Parents’ nightmare—cohabitation

Today, if we comment adversely about our son living with his girlfriend, or our daughter cohabiting with her boyfriend, we are likely to be told that we are “too old fashioned,” “too religious” “out of touch with the real world” or we are told “everyone does it, it’s the accepted thing.” We probably find that talking, advising or counselling our son or daughter seems only to make matters worse. Consequently we will no doubt experience feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, as we seem to be able to do nothing about the situation. If direct confrontation, in love, with our son and daughter has failed, what can we do?

Firstly, we must never stop loving them both and we must really accept them where they are; and as difficult as it may be, we must accept what they are doing, although this doesn’t mean we condone it. Secondly, for our sake as well as theirs, we should state in love our disapproval of what they are doing, and tell them what our feelings about it are, so as to be seen not to be condoning their cohabitation. Having stated this clearly, it would be best—for our future relationship—if we did not keep bringing this up every time we meet! An exception to this might be if we sense they may be having second thoughts or seeking guidance; however we must tread very softly here so as not to appear judgmental. When they wish to stay with us from time to time; we will probably want to insist on our own “house rules,” as we are of course entitled to, these will depend on the circumstances at the time. Again we should make these clear to them, in love, and in advance before they arrive! Thirdly, we must pray for them unceasingly, because this is our greatest gift as Christians, and we have a responsibility as parents to use it.

How do we pray for a break-up of a relationship, and should we pray for such a break up? We will no doubt pray that our son or daughter will become open to Christ, and turn to him in this time of temptation and be able to see that the relationship is anything but truly Christian. We will probably feel too that we should be praying also for the other person who appears to have led, or be leading our son or daughter into wrong relationship. It may be, of course, that we have a hunch or even know that our son or daughter themselves are the ones, who are leading their friends astray. How do we cover all these situations in our prayer?

We shouldn’t of course, be too concerned with the exact wording of our prayers, because God knows what is in our minds before we even begin to pray to him. However he does expect us always to seek his help, and we should remember that Jesus said: “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14: 14). We should also remember, then, that if we ask him for anything we should with expectant faith believe it would be granted and thank him for it in our prayer. A very effective prayer for wrong relationships might be worded as follows:

“Lord Jesus in Your name, by Your authority and in the power of Your most precious blood we break all links and bonds between ……… and ……… which are not of You, and we thank you that these bonds are being broken even now.”

The prayer of both parents together, for their offspring, is always particularly powerful; and as husband and wife we should pray this prayer for our son or daughter at least daily until such time as the relationship problem is resolved. This type of prayer, of course, could also be used when we are concerned about other relationships within our family, or even between our family and ourselves. We should again continue to pray until the situation is right.

An added burden for many parents we find is that when they condemn “sleeping together” as wrong they are told that they are being judgmental, and what is more unfortunate is that they often get this response from their churches from whom they seek support. Our society has certainly trivialised grave wrong doing by changing its name, don’t let us be caught in the same trap! In “sleeping together” and in almost every case of cohabitation, non-marital sexual relations take place, and this is fornication, an offence against chastity. The New Catechism says of this “It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children” (CCC §2353). The Catechism also says, “Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in Continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity” (CCC §2350). So let us be in no doubt about cohabitation, sleeping together, de facto marriages, or whatever euphemism is in vogue, being wrong. In most cases it is also in violation of the Fourth Commandment, as it dishonours one’s parents in a most hurtful way.

It seems that many have difficulty in calling sin “sin,” and at the same time equating this with the call to be accepting and compassionate to those who succumb to temptation and fall. It is hollow acceptance and compassion if we don’t mention sin for tear of hurting someone who has sinned! No one benefits. We could not do better than follow the example of Jesus. When he was confronted with the woman caught in adultery, he didn’t accuse the woman, but he did accept adultery as sin, and said so: “go and sin no more.” So we are called to accept the sinner but not the sin. Therefore let us call cohabitation sin, but not judge our sons and daughters; accept, love and pray for them, but not judge or accuse them.

One of the saddest aspects of cohabitation is how it mocks marriage. Sacramental marriage is so much more than a couple just living together, it is a call from God to live in a unique relationship with one other, person as a sign of his love to the World. The sacrament empowers the couple to give their lives so thoroughly to one another that they become “two in one flesh,” united in all things. They are empowered by God to live a moral, life-giving existence with a permanence that would be impossible in purely human terms. Marriage is an encounter with Jesus, and through it God favours the couple, blesses them, and touches them in saving and loving ways. Living a truly Christian marriage places the couple daily in a dynamic relationship with God the third person in their marriage. How impoverished, how empty then is cohabitation by comparison.

No doubt much of the blame for this trend of cohabiting is society’s general approach to marriage today, where easy divorce is seen as the answer to all marriage problems, although it’s probably the answer to none. Many who see this break up in so many marriages can be perhaps excused for thinking that there is little point in getting married themselves. We who have the graces of a sacramental marriage must also take responsibility for marriage break-up and for seeing so many of our young adults cohabiting, because we have not set them the example of how marriage should be. Our marriages should be seen as different, should be seen as full of God’s love. Christian marriage should be a visible sign of Christ’s activity, because the couple that enter into marriage with each other are the body of Christ. They act visibly and in them Christ is acting; their whole life together as husband and wife are signs through which Jesus Christ is expressing himself. Do our youngsters know this? Have we told them? Is it explained to them in their religious instructions?

In almost every case cohabitation involves sexual relations, and sexual relations should be an expression of love, love is essentially commitment—giving up the right to change our minds—so cohabitation is sex without commitment, which is a lie. A cohabiting couple are free to change their minds about their relationship with one another, so they are not committed, whatever they say and however genuine they feel their love is at this time. Sexual relations outside marriage are a denial of the Christian understanding of sex: two people giving themselves to one another as “all that they are,” and as “all that they are” has already been given to Christ in Baptism, this must include Jesus as party to the agreement. Sexual intercourse then must be the most powerful sacramental sign of marriage. David Knight in his book “The Good News about Sex” really puts spousal love in perspective when he compares sexual intercourse with the passion and death of Jesus on the cross. Both are passionate, symbolic, physical gestures of love dealing with the same kind of reality. Both are passionate ways of expressing self-gift to another, one through pleasure the other through pain, both are the expressions of commitment. On the cross Jesus gave his body as a sign that God would he given to his people forever. God pledged himself, and the seal of the covenant was Christ’s blood. In sexual intercourse, the couple make a pledge of unending self–gift, which is the seal of a covenant that will last until death. What each person is saying to the other is—like Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given up for you.”

If we could only instil the beauty, depth and meaning of Christian marriage into our sons and daughters as they mature into young adults, and also the unique role of sex within this covenant of love, perhaps they would see cohabitation as it really is, living a lie, a couple deceiving themselves.