I am many years retired and have always been single. I have a close male friend who is now widowed and I am wondering what would be your opinion of us as an older couple living together [not getting married] for companionship? We do not have any sexual relationship on any level. Is this wrong for us as Christians to live together?

When people are younger and ask that question we tend to think of Ephesians 5:3: ‘among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, because these are improper for God’s holy people’. The concern is rightly about the example we are setting and whether we appear to be endorsing living together without the commitment of marriage. Many ministers are under pressure to turn a blind eye to sexually active cohabiting couples, including those who hold positions of leadership or authority in the church. Scripture is clear that God’s ideal and the standard we should always aspire to and protect, is marriage. We should be cautious over the appearance of wrongdoing and avoid causing a ‘weaker’ believer to stumble.

However, as senior members of the community, I perceive there can be a different ability to communicate the reality of what is going on and most importantly, to be believed. Life, as you well know, is so far from being first and foremost about sex; companionship is the true prize. I believe we would be colluding with the sexual power base of our society if you indeed denied yourselves the opportunity at this key stage in life for much needed companionship. I am assuming you have considered other less vulnerable yet creative options to nurture companionship? Some people move to accommodation that includes private rooms as well as shared communal areas. Others opt for community living models where more than two people live under one roof.

If you do go ahead with moving in together, it will be important to continue to invest in areas of your life that are not mutually shared so that you retain your individuality and the friendship does not become more intense than the level of long-term commitment. Talk about the what ifs: what if a romantic attachment does develop within the friendship? What if one of you develops a romantic attachment to someone else? What if one of you is unable to pay future bills?

One of the strengths of marriage is that there is clear covenant definition of expectations. You are charting territory without that clarity of framework. I suggest you find an accountability relationship to be an external arbiter, providing a voice of wisdom to protect you from getting locked up with each other over issues.

It will be important to ensure tactfully and gracefully that relevant people are clear as to the nature of your relationship. This enables them to know how to relate to you both appropriately. For instance, they will want to know whether social invitations should be made singular or plural as well as a whole host of other everyday interactions.

If your friend has children from his marriage their feelings will need to be responded to with particular care. People will talk, and you will have to be secure enough to cope with that, but at least if you send out clear information you will minimise misunderstandings.

In all you do, be mindful of how you can be careful in not setting an example that would endorse or give a hint of sexual cohabiting. Sharing a home will demand integrity on many fronts, not just the sexual. This will include how you manage the financial realities of sharing a house and all that brings. All of these practical areas can put strain on a friendship that was easygoing when you didn’t live together.

Whatever you decide, set a positive example of meaningful relationships of support and intimacy in older age. We all need this! The loneliness and isolation that many older people live in within our society is inhumane and against the inspiration of creation and the essence of trinity. Make careful responses to the potential pitfalls and make the most of your friendship giving it a wise context to flourish in.