, and they’ve been married for a very long time.

And here’s another summary of the book that I found.

Full text:

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has written another book that deserves a place on the best seller list with six of her other books, such as Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives and Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, from this unmarried man’s perspective, is an excellent manual for women on how to get want they want from men and marriage and, generally, how to be happy. Dr. Laura makes a number of important, practical points, based on her experience in private practice, from advising her radio callers, and from literally hundreds of letters and emails she received from men and women while she was writing the book. Here are the points that struck this writer, together with commentary:

1. Men Need Women, and This Need Gives Women Huge Influence. Dr. Laura states the point as follows: “[M]en are simple creatures who come from a woman, are nurtured and brought up by a woman, and yearn for the continued love, admiration, and approval from a woman.” Women have great power and influence over men, and wives in particular have tremendous power over their husbands. How they use this power essentially controls the relationship, because women are the masters of most relationships and marriages. That’s why Dr. Laura says that she probably won’t write The Proper Care and Feeding of Wives: wives already have most of the power and their marriages depend, for the most part, on them.

2. Women Err in Favoring Children Over Husband. A friend once told this writer that once a woman has children, her husband is relegated to the moral equivalence of a piece of furniture. How sad if this is true in many marriages. Here’s how Dr. Laura puts it: “Once wives became mothers, they had no time to be wives. The men would even compliment their wives on being great mothers, but expressed considerable pain over not being shown love, affection, or sexual interest. The typical reply from a wife challenged with this was ‘I only have time to take care of one person, and our child is that person. I’m just too tired for you.’ This puts fathers in the ugly and uncomfortable position of feeling competitive with and resentful of their children, whom they love so much.”

3. Men and Women Are Different. That men and women are deeply different ought not to be notable, but for the fact that it is so often challenged today. Dr. Laura says that society tries to make both men and women “unisex.” But men are happiest being men, and women are happiest being women, with few exceptions. The differences start to manifest themselves very early. In one study Dr. Laura mentions, a barrier was placed between 1 year-old babies and their mothers. What did the little boys do? They attempted to get around the barrier or knock it down. The little girls? They cried until their mothers’ picked them up. Men tend to respond to things physically, women verbally. In fact, the two sexes are just right for each other.

4. Not Every Thought and Feeling Needs to be Said. Women tend to be so verbal, so expressive, that they can tire out men easily unless they exercise some restraint. Dr. Laura reports that wives generally overwhelm their husbands with communication. “Husbands imagine (so foolishly) that their wives are telling them something they actually need to know because they’re supposed to do something about it. Otherwise, men can’t imagine why the ‘communication’ is happening at all. It confuses them, frustrates them, and their response is to turn off. That’s when they unfairly become labeled insensitive.” Husbands and fiances are not girlfriends or psychologists, and women who want attention should adjust their communication style accordingly when speaking with them.

5. Men Are Not Mind-Readers. Most men are not very intuitive compared to most women. Many women “get caught up in the absurdly romanticized notion that ‘if he loved me, he’d just know what I’m thinking, what I’d like, what he should say.'” If a woman wants her man to do something, she should just ask him plainly, without nagging, and show appreciation when he does it. To act otherwise, as many women do, shows arrogance and lack of respect for the husband’s difference, and it leads to unhappiness in the marriage and in the family.

6. Man Is an Embodied Soul. No, Dr. Laura didn’t put it that way; “embodied soul” is a Catholic concept. But that concept is what underlies her discussion of how important it is to a man that his wife try to keep up her appearance. What does it mean that we are embodied souls? It means that our bodies are integral parts of who we are. We are not just souls. Our bodies are not like clothing that we can take on or off. There was no time during which we had only souls and not bodies, and in eternity as well we will have bodies. It is through our bodies, in fact, that we communicate to our loved ones and to the rest of the world. One thinks of the beautiful line from the old Anglican marriage rite: bride and groom pledge to each other “with my body I thee worship.” It is ironic, but in many cases men–sex-crazed pigs in the minds of many women–actually have a truer understanding of the beauty of the body and the meaning of the marital embrace than their wives do. “Objectification” may come as much or more from the woman’s side as from the husband’s if the woman sees her own body as being separate from rather than an integral part of herself. Dr. Laura writes: “In reading all the letters from men, I was struck by their depth of senstivity about the issue of women’s appearance. It wasn’t an impersonal, animal reaction (as it is with women the men don’t personally know), it was a deeply personal one. The wife’s comfort with and appreciation of her own body and femininity, and her willingness to share that with her husband, actually fed his sense of well-being, his feeling of being loved as a husband and valued as a ‘man.'”

7. Infidelity by Omission. Brides and grooms make a number of vows, not only of sexual fidelity. Marital vows include and imply words like love, honor, protect, and care for. “[W]hen one breaches those vows by neglect, is that also not a form of infidelity? Perhaps we should start looking at the act of intentionally depriving a spouse of legitimate needs as infidelity, too, because it stems from being unfaithful to the intent of the vows.”

