Sara (not her real name) came in for her appointment a while ago and I could tell something, other than the usual, was on her mind. She has been seeing her boyfriend for a little over a year. She’s 24 and he is 27 (not their actual ages). Sara’s been thinking about the future lately and believes she is ready for things to go to the next level with her boyfriend.
But what IS the next level?
For many, it’s moving in together. Cohabitation, the intellectuals call it.
For some, it’s putting a ring on it, as Queen B(eyonce) would say.
This usually brings up lots of questions for both people, especially about living together; if it’s good or bad, worth it or not, ethical or not.
Many of these answers depend on your own personal standards. But we can look at some practical pluses and potential minuses of living together.
When both parties are committed to each other, moving in together can help solidify the relationship. This increases if the couple has been together for a length of time that they have been through some of life’s ups and downs. Things like deaths in the family, family crises, loss of a job (his or hers), or even a car breaking down. How we act or react under stress can be very telling for a relationship.
Here are some questions for you when considering challenges that you may be facing as a couple:
- Does he absolutely lose his mind on a regular basis?
- Does she affirm and support him?
- Are you aligned spiritually? Does that matter to you?
- Do the two of you talk to each other and come up with a plan to work it out your challenges?
- Are your romantic needs aligned?
- When one has work stress, do you look to the other person for support, or do you act out and pick a fight for no reason?
- What challenges might you have around your respective families?
However, experiencing times of stress can test the mettle of a relationship in new ways. Communication styles, coping mechanisms, and resilience often show up, for better or worse, in these circumstances and can be great information in evaluating the long-term potential for fulfillment of a relationship.
All couples – even the best of couples – have the inevitable disagreements and being able to have an argument and come out the other side in better emotional shape is a powerful indicator of relationship health.
Further, couples that are engaged before they move in together see this arrangement as the next step as they prepare for marriage. Because they both have the same relationship goals in mind and have demonstrated a certain level of commitment to each other, they are ultimately more fulfilled and happier as the move toward the next phase of life, and beyond.
Research has shown that often women see the decision to move in together as a stepping-stone to marriage. Men don’t always see it that way. It’s important to have an open and honest discussion about the state of the relationship and make sure both parties are on the same page.
While the couple can take “getting to know each other” to the next level and see if, in the face of the challenges that come up in a home-management setting, they can still be compatible, they can also see if they are not. It’s a tremendous advantage to both of you if you know not only what you want in a committed relationship but also what you really don’t want.
Not talking about what and if more is expected during and after living together, and then what action is agreeable to both of you, could be terminal to the relationship in the long-term. Whether the feeling is that things will move on to marriage, or continue as simple cohabitation, it’s important that both people agree on expectations.
Although not necessarily the most romantic of reasons, one of the more obvious benefits of living together is economic: It’s always easier to pay the rent when more than one person is contributing to it, right?
Having another income helping with the bills can be a big bonus for living together. This goes for the electric bill, water bill and any other utilities that come with living somewhere. You can also take turns paying when you eat out or buying dog food or kitty litter, picking up groceries on the way home. The list could go on and on! Whatever you do with your finances, you want to do your very best to be good partners – to communicate openly – so that there aren’t a lot of surprises around money!
If you’ve gone far enough in your living-together adventure, you may have officially intertwined your financials; bank account, home purchase, car purchase, etc. Even if you aren’t legally married, pulling these things apart in the event of a break-up can be very challenging and potentially a hot-button issue of debate and disagreement. Alternately, even if you haven’t opened the joint bank account, things could be developing in a way such that one party is putting in more money than the other, seeding resentment.
This could be one of those defining moments in the relationship. Are you able to have the hard discussion and work it out? Can you work through the discomfort without a relational breakdown?
How do you get along in general?
Living in the same home will bring out different complications than just dating:
- Messiness vs. cleanliness
- Sleep patterns
- Sexual compatibility
- Who does what chores when
- Financial conflicts
- Potential substance abuse issues
- Are one or both of you so involved with your personal electronic devices that you never seem to find the time to actually engage one another?
- Trust vs mistrust or distrust
- Shared values
- Ability to resolve conflicts
- Ability to communicate so that each of you feels heard
Although in the basking glow of new love, these things may seem minor, they can have deep implications. (Another reason for waiting until the relationship is well-rooted before moving in together.)
What can you each live with and what can’t you live with?
So, when you look at some of the potential complications, each of your values and beliefs about these can affect your relationship in either a positive or negative way. Some of these behaviors or habits can be refined IF the person wants to change their habits in the first place. That old saying of being “set in their ways” is not entirely false.
For example, if your partner refuses to wash dishes, you may be relegated to this task for the duration of your relationship. This could be balanced out by your partner taking on a particular chore that you don’t really want to do.
Or, you can both agree to wash the dishes together and cut the time in half!
Start talking about all of this before you live together
This may seem minor, but as life goes on, maybe children come into the picture and then add in some job stress, this could become a very REAL concern that sparks anger and resentment.
The very best thing to do is to work these things out as close to the beginning of living together as possible. That is why it is so very important to not move in together until you’ve started to have a series of open and honest conversations about what each of your visions are in terms of why you might or might not want to live together right now or in the near future. These conversations are sometimes difficult to have – but nowhere as difficult as life will be if you don’t start having them.
Overall, these things will have to be confronted or else you risk adding undue stress to your relationship. And now that you’re living together, you can’t just go home for the night to escape the anger and hostility… you ARE home!
On the other hand, if you find that your lives mesh well together, then your relationship may continue to flourish, and you’ll become even more deeply committed to each other!
The 80% Rule
I’m a big believer in what I call the “80 percent rule,” which simply means this: If each of you feels that you are getting about 80 percent or more of what you need from each other in the areas that are most important to you, then it is well worth considering if living together might very well make sense if you are thinking about a long-term future together.
The only “Right Way” is what works for both of you
Ultimately, Sara and her boyfriend made the decision that was best for them. Sara and I talked through some of the things she should address, and she took that information back to have an open and honest discussion with her partner.
I’m confident that they will both be happy, whatever the long-term result is of their relationship!
The bottom line is this: Living together is a big deal. It may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make in life. And that’s why both of you really want to give yourselves the very best chance of everything working out. Having these conversations leading up to your decision will very likely help you both be happier on the day you do move in!
I hope that this article has been helpful. Please reach out to me if you would like to explore in more detail about how you can strengthen your relationship before or when you live together, or to see if this is even a good idea to begin with. I want EVERYONE to have the happiness they deserve!