Though marriage rates are steadily declining in the United States, the number of people who cohabitate continues to trend in the opposite direction.
In 2010, 49.2% of adults cohabitated at one point in their life, and 47.4% had been married, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Fast forward 10 years and the gap continues to widen: In 2020, 58.9%of American adults had cohabitated and 47.7% had been married.
But just because a step like this is common doesn’t mean it’s casual.
Before moving in with a partner, it’s important to talk to them about your expectations and fears, says Jessica Small, a marriage counselor and therapist at Growing Self Counseling & Coaching in Denver, Colorado. “Have a conversation that allows you two to determine what needs to be in place in order to set your relationship up for success as you take this next step,” she says.
Here are some key questions that will help start the conversation.
Why do we want to move in together?
If the reason you want to move in with your partner is for cheaper rent or because you feel societal pressure, you might want to take a step back, she says.
“Living together is a big step in a relationship and ideally you want to be making the choice because you believe that the relationship has the necessary components for a long term partnership, not just because it is convenient, better for financial purposes, or because all the rest of your friends are doing it,” she says.
“Relationships function best when they are want-based instead of need-based.”
How will we divide up household tasks and financial responsibilities?
Many couples believe that daily habits, like how the other loads the dishwasher or squeezes the toothpaste, will create conflict. This is rarely the case, Small says.
“I can tell you after a decade as a couples counselor these things have never come up as a problem,” she says. “The biggest issues that consistently comes up for couples living together are inequity in division of labor and general personality differences.”
Is your a partner neat or messy? An early riser or a night owl? How will you split the spending on groceries or furniture? All this should be discussed before moving in to set realistic expectations.
What are we anxious about?
Moving in is exciting! But, it can also create a new set of anxieties, ones which you should communicate with your partner. If the two of you know what the other is nervous about, you can better address it.
It’s also normal to be anxious about what you’re losing, Small says.
“People don’t often ask themselves what they will be sacrificing when they move in with their partner and then feel caught off guard and overwhelmed by their experience of grief,” she says.
Even if a person is ready and happy to live with a partner, it’s not rare, she says, for them to miss being alone or miss their prior roommate. “These feelings are normal and valid, it will be easier to manage these feelings if you are prepared for them and have communicated you might feel this way to your partner,” she says. “It’s important for couples to honor this wide range of feelings.”
Other important questions to ask:
You want to know as much as you can about your partner’s expectations in order to curb your own. Other questions to ask, Small says, include:
- What do I imagine living together will look and feel like? Think about eating dinner together every night, waking up in the morning, having coffee together, and what cooking looks like.
- In six months or one year, what will be happening that will make me feel like living together has been successful?
- What does this next step mean for our relationship? For example, if one of you sees this as a step toward marriage and the other doesn’t, that should be discussed.
“By asking one another these questions you will have the opportunity to ensure that you are aligned and have appropriate expectations,” she says.