Moving In Before Tying the Knot? Here’s What You Should Consider
With the exception of marriage, there are few bigger steps in a relationship than the day you and your partner decide to move in together. When/if that day comes depends a lot on the two of you as individuals, as well as what you’re comfortable with.
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For some, tying the knot (or at least being engaged) is a prerequisite for living together. Others believe the opposite to be true, hardly imagining a trip down the aisle without first previewing what life would be like existing under the same roof day in and day out.
Contemporary research on cohabitation suggests that more and more people are starting to fall under the latter category. While it was once considered taboo for unmarried couples to live together, it’s become a growing trend that transcends generational divides.
Statistics on Cohabiting Before Marriage
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, there are now more adults who have lived with an unmarried significant other at some point in time than have been married. The figures, garnered from the National Survey of Family Growth, show that between 2013 and 2017, 59 percent of adults aged 18 to 44 had lived with an unmarried partner, while only 50 percent had ever been married. Compared to data from 2002, the numbers revealed that only 54 percent of adults in that same age range had ever cohabited, while 60 percent had been married at some point.
Another analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data taken from 2007 and 2016 showed that the number of 18- to 34-year-olds cohabiting rose from 7.2 million to 8.9 million in the period between those two years, while that figure went from 3.9 million to 4.7 million among 35- to 49-year-olds, and from 2.3 million to 4 million for those aged 50-plus.
Is Moving in With Your Partner Before Marriage the Right Move for You?
We could highlight many other sources out there that confirm the upward trend of cohabiting, but the real point here? It’s happening, and if everyone else is doing it, the natural question becomes: Why shouldn’t you? But just because more couples are choosing to live together before marriage doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right move for you.
Janis Leslie Evans, a Washington, D.C.-based couples and marriage counselor, says the appeal of cohabiting is fairly obvious.
“It gives potential life partners a chance to get to know each other at a level that reveals daily habits and household customs,” she says. “It appears smart for two people to acquire firsthand knowledge of whether they can live under the same roof … [because] couples want to make an informed decision before they move forward to marry without regrets.”
However, Evans says it’s also important to consider your motivation for wanting to move in together without first putting a ring on it. Are you doing it to “test out” the relationship? Is it simply more convenient to consolidate living space instead of paying two sets of rent? Or do you both see it as a logical step in an already-committed relationship that is likely going to lead to marriage anyway?
“Cohabitating out of convenience (i.e. expired leases; financial sense) or to test a relationship can lead to problems down the road,” says social psychologist Theresa DiDonato. “In the former case, women tend to perceive the couple as having less relationship confidence and less dedication. In the testing situation, both men and women report more negative interactions, more physical aggression, and less relationship confidence, adjustment, and dedication.”
DiDonato says while both of these scenarios may contribute to the historic association of cohabiting and poor relationship results, something called the “inertia effect” is an even likelier reason that couples who live together prior to marriage wind up in unhappy unions.
“Once a couple cohabitates, a momentum towards marriage begins and it’s more difficult to break up because of the greater investment,” notes DiDonato. “The inertia effect is problematic when it drives a couple that would otherwise not have married, to become married.”
What to Do If the Relationship Goes South After Moving in Together
Even if you decide to move in together with the best of intentions, things can still find a way to go wrong. And if they do, how are you supposed to untangle that mess? Who stays? Who goes? Who takes what? Instead of confronting these conundrums after-the-fact, it’s vital to address them well before you ever step foot inside your new shared living space.
The number one thing you need to talk about? Your finances. Personal finance expert David Weliver says that just as with any roommate, you and your significant other will want to agree ahead of time on the way you’re going to split the monthly bills. It’s important not only to decide if you’ll split everything 50/50 or come up with some other arrangement based on your salaries, but also if you’ll handle expenses via individual or joint accounts.
And that’s just if you’re looking at renting a place. “Renting is no problem, but cohabitation can get complicated if you or your partner owns the home,” explains Weliver. “For example, if you own the home and your partner pays half the mortgage each month, he or she will not legally own half the property unless you change the title. That said, it’s NOT smart to add an unmarried partner to the title of a home; if the relationship goes south, your ex will legally co-own the home but, unless he or she was also a cosigner on your mortgage, you will be solely responsible for the loan.”
It’s OK to take on some debts jointly, but you always need to know what’s going to happen if the unthinkable happens and you break up. Cosigning on a credit card or loan of any kind is not exactly encouraged, but rent/mortgage payments, property taxes, groceries, pets, and utilities can be tackled jointly. However you decide to split things up, just make sure to get it in writing; informal agreements can easily backfire. And if you need to bring a financial planner into the mix to make it happen, so be it.
On top of money, there are numerous other things to consider before taking the plunge into cohabitation. How you’ll divide the household chores may not seem like a major issue, but it’s still good to discuss who will be responsible for what so that neither person feels like they’re being saddled with most of the work. A good rule of thumb: if you have to be asked to do a chore, you’ve already failed.
Other things you’ll likely want to think about ahead of time include: interior decorating (compromise is your friend), screen time (disconnecting can do wonders), alone time (you’ll still need it), and cleanliness (no one appreciates a slob).
The bottom line? Things won’t always be perfect, but communication and compromise will see you through.
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