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Cohabitation: Preparing to Take the Plunge

~ July, 2021 ~ There are plenty of reasons why moving in together — especially following the last year of stay-at-home orders and social isolation — would be a tempting concept for many couples. Besides the mushy stuff, like spending more time together, the pragmatic perks (convenience, saving money on expenses) are pretty irresistible too.

“The isolation most of us have experienced during the pandemic has shed light on what matters most,” says Shari Foos, a marriage and family therapist and the founder of the Narrative Method. “Everyone wants a good relationship with someone who cares and understands, and sharing our lives during times of upheaval can do more than fulfill us emotionally; it offers a sense of stability and assuages our fear of isolation.”

The most positively predictive sign you’re ready for this next step? You and your partner share common values and want to grow together. “If you’ve discussed your relationship and are on the same page about where you’re going, that’s a good sign,” says Foos. You should also be free of other relationships or life commitments that would make it impossible to devote yourselves to the relationship.

Deciding you’re ready to move in together is only half the battle — the next step is to iron out the logistics of how your lives (physically, emotionally, and financially) will merge together under one roof. “Assuming that things will just work out is unrealistic,” says Foos. Before you move in, talk it out. Know exactly what you’re getting into and how you’ll navigate your relationship.

How to Prepare for Cohabitation and Beyond

As you check off each step, it’s important to note there’s no such thing as being fully prepared to move in together, because there’s always a risk. “Even when you think you know someone well, unknowns will be revealed,” says Foos. “Every relationship requires constant care through clear communication, the anticipation of changes, and a willingness to be vulnerable.”

Here’s how experts recommend preparing for cohabitation and beyond.

Make sure you’re on the same page about the future

Explore your short-term and long-term goals, and be clear about what moving in together means for you. Is it a step toward marriage, or is it more a sign of physical monogamy? “It’s important to confirm you’re on the same page about your expectations in this often-sensitive area,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a California-based clinical psychologist and the author of Date Smart.

Share your fears about moving in together

Dig deep into what your fears are about shacking up (especially if you’ve lived with someone before and it didn’t work out), and use it as a first step toward communicating your concerns on a regular basis.

couple lying on grass inside wooden house outline
Sharing our lives during times of upheaval can do more than fulfill us emotionally; it offers a sense of stability and assuages our fear of isolation.  Photo: Martin Barraud

By putting your concerns on the table right away, you’ll be able to practice your teamwork skills by sorting through which of your fears are non-issues and which are serious red flags. “Moving is a major life transition, so it’s important to be honest with each other to minimize stress while maximizing your chances of successfully cohabitating,” says Manly.

Consider a trial period first

Cohabitation trial periods can be a helpful part of the decision-making process. “Being with a partner 24/7 for a few weeks can bring important issues, such as how your routines and habits clash, into sharper focus,” says Manly. There can be an unconscious tendency to perform during the trial period, however, so do your best to stay as natural as possible with how you normally function day to day.

Decide where you’ll be living (and what you’ll be keeping)

Some partners are fine with moving into the other’s space, especially if it’s larger or more convenient, while others would rather start fresh with a space that’s new for both of them. “Making thoughtful plans to avoid unnecessary stress can make all the difference in creating a positive start,” says Manly. (For example, deciding on a move-in date that’s convenient and supportive of a smooth transition for both of you.)

Next, take a tour of each other’s places in advance, and decide which furnishings and belongings will be kept, sold or donated, and stored — and where they’ll go in your shared space so there’s no confusion or friction come move-in day.

Map out how you’ll share expenses

One of the toughest relationship conversations to have before you move in together: deciding how you’ll divvy up the bills. “From who pays for what to the quality of purchases (organic versus non-organic, name brand versus no name), having in-depth conversations about finances and expectations is a must,” says Manly.

Regardless of who has the larger income, it’s important to discuss how every bill (rent or mortgage, food, utilities) will be handled. Will everything be split 50/50, or will a different arrangement be easier for both of you?

Divvy up the chores

“Have frank conversations about cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, trash duties, and all the little pieces of reality that can make home life both enjoyable and complex,” says Manly.

household cleaning supplies shoot from above on white background cleaning concepts
Divvying up the chores before you move in is a smart move.  Photo: fcafotodigital

What’s a chore for one person might be no biggie to another, so strive to embrace this sorting process as an act of collaboration and consideration. If neither of you likes a certain chore, consider a coin toss or rotate who’s on duty each week, making sure to hold each other (respectfully) accountable.

Fess up about your bad habits

Even the most compatible couples face challenges when they’re living in the same space. “The little arguments that arise out of cohabitation can send shock waves through a relationship,” says Foos. “Discussing your quirks and bad habits beforehand is essential, and the best way to prepare for the unknown is with a commitment to remain open, honest, and respectful.”

Make sure to discuss your deal breakers too — no dirty laundry on the floor, no guests coming over uninvited. “The more you flush out these sometimes-pesky issues in advance, the more you’ll avoid having them be trouble spots in the future,” says Manly.

Define your respective boundaries

Some people enjoy being together nonstop, while others need plenty of personal space. “Discuss your expectations and needs honestly with your partner,” says Manly. “Being aligned in this area is especially critical, as having too much or insufficient personal space and time can quickly erode a relationship.”

Ditto for social-media boundaries — if you share more about your life online than your partner, make sure you only include them on your feeds in ways they’re comfortable with.

Have an exit plan

“Just in case things don’t go well, talk with your partner in advance about a healthy strategy for going your separate ways,” says Manly. “From rental-agreement issues to moving and storage concerns, create a clear-cut plan that’s fair to both of you.”

It might feel like you’re dooming your relationship by preparing for the worst-case scenario, but it’s quite the opposite — by talking out the ugly stuff, you’re creating an even stronger bond as a couple while also respecting (and protecting) each other’s future well-being as individuals.

Krissy Brady covers women’s health and wellness.


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