Bishop Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute, says couples who cohabit before marriage miss the profound meaning of the engagement period and enter into an arrangement that is more unfavorable to women than to men.
In an interview with Zenit News, Bishop Laffitte discussed the problem of widespread cohabitation and the consequences it has on the personal lives of couples.
For instance, the engagement period has a very profound meaning that “begins when two young people who love one another and have declared their love to each other wish to live together for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“Thus, a certain time of preparation begins for them, and the Church provides for it before the marriage. In the meantime, it is a period that has particular meaning, because it is the time of promise, not that of living together.”
There is a great difference between being engaged and living together because the promise is not yet the definitive commitment it would be in marriage. “Therefore, it doesn’t create an absolute right for a future common life,” he said, clarifying that engagement is not about giving oneself but in preparing for the gift of oneself.
“The lack of awareness between the promise and the enjoyment of the goods proper to marriage, in other words, living together. When two young people love one another and live together, they are already having a good that only marriage can offer. The gift of oneself to another means that the future of one belongs to the other, and the other enters into my liberty and my future. Instead when they live together, and a difficulty arises, they can say, ‘we have had a good time together, let’s remain friends’.”
He sees two main consequences of cohabitation.
“First, because one is not properly prepared for the gift of oneself and has unduly appropriated the availability of the other. And the second problem is a situation – and mothers of families will understand me – which is more unfavorable for the women than for the men, because they don’t give the same thing. Whereas in marriage, both must give. There is no equality of expectations.”
He also attributes the decline in birth rates to cohabitation, saying that living together results in delays of the birth of the first child “because one gets the habit of living sexuality outside openness to life, with contraceptive methods, to say nothing worse. And to use one’s sexuality in a contraceptive way makes persons unprepared for receiving the gift of life.”
Bishop Lafitte cited the statistics that find couples who live together for a number of years before getting married actually have a greater tendency to separate and divorce on the first two years than those who do not.
There is a dimension of love and fidelity in human nature, he said, citing John Paul II who said “the greatest desire is to love and to be loved.”
“For instance, there is no adolescent in the world who, when he falls in love for the first time, let’s say at 16 or 17, doesn’t have the desire that what he is experiencing will last all his life. The desire of a love forever is entirely natural in man,” the bishop said.
“When young people are helped to ask themselves what they really want, then they realize that the ‘flirt’ of a night in a disco or at the university might have been enjoyable but it didn’t satisfy the desire in their heart.”
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