Moving in with a partner can be a beautiful event in a person's life. In the words of my own girlfriend, "When somebody feels like home, you want your home and the person to be one and the same."
If you've decided to take the next step, you're not alone. Among adults ages 18 to 44, 59% have lived with an unmarried partner at some point in their lives.
While making a home together is cause for celebration, cohabitating with your partner can also be challenging and bring up anxieties. How do you know if it's the right decision? What sorts of things should you and your partner be talking about? What should you expect?
Even after my partner and I decided that we were going to move in together and plans were underway, I still had moments of panic: Do we really know what we're doing? Did we think about this enough?
We can't decide for you whether or not it's the right decision, but we can offer you some tips to give you a better chance of a successful cohabitating experience.
1. Ask yourself why you want to live together
Before you sign that new lease or make a bunch of extra keys, clarify why you're doing this. Ask yourself, "Why do I think this is beneficial or necessary to my relationship?" says sex educator and pleasure mentor Kiana Lewis.
It's a question a lot of couples skip over because they get caught up in what's practical (like saving money. Which ... fair!) or what a typical relationship trajectory looks like.
Lewis says we are taught to believe that relationships move in a linear fashion – from dating to defining the relationship to moving in together to marriage. It's not as socially acceptable to backtrack or pause. "A lot of people assume that moving in together is necessary for a relationship to be successful."
The reality is that there are so many different directions and shapes that your relationship can take. Lewis says that folks who practice non-traditional ways of being in a relationship (e.g., nonmonogamy) often have to do the work of asking themselves, 'is this step actually good for my life?' But, Lewis says, "those who just so happen to follow a pretty normative timeline don't necessarily have to engage in that questioning."
Regardless of the type of relationship you're in, it's worth examining the traditional trajectory and thinking through what you would actually find meaningful about living with a partner.
2. Talk logistics and routines
You and your partner probably have different standards and routines for how you live. Make a list of all the topics you want to cover and figure out how you're going to navigate them.
To get started, take this survey created by Life Kit and Kiana Lewis, and share your results with your partner. Your answers will act as a guide to make sure you're prepared to move in together.
Here are a few big must-discuss topics before cohabitating:
Your excitement over sleeping next to your partner every night might make you miss the ways they can hinder your sleep. Lewis says talk about what comes naturally to you and where you think there might be tension points – bedtimes, temperatures, screens in bed.
"Sleep, to me, is the most important thing that happens throughout our days," they say. So talking about wind-down routines and wake-up times can save you a fight in the future.
When it comes to chores, talk about your expectations of each other and yourselves. A good practice, Lewis says, is "divvying up chores based on people's strengths and not their weaknesses. So I don't think everything has to be equal 50/50, or 33/33/33 if you're living with three different people."
Talking about money can be can bring out a lot of feelings, but it's also crucial to sharing a home. The hard part isn't just sharing how much money each person makes. "I think people should talk about the elephant in the room, which is their insecurities about money," says Lewis.
"Knowing how you feel about this thing that runs all of our lives is really important." And if one person makes more money, it's okay for that person to pay for more things. "There's nothing that is inherently unhealthy about that," she says. Just make sure it doesn't dictate the power dynamic in the relationship.
As great as it is not to have to commute back and forth to one another's respective abodes, having such easy access to your partner(s) poses its own challenges. Figure out a plan for getting away from each other every once in a while. Maybe spend time in different parts of your home or leave the house separately for a few hours.
Sex and intimacy
"It's inevitable that your intimacy will change living together, and I don't think that is a good, bad or anything," says Lewis. Broadening what you consider intimacy and sex can help you both communicate with your partner and mitigate some of the emotions that can arise when desires change. Just make sure you're prepared for that change and you can still have honest conversations about it.
Lewis suggests you have these conversations about sex at a time you have all your clothes on and are away from a bed.
3. Learn the "dance" of your fights
As helpful as it is to discuss your expectations beforehand, those conversations can't prevent all future conflicts. Moving in together can be an intense experience, which can act like a pressure cooker and accelerate some fights.
Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-owner of BFF Therapy, says, "the goal for any of us is not to have a relationship that you don't fight ... the goal is really to be able to fight well and effectively and to feel like you're moving forward and there's progress."
Dancing, says DeGeare, actually provides a useful analogy for learning to fight well. Each couple gets into fights that probably feel pretty familiar to the couple — these fights are the same moves over and over again, even if it's about different stuff. It's like you're dancing the same dance even if the song changes.
In order to fight well, you need to learn the steps of your "dance" when you're not fighting. DeGeare says to ask yourselves: When are we getting stuck? What are those repetitive patterns? Can we talk about them?
When you are fighting and you're in your feelings, take a breather, and try being vulnerable. DeGeare says to ask yourself: What am I feeling? What's happening for me?
And instead of pointing out what the other person did wrong, say things like, "I'm feeling really lonely and scared. I'm feeling very disconnected from you. I miss you."
That's the type of fighting that builds intimacy – when you and your partner can move out of that fighting spiral because you both understand why the other person is bothered.
And finally, pause. Then measure your success
Because moving in together can stir up lots of challenging conversations, especially in the beginning, it's sometimes difficult to assess whether you've made the right decision early on.
DeGeare says to wait six months, then ask yourself, "Do I still feel safe with this person? Can I still talk to them about anything?" If the answer is yes, then that's success. Even if you're annoyed that they leave floss on the bathroom sink. ;)
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider, with engineering support from Neil Tevault. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.
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