So, you’re thinking of moving in with your partner? Congrats! Moving in together is both an exciting and scary proposition. Up until now, you’ve probably only seen your beloved in his or her own environment, and possibly, on their best behavior. Moving in together means seeing all of your partner’s sides, every single day.
Cohabitation is on the rise in the U.S., with most Americans finding it acceptable to live with an unmarried partner. Among adults ages 18 to 44, 59% say they’ve cohabitated, while 50% have been married at some point in their lives.
Moving in together presents its own set of unique challenges, from splitting chores, to divvying up money, to figuring out how much time to spend together.
We spoke to three relationship experts for tips and advice to make moving in together go as smoothly as possible.
1. Decide, rather than slide, into moving in together
It may be tempting to move in together out of convenience. There can be all kinds of practical reasons — your lease is up, you spend so much time at your partner’s place anyway, you’ll both save money, your roommate just moved out. Maybe you don’t even live in the same city, and one of you is ready to move cross-country due to the inconvenience and expenses of travelling back and forth.
Regardless of all the external factors, it’s important to make a conscious decision that moving in together is the right next step for your relationship.
“You want to make sure it makes sense toward the arc of commitment in your lives,” says Dr. Alexandra Solomon, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. “I want people to find ways to make space for a conversation about why they’re deciding to move in together. Looking at the ‘why’ instead of just the pragmatic aspects of cohabitation.”
Lisa Concepcion, a Certified Professional Love Life Coach with LoveQuest Coaching, says she often sees clients moving in together way too fast, and for the wrong reasons.
“I see a lot of people moving in with their partner because they want emotional nurturing or a mother/father figure to take care of them,” she says. “Others might be inclined to depend on their partner financially.”
Having a conversation about the goals and the whys of moving in together is a big first step toward making cohabitation a reality. Does one person think moving in together means marriage, while the other doesn’t? Would you rather be engaged first? Or are you both okay with simply living together with no further commitment?
Make sure you feel ready — financially and personally — to join lives with another person.
2. Figure out where you’ll move in together and what you’ll bring
A lot of people decide to move into the other person’s house or apartment, but if you decide to go this route, be careful.
“In an ideal world it’s nice to move into a space that’s fresh without any memories of the past,” says Minal Nebhnani, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with Honest Space Psychotherapy. “But if someone is moving into someone else’s space, treat it as a new space rather than someone else’s old space. The person moving in should have equal say about what stays and what goes, how to decorate, etc. They should feel the space is theirs as much as it is their partner’s.”
Concepcion also recommends signing a lease together on a new place and doing so intentionally. “Look at when your leases expire and plan a date when you’ll move in together. If one of your leases ends sooner, ask your landlord for a few extra months where you can pay rent month to month. Then, if the time rolls around and one of you gets cold feet, you still have a place to live,” she advises.
Have a conversation about which furniture you’ll bring, what you’ll store, and what you’ll buy together. Moving in together is a great time to downsize, get rid of stuff, or get a storage unit to keep larger items you won’t need in your new place together. You’ll also want to plan your moving process, whether you’re moving locally or long-distance. Will you need to rent a truck, hire full-service movers, or use a portable moving container to make downsizing and storage easier?
3. Talk about chores and money
Chores and money are major fight triggers in a relationship, and it’s important to hash out the details before the big day. Who will do the laundry or will you each do your own? Who’s in charge of cooking and doing dishes? Who takes out the trash?
Solomon encourages couples to make an agreement rather than a compromise when talking about chores. “Agreement implies both people are invested in the plan, while compromise highlights the fact that both people aren’t getting what they want. It can be a good idea to write out your agreement so everything’s clear and on paper.”
According to Solomon, that’s because who does what around the house can trigger old childhood wounds.
“When couples move in together, it’s where old family issues are played out,” says Solomon, author of Loving Bravely: Twenty Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want. “If I’m cooking and you’re watching TV, I feel you have become my absent father and I’m my overworked, resentful mother.”
Money is also a big issue to talk about before moving in together. Have an open and honest dialogue about who is paying for what. Will you split the rent, or will one person pay rent and the other be in charge of food and bills? Do you put money into a joint account for household expenses or do you keep your own accounts?
“However detailed you can get about the way things are going to operate the better,” says Concepcion. “This is a huge, necessary conversation and people need to be on the same page before they cohabitate.”
4. Remember “Me Time”
Moving in together is an exciting step in a relationship, and you may be tempted to spend all your waking hours with the other person.
But it’s still important to maintain your own sense of individuality. Create a little corner of the space that’s all yours, like a reading nook or a desk.
Also, be sure to schedule time away from the other person.
“Continue seeing your friends, going out on your own, having your own life and hobbies,” says Nebhnani.
Plus, if you keep up with your own friends and hobbies, this ensures you always have something new and exciting to talk about at the dinner table.
5. Make contingency plans in case of a breakup
Nobody wants to talk about breaking up when you’re on the cusp of something exciting like moving in together, but these types of conversations are important.
“People think they are going to jinx their relationships if they talk about breaking up,” says Solomon. “There is a way to talk about it. For example, you could say: ‘While all our energy is going into making this a successful, wonderful next step, we do need to talk about what happens if it doesn’t work out.’”
She recommends keeping money separate, at least at first. Later on, couples can create a joint checking account to deal with household bills.
Concepcion says furniture and the lease agreement are also important topics in case of a breakup. “Make sure you both have an understanding as to who will get the furniture, who leaves and who stays in the apartment, do you forfeit the security deposit, what happens if you’re buying property together and you’re both on the deed.”
