Since widespread cohabitation is a fairly recent phenomenon, many pastoral ministers are stillieaming how to address the issue in marriage preparation. The Committee on Marriage and Family hopes that this paper provides helpful guidance, but it acknowledges that more can be done. One challenge is to provide additional formation for those who prepare couples for marriage so that they can more effectively handle the issues raised by cohabitation. Another challenge is learning how to discuss cohabitation in the various settings in which marriage preparation takes place.
Above all, when cohabiting couples approach the church for marriage we encourage pastoral ministers to recognize this as a teachable moment. Here is a unique opportunity to help couples understand the Catholic vision of marriage. Here, too, is an opportunity for evangelization. By supporting the couple's plans for the future rather than chastising them for the past, the pastoral minister can draw a couple more deeply into the church community and the practice of their faith. Treated with sensitivity and respect, couples can be helped to understand and live the vocation of Christian marriage.
I In 1995 a national study of Catholic-sponsored marriage preparation found that 43.6 percent of couples were living together at the time of their marriage preparation. The average length of cohabitation had been 15.6 months. See "Marriage Preparation in the Catholic Church Getting It Right," Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family, 1995, p. 43.
2 In a report titled "The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America" (The National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, 1999) authors David Popenoe, Ph.D., and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D., identify the rise in unmarried cohabitation as partly responsible for the 43 percent decline, from 1960 to 1996, in the annual number of marriages per thousand unmarried women.