You and your partner are practically living together. You stay over at their place so often, you haven’t actually set foot inside your apartment in weeks (well, except to get the mail and swap out your dirty clothes). Making it official is the natural next step, right?
Maybe. Moving in together is one of the most critical milestones in any relationship; a true test of your commitment and the sign of a potential life together. But it’s also important to approach it in the right way.
Breaking up after moving in together can be traumatic, drawn-out and exhausting (just ask anyone who’s had to split up their books and furniture after five years of dating), so it’s important to go about this step in the right way. But don’t let that scare you. Living together can be tremendously rewarding and help you build the essential foundation of a successful long-term marriage or partnership.
As someone who’s been through this commitment and coached a lot of others through it, I’m all for couples living together after a year or two of dating. But how do they come to this decision? Before you take the plunge, here are key conversations to have, steps to take and transitions to make.
1. Know your partner’s goals for the relationship.
I’ve known way too many people who think that moving in together is a precursor to a “forever” situation—and so, they never actually ask their partner where they want the relationship to go. Because some people are more adaptable and aren’t wired to think much about future commitments, they might not be on the same page about what living together means. If you want to get married, you need to articulate that up front. And if you don’t see marriage in the near future (or ever), it’s also important that you state where you’re at. There’s nothing more devastating than feeling like you were “deceived” due to miscommunication. Avoid hard feelings; have this talk well before you live together.
2. Stay together before you live together (like, a lot).
Once you think you might want to live with your S.O., stay at each other’s places as often as possible. Spend weekends together. Have midweek overnight dates. Travel together for five or six days. There’s an intimacy that develops during these short-term stays that you simply can’t replicate with traditional dates. You’ll get to see your partner when unexpected frustrations emerge and when you’re in uncomfortable situations. If your relationship continues to deepen and thrive even when you aren’t on your best behavior, moving in together could be a great next step.
3. Talk about your deepest moving-in-together fears.
A lot of people are apprehensive about the idea of living with someone. They’re afraid they might lose their independence, that the relationship will become stale, or that they’ll break up and have to start all over again. These fears are totally normal. But I think it’s important to open up about your biggest hang-ups before you move in together, acknowledge the risks that exist, and then develop a plan for how you’d tackle the worst-case scenarios. Sometimes, just talking through how you’d handle a split or how you’d make sure to keep your independence can ease your fears, and you’ll have a game plan if you encounter one of these issues down the road.
4. Consider a trial living situation first.
It might feel like wasting a month of rent, but it’s really worth it to “try out” living together before you take the leap in signing a lease. I recommend a month; it’s enough time to get settled, really see what your their routines are, and let down your guard. When you’re considering what it would be like to wake up with your partner every day, this is the ultimate litmus test. What does it look like when we have a disagreement and we can’t just take a few days to cool off separately? How does my partner decompress when they’re not at their best? What do they do when it’s not “date night”? You don’t know what you don’t see—and in this situation, you’ll see everything. If you spend a full month together and love what living together looks like, then go ahead and sign the lease. If you notice red flags, bring them and figure out how to deal with them together.
5. Figure out how to make the place your own.
If they're moving into your partner’s place, or they’re moving into yours, you’ll want the space to feel like your new “together” home. Maybe that means making the second bedroom into a home office, so your partner, who works from home and likes space, can have it. Maybe that’s adding special touches to your guy’s previous bachelor pad, so the place feels like yours—not just like you’re moving into your boyfriend’s house. Maybe that’s agreeing to repaint and redecorate together, or to set up a new outdoor space as a couple. Really have fun with it and turn the page on your place both physically and metaphorically; it’s the next chapter of your life.
6. Take alone time when you need it.
Just because you live together doesn’t mean you need to do everything together. There’s a tendency, especially when you’re newly living together, to expect your partner to be around all the time. You don’t want all this togetherness to lead to codependency, where you forgo your friendships, hobbies and personal interests. Commit to having a night or two where you can decide exactly what you want to do with your time—whether that’s seeing your friends for dinner, or painting your toenails while watching The Bachelor. Even if you’re in the same house, in separate rooms, unencumbered alone time helps you enjoy your time together that much more.
7. Set boundaries and communicate.
If you’ve never lived with someone you've dated, it’s really tempting to just carry on the way you always have. While that’s OK in some respects (yes, keep your friendships, keep playing in that hockey league) it might not be OK in others. Make sure you know what their boundaries are; if you’re not sure, ask. While some people might be fine with a bunch of friends popping over for a spontaneous barbecue, others (especially introverts) might be really put out that their girlfriend issued invites without so much as a heads up. You’d be shocked how frequently this happens in the first year of living together, so be sure to communicate and set boundaries. Make sure your partner understands when they do something you find disrespectful. Some people are more planned, whereas others are more flexible and spontaneous; oftentimes, I find, people are drawn to their opposite in this regard, so it’s important to communicate your needs clearly.
8. Create routines together.
If you have a dog, split responsibilities; have one person take him out in the morning, the other at night. If you both like to cook, plan nights each of you cook separately, and a night where you cook together. One of my favorite tips is to have a “quality time” night instead of date nights. This should be a night where you just focus on your relationship without distractions. You don’t have to always leave the house—maybe you just take a walk together or binge something on Netflix you’ve been wanting to check out. But this will keep your intimacy strong and maintain some romance in your lives. It’s tempting to think you don’t need “dates” anymore now that you’re living together. Not true! It doesn’t need to look the same as it did when you were newly together, but it needs to exist in your schedule. Really focus on routines, creating a lifestyle together and anticipating how to be part of this newly formed team. Doing this will make communication easier, bring you closer together and allow you both to be more empathetic towards one another.
9. Go deeper.
When you live together, sometimes it can feel like you’ve learned everything there is to know about your one and only. But don’t stop going deeper just because you live together. Ask your partner what they need, how their needs are evolving as you build a life together. What do they want for the future: Do they ultimately want to move or change careers? How can you help them reach the next level? What are their dreams? In a lot of ways, building a stable partnership can help you believe in yourself, and what’s possible in your life, that much more. Encourage them to open up, dig deeper within themselves and chart a new path with you.
10. Know that sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it’s still worthwhile.
I’m a big believer that you can’t really know if your relationship will work long-term until you live together. You’re either going to like the synergy you have, or realize your partnership isn’t workable, and there’s no way to know until you are with that person 24/7. When living together works, it works beautifully, though. You absolutely can have a deep relationship that’s worth the risk if you take all the precautionary steps to ensure your relationship is solid before you get there. If you’re on the fence, but imagining a life with your partner, don’t be afraid to dive in and start getting on the road to living together. This could be your chance to fall in love in a whole new way.