8. In the Bedroom. To her credit, Dr. Laura gives due place to the importance for marriage of the marital act: “The bedroom is the foundation of marriage and family.” St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, that supposedly conservative institution within the Church, put it this way: “The marriage bed is an altar.” Enough said?

9. Women Should Appreciate Men’s Masculinity. Dr. Laura relates a trip she made recently to a swimming pool. A mom and a dad were wading with their infant child. Mom held the child against her chest, cooed to him, and swooped him up and down. She passed the baby to dad. He turned the baby’s face outward and swooshed him forward and up into the air. “Mom equals protection and nurturance. Dad equals autonomy and adventure. It is the perfect balance that helps produce a functional, secure human being.” Too many women, though, act like Alice Kramdens, constantly belitting their husbands, shooting down their aspirations, treating them like children. Dr. Laura writes: “When a wife treats her man like he’s one of her children, when she puts him down or thwarts his need for autonomy, adventure, risk, competition, challenge, and conquest, she ends up with a sullen, unooperative, unloving, hostile lump.”

10. Thou Shalt Not Covet. Dr. Laura contributes a novel (to this writer) and insightful contemporary application of the commandment, “thou shal not covet.” Specifically, she understands it as a rebuke to people who want it all, especially feminists. “Perhaps the feminist notions about women having power if they do it all has obstructed too many women’s ability to realize that in real life we all make choices, and that the true joy and meaning of life is not in how many things we have or do, but in the sacrifice and commitment we make to others within the context of the choices we’ve made. The Tenth Commandment, about coveting, reminds us that none of us can have everything there is nor everything we want. Without enjoying and appreciating our gifts and blessings, we create a hell on earth for ourselves and for those who love us.”

PCF Husbands is the best basic book on marriage. Easy to read, tons of wisdom. It’s a great book for women to read to find out what men really want from a wife, and to find out what a wife should do to kep her marriage intact and satisfying. Marriage can be a beautiful thing if both people go into the relationship with the view that each person has to put in 100% effort to make it work. Understanding a man’s needs helps a woman to put in her 100%. It would be hard to take care of a parrot or some other strange creature if you didn’t know anything about what their needs and habits were. This book explains a lot of what women need to know about men.

Can relationships succeed independently of the efforts of the people involved?

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

A few years ago, I blogged about the soul mate / fairy tale view of marriage, which I think is the dominant view of marriage among young people today – even among Christians. This view of marriage basically says that there is a person in the world out there who will match up so perfectly with each one of us that we will have to expend no effort and perform no actions and take responsibility for nothing in order for the relationship to work. it will just work on its own!

I’ve decided to link to this recent article by Matt Walsh which is on that same topic.

He writes:

The disease is the fanciful, unrealistic, fictionalized perceptions that both males and females harbor about marriage.

For example, think of the glamorization of the “mysterious” and “damaged” guy from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Hollywood makes him seem alluring and sexy, but forgets to mention that most of the time, in the real world, that dude probably has herpes, a coke habit, and a criminal record.

Still, that bit of propaganda is nothing compared to the underlying misconception that so many of us carry around consciously or subconsciously, because we’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, and read it in books a million times since childhood: namely, that there is just one person out there for us. Our soul mate. Our Mr. or Mrs. Right. The person we are “meant to be with.”

Matt thinks this view of relationships is not realistic:

I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

That’s what we do. We make our spouses into our soul mates by marrying them. We don’t simply recognize that they are soul mates and then just sort of symbolically consecrate that recognition through what would then be an effectively meaningless marriage sacrament. Instead, we find another unique, dynamic, wholly individualized human being, and we make the monumental, supernatural decision to bind ourselves to them for eternity.

It’s a bold and risky move, no matter how you look at it. It’s important to recognize this, not so that you can run away like a petrified little puppy and never tie the knot with anyone, but so that you can go into marriage knowing, at least to some extent, what you’re really doing. This person wasn’t made for you. It wasn’t “designed” to be. There will be some parts of your relationship that are incongruous and conflicting. It won’t all click together like a set of Legos, as you might expect if you think this coupling was fated in the stars.

It’s funny that people get divorced and often cite “irreconcilable differences.” Well what did they think was going to happen? Did they think every difference would be reconcilable? Did they think every bit of contention between them could be perfectly and permanently solved?

Finally, regarding his own marriage:

There were literally millions of things that either of us could have done. An innumerable multitude of possible outcomes, but this was our outcome because we chose it. Not because we were destined or predetermined, not because it was “meant to happen,” but because we chose it. That, to me, is much more romantic than getting pulled along by fate until the two of us inevitably collide and all that was written in our horoscopes passively comes to unavoidable fruition.

