You might have heard-from your mother, if no one else-that couples who “shack up” before marriage report lower marital satisfaction (even if they eventually do marry) and higher rates of divorce. Statistically, this is true. However, more recent findings have shown that the statistics do not apply across the board but depend on factors specific to each individual relationship.
In other words, moving in together is not inherently bad-and no specific time frame is inherently good or bad, either-if the choice is made for the right reasons and with both partners’ eyes wide open.
Here are two fundamental questions to ask making the leap to cohabitation:
- What are your plans for the future? If you both consider this as a sign of commitment to a long-term relationship-and are prepared for all that entails-your heart and mind are probably in the right place. The key is to approach this next step the way you would (or ought to) approach getting married, including couples counseling if necessary to discuss any unresolved issues that are only going to get worse-not better-once you’re living together. Prepare for this step as though you are preparing for a life together. Otherwise, you may not be as serious as you think (or have lead your partner to believe) about the long-term prospects of the relationship, and a break-up that also includes a move-out only causes more pain for everyone involved if it comes to that.
- Is this really “cohabitation of convenience”? Let’s say there’s a couple, Lisa and Jeff, who have been dating for about a year and now spend as many nights together as apart. After a while, it starts to seem silly-and unnecessarily expensive-to continue maintaining to separate places when they’re “almost” living together anyway. Still, there’s a world of difference between “almost” and “actually” when it comes to living together. For one, moving in together creates expectations that both partners might not share; maybe for Jeff, this reflects a serious commitment, while Sally mostly likes the idea of playing house while saving on rent.
Meanwhile, sliding into cohabitation without much thought can also lead to sliding into marriage without much thought, either. Just as their frequent sleepovers made it seem only natural to move in together, living together for a while might make it seem only natural to make it official. It might even seem too late now to take a hard look at your viability as a couple, because your lives are already so enmeshed, for better or worse.
Again, if you decide to move in together with shared goals and for the right reasons, it can be a wonderful thing. If you’re already contemplating marriage, it can also work as a trial run to help you uncover and sort out future relationship conflicts. But remember-as unromantic as it is-you also have to be prepared to be disappointed. We all know the alarming divorce rates in our country and the pain that divorce causes, so if moving in together reveals irreconcilable differences, it can be a blessing in disguise: Ending a live-in relationship, while painful, is nothing compared to ending a marriage – the worst-case scenario. The best case is that with solid expectations and preparations, moving in together can be the ultimate preparation for a long, happy life together, because you can never get too much practice in building strong relationship skills-no matter where you live!