If you are buying property together or going in on a mortgage, she says you may want to consider bringing in an attorney to draft an agreement that can stand up in court.
“Make sure this is an open, honest, and loving conversation,” says Concepcion.
6. Rethink Self-Talk
No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, reevaluating language can be a big part of moving in with your significant other.
“I have been a couples therapist for over two decades, and what I know for sure is that the word ‘lazy’ needs to be banned from our relational vocabulary,” Solomon wrote in an article on rethinking laziness. “When we chalk our partner’s behavior up to laziness, we’ve written the entire story — beginning, middle, and end — and left no room for our partner to co-author with us.”
In some scenarios, you might even be tempted to label yourself as lazy. In either case, reevaluating your language is a productive way for you both to feel heard.
“Resist the urge to say, ‘You didn’t put the fresh roll of toilet paper on the thingy. You’re so lazy!’ Instead ask what therapists call a constraint question: ‘What keeps you from putting the fresh roll of toilet paper on the thingy?’” writes Solomon. “This question positions you and your partner on the same side of the issue. You are inviting your partner to explore with you the blocks to what you perceive as a simple behavior.”
7. Expect bumps along the road
A lot of people approach moving in together, getting married and having kids with a highly romanticized viewpoint. This is a dangerous way to approach cohabitation, because you’ll get frustrated when things don’t go as planned.
“I want couples to anticipate and expect that real life is far messier and bumpier than the idealized view,” says Solomon. “There’s an element of sharing domestic life that is just a grind because there are so many points of possible friction. My way vs. your way, my definition of normal vs. yours, my needs vs. your needs. There are just so many more opportunities for conflict.”
When you do have conflict in your relationship, Solomon wants to remind you to focus on the positive and what’s going well. “When we’re scared we tend to focus on what’s hard, our losses or the downsides to a situation. Instead, try to focus on the good things.”
Expecting bumps when you’re living together means you’ll be able to handle them better, rather than feeling surprised and let down.
8. Embrace Vulnerability
Solomon touches more on what real life looks like in her blog and gives three tips to keep in mind.
While considering when to move in together, remember that — while there will be plenty of “me” time — your partner is also going to see you at all times of the day.
For some, this won’t feel like the end of the world, but for others, it can be terrifying. Knowing that you have the strength to be seen, especially by your partner, is essential when you’re thinking about moving in together.
It can require a lot of soul searching, and maybe even meeting with a couples’ therapist.
“We know that relationship conflict is inevitable, and we know that transitions tend to spike conflict,” writes Solomon. “What matters less is if you and your partner experience friction. What matters more is how you handle it.”
She goes on to outline three steps — let yourself be seen, ask yourself the “Mirror Question,” and focus on the good.
The first step is going to be accomplished fairly easily. If you wake up anxious, decide to skip that workout, or simply have a bad day at work, they’re going to be there through it all, and that can be incredibly uncomfortable.
“Your best and bravest path is to be honest and direct when you are struggling… Remind yourself that you don’t need to bring your A-game in order to be worthy of love,” writes Solomon.
From there, the “Mirror Question” comes into play. Really, it’s as simple as getting into the habit of asking yourself, “What is it like to be with me right now?” By doing that, it’s a lot easier to understand the impact that your words and actions are having at home, and it can open the door up for more conversations during this transition.
Finally, sometimes focusing on the good is the best possible thing you can do.
“When fear is in the driver’s seat, it is easy to become hyper-focused on the bumps and miss out on the blessings,” Solomon writes.
If you grew up in a home that encouraged criticism over love, make it a habit to let your partner know when they’re doing well. It helps foster a safe environment over an icy one.
9. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Moving in together means there will be lots to discuss, constantly! You’ll be learning as you go along, possibly discovering things about your partner you never knew before. While some of those things might be cute, others might be downright annoying.
What’s important is that you communicate.
“People are going to have a lot of new feelings they haven’t thought about or expressed before,” says Nebhnani. “All these new feelings are natural but it’s good to talk about them rather than bottling them up and exploding later. Choose a time every week for a check-in. You can have a running list of things that bother you, and during check-in time, bring them up with your partner.”
Communication can make or break a relationship, especially during times of stress.
10. Know How to Approach Conflict
If you find that you’re struggling, adopt a “we” perspective over a “me” perspective but don’t carry that language into your conversations. It might sound cheesy, but if you’re learning to healthily approach conflict for the first time, “I” statements are important to incorporate into your vocabulary.
Remember, whether you’re moving in with your girlfriend or boyfriend, you’re going to be approaching any issues together. Your feelings, however, are still your own. It’s important to remember that their actions are making you feel a certain way, but they don’t define your entire relationship.
“It’s really easy to point a finger and see what our partner is doing,” writes Solomon. “It’s harder to see how our words and actions contribute to a problem.”
11. Above all, have fun!
While moving in together poses its own set of challenges, it’s also a unique opportunity to really get to know and have fun with your partner.
Think of new and exciting things to do together, like ballroom dancing, getting a scuba certification, or taking up an outdoor activity like cycling.
Living together is also a great opportunity to get to know yourself and your own triggers. A partner provides a mirror into what you need to improve.
When done with open communication and a positive attitude, moving in together just might be the best decision you’ve ever made. If you’d like to learn more tips and tricks for making the move happen, you can check out the rest of the PODS Blog.
Kristin Hanes is a freelance writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in SF Gate, Marie Claire, and Realtor.com, among other publications.