We are the protagonists of our love story, not the spectators.

I see this problem everywhere, even with Christian women who have been raised as Disney princesses. I was just told by one last week that she will marry when she meets “the right man” – the man who will require her to do nothing. This magical relationship will require no communication, no working through disagreements, no problem solving, no compromise, no effort, no self-sacrifice of any kind. it will just “work”, without any growing up by anyone. Two unemployed people with degrees in English can have a fine marriage, I suppose, traveling the world and skydiving every Tuesday.

I think that when problems arise between two people who are largely compatible, the right thing to do is to engage and solve the problems. Yes, work isn’t required in pop culture notions of romance, but those things don’t reflect the real world anyway. In the real world, actions to solve a problem count for more than words that avoid the problem. Engineering principles and self-sacrificial attitude are infinitely more useful in a relationship than all the pop culture descriptions of ideal men and ideal women and ideal relationships combined.

By the way, the best book on this problem is Dr. Laura’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”, which clearly sets out how a woman’s choices influence her husband’s ability to perform well. The myth of the mind-reading “right man” is also debunked.

Is cohabitation a better way to prepare for marriage than courting?

Painting: "Courtship", by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)
Painting: “Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)

Consider this assessment of cohabitation from the radically-leftist New York Times.

Excerpt:

AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

That’s a nice idea – wanting protection against divorce. But I think these hopeful attitudes that young people have about cohabitation and the utility / harmlessness of premarital sex, is so much whistling past the graveyard. The fact is that cohabitation does not improve marital stability.

The New York Times author assesses the evidence about cohabitation:

Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”

“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

Cohabitation is associated with higher risks of divorce because it works to undermine the need for quality communication during courting and the need for commitment that is based on discipline, instead of pleasure. People slide into something that looks like marriage because the sex pulls them in. But they’ve never taken the time to talk about what the relationship is really about, and whether they are intending to commit to the other person for life, and on what terms, and for what reason. Young people find these conversations difficult and scary for a reason – they are not capable of discussing relationships in terms of self-sacrifice, self-control, and self-denial.

The focus on early sex is caused by a focus on wanting to get to pleasure right away. They want relationships to be like a consumer good, where they get their needs met without having to talk about suitability for roles, and acceptance of responsibilities and obligations. In my experience, young people are terrified of the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of a real commitment. They want relationships to be free,easy and fun – where they just get to do whatever they feel like, moment by moment. And somehow, it’s all supposed to work out, without anyone talking seriously about roles and responsibilities and commitment.

But of course that doesn’t work as well as keeping your distance and getting to know each other first. It’s not just compatibility that is important, though – it’s that both people need to prepare for the roles and responsibilities they will have in a marriage, and demonstrate to each other that each is capable of performing those roles.

What’s the answer?

Research has shown that pre-marital chastity produces more stable and higher quality marriages. And that’s because chastity helps people to focus on conversations and obligations instead of the recreational sex which clouds the judgment and glosses over the seriousness of marriage. Premarital sex rushes the relationship to the point where it is harder to break it off because of the sunk costs of sex and the pain of the break-up. Courtship is the time to discuss the things that break up marriages, like finances and division of labor. It is the time to demonstrate self-control and fidelity. Courting doesn’t allow either person to get control of the relationship through sex, so that they can get their needs met without having to care about the other person. When sex is ruled off the table, the only way to have the relationship go on is by serving the other person and showing them that you have what it takes to do the marriage role you’re assigned. That’s hard work, but young people need to accept that and get on with preparing for and practicing their marriage responsibilities.

Why not go back to courting?

If you asked me, I would tell you that courting is protection against a painful break-up as well as protection against a bad marriage. And the aim of courting is to interview the other person so that you can see whether they understand the demands of the marriage and whether they can perform their duties to their spouse and children. In particular, men should investigate whether the woman has prepared (or is willing to prepare now) to perform her roles as wife and mother, and women should investigate whether the man has prepared to perform his roles as protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader (or is willing to prepare now). Courting is not designed to be fun, although it can be fun. It is not meant to make people feel happy, it is mean to prepare them for marriage. And this is because you cannot translate fun and happy into marriage, because marriage is about well-defined roles, self-sacrifice and commitment. Marriage is about following through for the other person, whether you get what you want or not. You’d be surprised how often people give up on courting and show that their real goal for a relationship is not lifelong self-sacrificial love at all, but just using other people for their own happiness while they keep their distance from the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of the marriage covenant.

And that’s why I encourage men to very gently and subtly guide the relationship in a way that will allow both the woman and the man to practice their expected marital duties, see how they feel about their duties and get better at being able to perform them. Men have the most to lose from the divorce courts, if things go south. That’s why it is the man’s the responsibility to detect and reject women who are only interested in fun and thrills.