It can be straight-up awkward: Your Christian friends are moving in together. They want your support; it’s a big step. What’s it look like to be a good friend when their sights are set on living together?
A friend once spoke of her anger that as a young believer, no close women in her life had taken time to chat about her behavior with guys. My friend felt her church left her unprotected.
“Why didn’t anyone care enough to tell me?” she wondered aloud, pain on her face.
Truth: Your friend likely won’t see you as protecting them if you suggest they shouldn’t be living together. Anger’s more likely. Confrontation about someone’s sexual choices isn’t really politically correct.
No one likes to be told they have cancer, either. But unchecked, damage grows.
Additionally, Christians have a reputation for stepping in when things get obviously sinful—say a Stage 4-equivalent diagnosis. One friend who’d lived with her boyfriend told me, “When people who didn’t care or ask about my life otherwise suddenly cast stones, it pushed me farther away from their beliefs.”
So you’re walking a razor’s edge, potentially driving your friend away from God … versus attempting to sincerely encourage what’s best for them.
Yet 1 Corinthians 13:6 sets the standard high for real love: It doesn’t delight in any evil. It rejoices in truth—God’s truth.
Consider Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well (see John 4)—who admits to five previous husbands and shacking up with her current partner. What impresses her doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ boldness, but his genuine compassion. His understanding of what her heart truly wants.
Here are six questions I’d ask myself before confronting a friend who’s moving in together.
1. What is my friend’s commitment to Jesus?
Churchgoing three Sundays a month does not a Jesus-follower make: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Whether your friend truly claims to follow Jesus—and knows living together is wrong—is a significant factor in how we address them.
Why? Becoming like Jesus happens after we choose to follow him. We don’t expect people walking in darkness to act like they’re living in light.
Just after a friend of mind began to explore faith, Christians confronted her about living with her boyfriend. Decades later, she speaks of the encounter with disdain. Repeated similar encounters with Christians inhibited her association with Christianity.
On the other hand, Scripture’s tough on those who claim to follow Jesus but don’t desire giving up the sin that held him to the Cross. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people … For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (verses 9, 12). (Note: The original Greek word for “judge” in this passage, krino, refers to separating, or distinguishing right from wrong.)
2. What’s going on in my own heart?
Ask sincerely and prayerfully,
Why do I want to confront my friend? Do I feel any superiority to them? (Check out 1 Corinthians 4:7.) Do I love them enough to say something? If not, why not?
Rather than shaming your friend, creating a sense of unworthiness because of what they’ve done—guilt-exposure is much healthier.
Shame will likely eliminate the opportunity to continue speaking into your friend’s life. The fear of disconnection puts your friend in defensive, protective, or even destructive mode:
Fine. I don’t need you. I just wanted your support. Or, If you’d hop off the saddle of that moral high horse … Or I feel kicked to the curb.
Because, as pastor and author Timothy Keller points out, “If you are a sinner (but, by implication, I am not) then instead of having an actual discussion and placing myself genuinely in the path of your questions, I marginalize you.”*
But there are two additional, critical questions I ask:
- What do I know about the overarching path my friend’s on?
- Have I spent time praying and seeking confidential counsel?
As a parent, if I had a kid with a drug problem, but kept harping on their pants riding too low? I miss the bigger path of God’s restoration for them.
One friend of mine began living together with his believing fiancee. But he’d just emerged from a lifestyle of homelessness and social phobia. He’d come back to God after decades running from Him. I had to ask if this was the biggest issue at hand. What would it look like to encourage his restoration to God, participating in God’s larger journey of God drawing my friend?
I challenge him much differently than I would a 22-year-old who’s been raised in a Christian home.
3. What’s the desire underneath my friends moving in together?
When Jesus speaks with the woman at the well, He’s classy and warm, even as He confronts her.
And uses her sin to appeal to the thirst inside of her.
Beneath her checkered history with guys He sees an outcast, longing for love. He understands her so completely that when He calls out her need—to be wholly satisfied—she acknowledges her own unfulfillment (John 4:15).
I most often understand a friend’s true longing when listening to the heart of what they’re saying—before I advance any personal agenda.
If my friend believes I care more about what I have to say or shellacking over my conscience (“Welp! Did what I could!”), they’ll shut down.
4. What questions can I ask to explore my friend’s longing?
Put yourself in your friend’s Chuck Taylors. Why are they excited about this relationship move?
As long this relationship’s positive for your friend (it’s not abusive; this person is marriage material), that’s your strategy: Help them think, “Why not marriage?”
Like Jesus did, ask questions to interact with your friend’s known or subconscious longing and concerns.
Must feel great to find that level of commitment. How do you feel? … Have you considered going all the way and tying the knot?
How’s it going with you two? You seem to be really happy.
How are you two getting along? (If your friend seems fiercely protective of their relationship, why might they be denying reality? And do they perceive you as emotionally safe?)
The reasons your friend gives for not marrying (financial reasons; an outdated institution) may be intellectual shells covering what the human heart resists. (If they wanted to get married, money or tradition wouldn’t stop them.)
Then consider, Is confrontation what God would say my friend needs most in this particular moment?
Consider beefing up with “Why I Wish We Hadn’t Lived Together before Marriage”—which addresses ideas like starting a serious relationship … with a lack of commitment.
5. What’s legit about their core desire? How does moving in together fail to fulfill it?
If your friend fears losing their partner, wants to be loved, hopes to try out marriage with a fake“free” trial? Those are legit desires. Even if their ways of meeting them aren’t.
No one wants to forfeit someone they love. Or to be rejected. No one wants to leap into a lifetime commitment and not get out.
Yet Keller points out how seeking to fulfill those longings outside of Jesus ultimately fails us.
Everybody has got to live for something, but … if that thing is not [Jesus], it will fail you. First, it will enslave you … If anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself. But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.*
Paul acknowledges how these empty philosophies fall short when he speaks with secular philosophers in Acts 17. We see a three-step process—similar to Jesus’ at the well—we can apply.
- Affirm Godward desire: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (v. 22).
- Expose how this philosophy falls short: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone…” (v. 29).
- Point them to the true Satisfier of what they long for: “Some men joined him and believed” (v. 34).
6. How will I be kind and straightforward?
Ask God for wisdom to love your friend well—and for Him to go before you, orchestrating circumstances and your friend’s softness of heart so they’ll listen to words that give life, words you’re asking Him to give.
If your friend knows what they’re doing is wrong, maybe that sounds like,
So thrilled your relationship is at this level. I hope you know I fiercely love you and accept you. I get that this relationship finally provides what you’ve wanted for so long.
But I also love you enough that I need to tell you I want a marriage that lasts for you—not a relationship outside of what God wants. You guys sleeping together before marriage hurts both of you. I’m probably not saying what you don’t already know. This is wrong.
If you trust me, I’d love to help you find an alternative solution that really works.
Do you hate me for saying that? Hope you can see I really care about you.
Restoration will look uniquely different for every situation of Christian couples living together. What could happen as you love your friend well?
*Keller, Timothy. The Insider and the Outcast (Encounters with Jesus Series Book 2). New York: Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, chapter 1.
Copyright © 2020 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families (Harvest House), releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.