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From “Living Single” to “Shacking Up”

I have seen numerous proposals, weddings, and pregnancy announcements recently, so love is definitely in the air. It is always heartwarming to see couples take their relationship to the next level. One of the most common and significant signs of advancing a relationship is the decision to move in together. While “shacking up” before marriage was heavily frowned upon, and in some cultures and areas still is, it is becoming increasingly common for couples to do so. For one, I blame capitalism. I think this is the main contributing factor to couples moving in together, even if they don’t necessarily feel ready to. With the cost of living being so high, some may believe it does not make any logical sense to pay two separate rents when they are spending the majority of their time together anyways. Another reason for the increase is couples wanting to know what sharing life with their partner on a daily basis would look like before they make the commitment of marriage. 

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With the rates of cohabitation increasing so dramatically in the past few decades, a lot of research has been conducted to explore how this shift is impacting couples and children. However, research results have shown mixed messages. On one hand, the term “the cohabitation effect” was coined, which refers to the finding that couples who live together before marriage are at a higher risk of marital distress and divorce. On the other hand, some studies have shown living together prior to marriage does not impact divorce rates. I always believe that each couple and relationship is different, what works for one might not work for another. So when it comes to moving in with your partner, here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself.

Some things to consider before you take that big step:

Why have you and your partner decided to move in together?

The “cohabitation effect” tends to occur in couples when there is no discussion around the intentions of moving in together, and it just happens out of convenience. Studies have shown that cohabitating seems to happen gradually, often without clear communication between partners about the meaning of the transition (Manning & Smock, 2005). When the transition into cohabitation is approached in that way, it may put couples at risk for later distress because they lack a foundation of mutual commitment (Stanley, Rhoades, & Markman, 2006). So before moving in together, is there intentionality behind this decision? Are you and your partner on the same page about what moving in together means for both of you and the relationship? Is the expectation that moving in together means you two are headed towards marriage? Or is this more of a practical decision? There isn’t a right or wrong reason, but just make sure you are comfortable with what your partner is making this transition to mean, and vice versa. 

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Have you had the chance to live alone?

I often see a lot of social media posts that ask women what advice they would give to younger women, and one of the most common nuggets of wisdom I see is telling young women to experience living on their own. I never understood why that was such an essential part of adulthood until I experienced it myself. Living alone for the past four years has been such a great experience for me. It has allowed me to spend more time with myself, create a space for myself that feels comfortable, learn responsibility, and enjoy the freedom of doing as I please without having to worry about anyone else. But what really has shown me the importance of living alone, is speaking with clients and people I know who never got that chance. There is often a sense of regret that they didn’t have or take the opportunity to do so before living with their partner or having children. If you’ve never had the opportunity to have your own space, then odds are you have always had to compromise or consider other people’s desires and comforts. When constantly compromising or taking others into consideration, you don’t always get the chance to get to know yourself and what really works for you. Having a better sense of yourself is always a great foundation for a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Now I’m not saying you need to live alone for as long as I have been, but I do think at least a year to yourself (if you can afford it) before moving in with someone else is highly beneficial. 

What are your expectations of living together? 

Living with someone is essentially merging two lives under the same roof. To do so takes communication, compromise, and patience. You and your partner most likely have different ways of handling finances, chores, social time, and more. Merging two lives is bound to bring up some disagreements, but communicating your expectations to your partner can help to reduce conflicts before they arise. Now that you two will be sharing way more time together, it may be helpful to discuss necessary boundaries between personal time, couple time, and social life with friends. You will also be sharing expenses, so what are the expectations around how rent, utilities, groceries, and any other household bills will be split? Do you and your partner have similar cleaning habits? How will you share the chores such as washing dishes, laundry, cooking, and cleaning? Another thing to consider is if you and your partner have similar daily routines and sleeping habits. Are you expecting them to come to bed and wake up at the same time as you? Like I stated before, there’s no right or wrong to how living with your partner goes. Each couple finds different ways to make cohabitation work for them. The most important thing is to make sure these expectations and desires are communicated so that you two can be on the same page and hopefully have a more seamless transition. 

If you’ve already taken that big step:

If you’re reading this and you’ve already moved in with your partner, then congrats on advancing your relationship. It may be helpful and reassuring to revisit with your partner why you two decided to move in together. Are the expectations of future commitment, such as marriage and having children, the same? I would also suggest checking in with your partner on how you two feel cohabitating has been going so far. Are you feeling more aligned and on the same team as your partner? Or has there been more conflict and tension since moving in? Having an honest check-in to assess what’s working well and what could use some improvement can help make living together a little easier. It’s expected that some adjustments will need to be made, especially since we are still in a global pandemic and many of us are working from home. So setting some boundaries around work areas, time spent together, and carving out personal time for each person is a necessary conversation to have as well. Remember to have patience and grace towards yourself and your partner. You two are both embarking on a new experience and it will take time to adjust.