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Moving in Together: Relationship Experts Give Their Best Cohabitation Advice

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Moving in together is an exciting step forward in any relationship. You’ll get to see your significant other all the time, you can save money and time traveling to see them, and you’ll get to be with your best friend all the time. Cohabitation is just a giant sleepover that never ends, right?

Well, not exactly. Moving in together is definitely fun, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Signing a lease or taking out a mortgage with your significant other is a big commitment, so before you jump the gun and combine households, it’s important to consult the experts. We talked to therapists, counselors, and relationship experts about moving in together. Here’s what you you need to know:

Before Moving in Together, Sign a Household Prenup

Putting yourself in your partner’s financial hands can spell trouble if things don’t work out, which is why some therapists recommend signing an official agreement prior to move-in.

“Couples should consider writing an agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement, about what would happen if they split up,” suggests marriage and family therapist Lauren Consul. “It’s important to have conversations about who would own what stuff if [you’re] ever to split up. This can be a difficult conversation, but necessary if one partner is getting rid of certain items and the couple is using the other partner’s items instead.”

A pre-move-in prenup might also protect you legally, according to family law attorney Meredith Lehmann. “Without a cohabitation agreement, the court treats an unmarried couple as strangers. Things that a cohabitation agreement can control is rent or mortgage payments, large purchases, debt accumulated during a relationship (and who is responsible for which debt), insurance, shared bank accounts, etc. A cohabitation agreement is kind of like an insurance policy–it’s better to have it than to bet most of your savings on your relationship lasting forever, or your significant other not being a jerk in the event you do break up.”

Before You Move In, Discuss What Comes Next

It’s important to discuss what happens if things don’t work out when moving in together, but it’s also important to talk about what happens if things do. Deanna Fernandez, MHC, a New York-based psychotherapist explains: “Explore your motivations for moving in and discuss what you value (i.e. marriage, children) before moving in, as most couples ‘slide’ into marriage (and divorce) without fully assessing their own values.”

“Sometimes moving in with your partner seems like the logical, simple next step,” Jennifer Zigler, LMHC adds. “But what can get lost is discussing the deeper issues, like commitment, money, and the ways you care for each other.” Having a clear sense of what you each value and where you think the relationship is going next will help you evaluate the long-term goals of the relationship and lead to a happier cohabitation.

Build Your Cohabitation Budget

Once you’re set on why you’re moving in together, it’s time to get down to the minutia, including the topic that’s the second highest cause of divorce in the US: money.

“[Before moving in together], have an honest conversation about finances,” coaches Dr. Alisha Powell. “Will you split the bills 50-50 or cover some exclusively? Does your partner believe in waiting until the last minute before paying, or do they pay head of time? Talk about how much you both will allot towards household expenses, and consider putting something aside for incidentals or emergencies.”

With the air cleared on money, you’ll have a better understanding of your situation, and you’ll be able to focus on the more fun parts of getting a place to live together.

Expect to Learn New Things About Your Partner

When you move in with your partner, you’ll go from seeing them a few hours a week to being together all the time–and that can be a challenge for many reasons. One of them, as couples counselor Raffi Bilek explains, is “Finding out things about your partner you didn’t know before. And they won’t all be good! No matter how long you’ve been together and how well you know each other, changing to a cohabitating situation brings up new opportunities to see things you didn’t see before.” And discussing these nuances–including your own pet peeves and your bad habits–before moving in together can reduce friction. “It helps to prepare for those discoveries instead of being surprised!”

Communication is Key

As you learn new things about your partner and encounter new obstacles, there is one golden rule psychologist Rachel Tomlinson swears by: open communication. “You need to communicate. Talk about rules and expectations you have of one another: who takes the rubbish out? Who does what chores? How are bills split?”

And being communicative goes beyond chores and bills. Talk openly with your partner about anything that bothers you, doubts you have, and outstanding questions. Staying open with your partner will make your cohabitation stable and enjoyable.

Establish a Cleaning Contract to Keep Your Cohabitation Space Clear

“In terms of couples moving in together, mess is one of the top three relationship concerns for couples, along with money and kids,” explains psychologist and couples therapist Hannah Koch. “One person might detest doing dishes, but not mind taking out the garbage. One person might not mind a slightly dirty kitchen, but hate a dirty bathroom.”

So how do you keep the mess at bay? Koch recommends a contract–or, if you’re going the cohabitation contract route, a section of the contract–focused on cleaning. “Detail each person’s responsibilities. It may seem artificial at first, but it is so helpful to talk through what each person does and does not like to do. So often couples have unrealized expectations ahead of time. Just having the discussion is a huge start, but it’s helpful to get everything down on paper in a relationship contract which can be as formal or informal as the couple likes.” The result? A cleaner house, and less fighting about who takes out the trash.

Keep Up Your Social Life Without Your Significant Other

While much of moving in together is focused on being together, marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry believes it’s just as important to focus on staying independent. “Make sure each partner holds on to parts of their individual routine. Living together for the first time can lead couples to do everything together because the other person is right there. While cohabiting, it is extremely important that each partner has their own experiences separate from the other. Whether this means still doing monthly girls’ nights out or continuing to have drinks after work once a week, don’t be so intertwined that each of you loses your sense of self.”

Know That Breaking Up is Hard…er to Do After You Live Together

Moving in together is so exciting that sometimes, you forget that it might not work out. But there’s a chance you might break up with your significant other, and it’s important to prepare for that possibility before you move in with them.

“Moving in with someone can definitely give you more information about your compatibility with your partner, but it can also make it harder to break up,” explains marriage therapist Rachel Thomasian. “I know that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but you’re more likely to stay with (and marry) someone you otherwise wouldn’t when you live together. Some of those outside constraints, like having a pet, sharing rent, owning furniture together are extra considerations that when added up make it harder to break up, so people stick it out.”

Thomasian coaches only moving in together if you’re certain you’ll have a long term relationship with them. “Go into cohabitation with intention. The couples who ‘accidentally’ move in together because someone had an emergency situation are worse off than couples who move in together because they want to take the next step in their relationship.”

Keep Cohabitation Fun

While moving in together is a serious affair that requires deep thought, it’s not all about contracts and planning. It’s about taking the next, fun step with your significant other–and you shouldn’t let your frustrations about the little things squander that. “It should be a learning experience,” LPC Rich Oswald advises, “Not a debate on whose way is better.” Keep up going on dates, find new things to do together, and enjoy having time together–after all, that’s what being in a relationship is all about.

Ready to take the plunge and move in together? Start off on the right foot by getting help instead of squabbling like an old married couple. With Dolly, you’ll get on-demand moving help from our Helpers at an affordable price. Book a Dolly to make moving in together a breeze.

Miranda is the Marketing Coordinator at Dolly. She’s moved nine times in the past six years, and while she’s grateful for the moving expertise, she’s hoping she doesn’t need to move a tenth time anytime soon.

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