She Said, He Said: Don’t just jump into cohabitating in time of coronavirus
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
I have three roommates and my girlfriend has her own place. Before the pandemic, we’d never really talked about moving in together, but I spent most nights at her condo. When the stay-at-home orders hit, we decided it would be best if I temporarily moved in with her. We’ve gotten along great, and I’ve been hinting that maybe we should make this a permanent arrangement. But she says she wants to be more thoughtful about making such a big decision, rather than just falling into it. What’s a healthy process for deciding if we should take this next step in our relationship?
Ready to Move In
Lori and Jeff: Couples cohabiting before or in lieu of marriage has continued to become more prevalent in recent years, particularly as younger generations are questioning the need for traditional marriage. But what drives partners to make this next-level commitment can vary widely. A 2019 study from the Pew Research Center found that almost 40% of cohabiting partners chose to move in together based on finances or convenience, as opposed to love, companionship, or wanting to make a more formal commitment in the relationship. And you, dear RTMI, are about to join them.
Lori: There is nothing innately wrong with moving in together to make life simpler. But to set your relationship up for success, make sure you have a solid grasp on these points before ordering a new set of keys:
• You’re clear about what the end game is for each of you. Is cohabitation the last stop or are you building momentum toward marriage? If she ultimately wants a ring and kids with you, but that’s not in your plan, she needs to know before you move in.
• You’re realistic about who your partner really is. You know each other’s habits, quirks and irks, and you know you can accept and adapt to them. You recognize the compromises you’ll have to make in doing a little more in some areas, and caring a little less about others, and are willing to make these shifts.
• You’ve already found your rhythm for resolving conflicts. The number of disagreements and arguments you have now is going to multiply when you live together, so work on fighting fair. Practice hearing and validating each other’s feelings and apologizing for your part.
• You’re able to talk about money. You can have adult conversations exploring how finances will be handled, what the expectations are for each other around money management, and if this relationship doesn’t work, you have an idea of how you can untangle your lives without either being financially ruined.
Jeff: While moving in together can be exciting, as it often means that you’re both ready for more, it also can have its challenges. When one partner moves into the other partner’s space (which is the case with a lot of couples) things can be even more difficult. Like you, I moved into Lori’s condo where she had been living alone for a while. I had spent a lot of time there before we made the change, but it clearly felt like her space and that I was the invited guest. Upon moving in, I was given drawers, closets and other storage space for my things, but I still felt a bit like I was an intruder who had to be careful about claiming any territory that hadn’t previously been agreed upon. Fortunately, before it became more of a problem, we were able to move into a new place that felt equally our own. Make sure you understand the dynamics of moving into her space and have a specific plan of what to do in case things start to unravel.
Another note about taking the steps toward cohabitation: Make sure you don’t have any habits or behaviors that you’re hiding from your partner. When you live together, it’s much more difficult to maintain any buffers from the truth you may have established while still living apart.
Lori and Jeff: Living together, even if it’s initially for the sake of convenience, is going to require real effort. You’re going to have the best and the worst of each other 24/7. So be realistic about the strengths of your relationship foundation and what it is you’re going to be working toward.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.