An article in Psychology Today Magazine warned against couples living together prior to taking their marriage vows. The article pointed out those who live with each other prior to marriage have double the risk of getting a divorce versus those who do not. According to their findings, couples who cohabited before marriage generally had lower quality relationships and were less satisfied in the marriage than those who first got married and then started to live together.
In spite of these observations, the article stated that 40 or so years ago living together was rare and still frowned upon by society. Today, however, millions of couples live with each other without being married.
"Some evidence indicates that women have less control over the progress of the cohabiting relationship . . . Cohabiting men may carry their uncertainty forward into marriage, with destructive consequences."
The article also quoted a study that found that men who lived with their mate before they got married were generally less commitment to the relationship versus couples who did live together pre-marriage.
The concept that couples living together who have sex are married before God is widely believed in some religious circles. It has merit in the sense that the married state is a relationship initiated by the Creator and is His choice for all of mankind. Most cultures, indeed, are predominantly monogamous - one man married to one woman, and for life.
In a discussion on divorce, Jesus agreed with this, going on to say "What God has joined man should not separate" (Matthew 19:6). Note - not whom but what God has joined. The state of marriage is God's choice, He ordained the marriage relationship. He does not individually enter into every marriage! All marriages in the divine economy are to be monogamous and for life. Increasingly, however, human frailty fails to comply - thus forfeiting the full value of the marriage relationship.
Marriage is a coming together of a man and a woman, as a couple, to complete one another and to become "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This oneness is on the emotional, intellectural, spiritual and sexual plane. Clearly the latter is important, for among God's initial instructions to the first couple was to "be fruitful and multiply." It is through the enlargement of the human race that God's purpose for humanity is fulfilled, for we all have the potential to become sons and daughters of the Almighty.
Marriage, then, is not to be taken lightly. This has been recognized through the millennia, and, to 'cement' the union, it is usually surrounded by elaborate, public ceremony with commitment to permanence and enforced by social norms. The breakdown of this couples pattern, especially in the Western world, has contributed to the decadence and decay of our civilization.
It can be seen, then, that sexual union by itself is far removed from an authentic, and Godly, marriage. The evidence above suggests mere cohabitation falls short on all counts.
There is no doubt that couples who live together and who indulge in sex are considered fornicators in the Bible. Fornication, in essence, is all forms of illicit sexual activity whether in or out of marriage. Any behavior that falls short of divine standards is illicit.
Any unmarried couple who has sex, or who promiscuously persists in habitually having multiple sexual partners is a fornicator (the Bible also labels them a whoremonger, Revelation 21:8). It is a sin that unless, ultimately repented of, can excluded a person from God's Kingdom. When such practices are permanently abandoned, they can, in Christ, be forgiven.