TEST DRIVE A CAR, NOT YOUR SPOUSE

RELATIONSHIPS | 7 mins

I still remember coming home to the note on my countertop. The apartment was empty, and I ate dinner on the floor because my ex had taken all the furniture with her.

Do you know how frustrating it is to plan three different weddings with the same person? It took being hurt over and over to realize that the living-together model wasn’t working. I know it sounds crazy and old-school, but let me share why I think moving in with your significant other is a mistake.

Any time my ex decided she didn’t want to be in the relationship, the door was open for her to leave. So, I ended up engaged and unengaged three different times to the same person.

On one hand, I get it. The idea of marriage can be scary. What if there’s something crazy about the person? What if they’re hiding something I’m not seeing yet? In a culture where secrets, affairs, and addictions are constantly emerging, it seems like a logical fear.

But if we’re being honest, I think most of the time our motivation for moving in together is that we’re just impatient. “It’s simpler logistically. It’ll save so much money,” we say. Or, “We’re just so in love, we can’t wait to get married to live together.”

Test-driving might be great for buying a car, but it doesn’t work for determining your future spouse.

A Caution with Test-Driving When you test drive something, you aren’t accepting it as it is—you’re evaluating it, and that destroys the very foundation a marriage is meant to be built upon, which is loving someone unconditionally. It’s like saying, “I like you enough to share my life with you temporarily, but I don’t trust you enough to commit to you forever.” Instead of choosing to sacrifice for someone in a way that honors them, you’re looking for their flaws and red flags. It’s a move of self-protection, which is the opposite of the sacrificial posture it takes to make a marriage last.

In my experience, moving in together didn’t bring us closer to getting married—it took our relationship further from it. Every time I moved in with my ex, it slowed down our wedding plans because other household work took priority. Who cares about a venue deposit when you don’t have a couch?

Convenience vs. Covenant Marriage is designed to be a lasting connection built around a covenant, strengthened over time as both people grow in character. It literally can’t be built around convenience, comfort, or even compatibility.

When we live together before we’re married, we often see this play out over small things like someone not cleaning up their dishes. When your SO does something inconvenient or uncomfortable, your mind instantly goes to, “I don’t know if I can live with this person forever.” However, if you were already married, you would probably think, “I’ve already committed to this person, so even though I’m annoyed, we need to work through this, not just end the relationship.”

In marriage, you choose to accept someone. That doesn’t mean you are stuck with their brokenness as is forever, but because of your commitment, you have the security to work through flaws and annoyances together. You learn to talk about them because you’re committed to creating a permanent life together. That commitment gives each person the safety to admit mistakes, face flaws, and grow without insecurity.

Think back to the person you were 10 years ago. You were probably pretty different than you are today. We’re all constantly changing, which means we can’t predict who our spouse will be in 10, 20, or 50 years. When you test drive a car, you know what you’re getting for a few years, and when it starts performing poorly, you can upgrade it. However, that doesn’t work when choosing a spouse, because no one will stay the same throughout your marriage. Both of you will experience life’s normal wear and tear—and you can both get better. As you each change and evolve, so will your marriage. That’s why marriage always comes with a giant leap of faith, no matter how long you’re with someone beforehand.

God’s Way I’m willing to bet you know people who didn’t live together before marriage and are now divorced. I also bet you know a couple who lived together, then got married, and their marriage is doing just fine. If you don’t believe in God, you might not see a right or wrong way to start your marriage. But I can say from personal experience that by not choosing to do it God’s way, which I believe is waiting until marriage to live together, we are settling for less.

I once asked some friends who lived together before marriage how it felt being newlyweds. Instead of being overjoyed about starting a new life together, both said not much had changed. They had the wedding, went on a honeymoon, and returned to business as usual. On the other hand, my friends who waited to live together until after they got married wouldn’t stop bragging about how amazing their lives as newlyweds were. Their marriage started off fresh with excitement—and an exciting, fulfilling start to your marriage is the gift God wants to give all of us who trust his guidance on this topic.

God loves marriage because he created it. He wants marriage to be fantastic—a picture of how he loves his people, fights for them, dies for them, pursues them at all costs, and creates a banner of safety and beauty in a relationship that can only be found in him. When you wait to move in with your spouse, you align with God’s vision for marriage. It may be counter-cultural, but by choosing it, you honor God and protect yourself within his design which never disappoints.

At the end of the day, marriage will always involve risk, but I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. Married friends have shown me there are better ways to evaluate a potential marriage than moving in together.

  • Have the hard conversations up front, and learn to fight well. You’ll learn a lot more about a person by seeing how they handle conflict than seeing whether they put their dishes away.
  • Expose your relationship to older, trustworthy people you respect. I don’t mean just technically introduce them once at dinner. Regularly be around other couples, families, and mentors who can sniff out concerns. Be upfront about your fears, insecurities, and conflicts, and accept their honest feedback with humility.
  • If you’re unsure, try marriage counseling. Yes, even before you get engaged. Get a professional involved to help you discern whether your relationship issues are things you can work through.

Whatever you believe about God, most of the time his advice is unpopular because it goes against our natural preferences. But if we’re brave enough to try, we find it actually works. It works because He designed us, relationships, sex, and how the entire world functions best, and he wants it to work for us. He wants to prevent us from pain and set us up for success. I plan on taking the advice above next time, and whatever your current relationship status is, I’d love for you to join me.

Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:

  • Share this broadly or with a friend to start a conversation.
  • Want to talk, but not sure where to start? Call 513-731-7400 or email us to find a next step. It’s free, totally confidential, and zero judgments.
  • Take something in this article and actually do it.

Discussion Questions

  1. What strikes you most in this article? If you’re on your own, spend time writing your response. If you’re talking it through with others, share your reactions.

  2. What is your biggest regret or fear about your current relationship (or from your past if you’re not with someone now)?

  3. What is one way you can move towards a healthier relationship this week? If you’re not sure, forward this article as a conversation starter to your significant other or to a trusted friend as a means of welcoming outside counsel into your relationship. Vulnerability and difficult conversations are always hard, but the growth they bring is always worth it.