August 17, 2018

Wouldn’t it Be Nice to Live Together? Considering Cohabitation (Part 1)

CohabitationPart1People in love often, though not always, dream about moving in together at some point. Now that there’s no more social stigma about cohabiting, it’s much easier to go for it. Still, it’s not a simple decision to make. When my client Karen had been dating Jared for almost a year, she called me for an appointment. “J and I are thinking of moving in together and I want to be absolutely sure I’m considering everything. I don’t want to make a decision based on giddy love alone.” Smart woman.

When Karen and I met, I told her that although the decision was entirely personal and only she and Jared could make it, I was glad to help her sort through a list of considerations that might help her clarify things.

It all boils down to one question: “Why?” In other words, why does Karen want to move in with Jared, and does he have the same reasons? Possible motivators:

Does she simply love him and want to spend more time with him? The simplest and sweetest of reasons to live together. When I asked Karen about this, she said, “I really miss him when we are not together. I want to see what it’s like to be near each other more, even when we aren’t doing anything in particular and even when we’re just doing our own thing.” The desire for companionship is a very real, human desire. Sure we can get that from living with a friend, but when we are in a mature love relationship, it is perfectly normal to seek that sense of companionship with our partner. Red flag:  If one or both of you wants to cohabit to “be sure” of the other person, or in any way out of insecurity or a desire to control, this is a clear reason to back off.

Are they thinking of one day marrying? And related to that: is this a chance to confirm their compatibility? (AKA trial run before the exchange of rings and vows?) In the past, couples married before they could confirm their compatibility. They did not have sex until they were married, and they certainly never lived together to find out if they could make their individual rhythms work together in the dance called “making a life together.” Nowadays we can find our compatibility before we make the marital leap. Red flag:  If either person in the couple sees cohabiting as a guarantee of future marriage, this needs to be cleared up first.

Related to the last question:  is moving in together a way to find out if they are both equally committed to the relationship? I explained to Karen that love and a desire to live together does not automatically mean both partners are on exactly the same page. There are as many approaches to and ideas about love relationships as there are people in the world. Our attitudes, fears, hopes, and relationship abilities are largely formed by the time we are 5 years old. Communicating about hopes, dreams, fears, and expectations is a necessary first step. Red flag:  If either partner talks exclusively of convenience, financial benefits, or other “practical” considerations, and not at all about commitment, love, the future, or more “emotional” components, there might be an inequality of commitment to the relationship.

Is cohabitation in lieu of marriage? Karen was actually worried that Jared might see living together as a substitute for marriage. Maybe he was not a marriage “believer.” They were both in their early 30s, a logical time to be thinking of all these things. Karen really wasn’t sure what she wanted or what he was thinking. I encouraged a conversation between them. There is no rule that people who love each other must marry, or “should” live together, but knowing how you each feel is a necessary step. The fear of bringing up questions around marriage is huge for many people as they worry it will “scare away” their partner. But what is the point of proceeding with life-changing decisions if they are based in only partial knowledge? Red flag:  If one partner or the other refuses to have the conversations necessary for understanding one another’s hopes, fears, and expectations, there is a lack of honesty or openness that might not bode well for the partnership moving forward.

Do they seek the financial stability of shared expenses? This may sound “unromantic” but is a serious consideration and a perfectly sensible one too, if certain other factors are in place and there is open communication. Karen admitted that they both had thought of the savings to both of them if they lived together. She felt guilty about thinking that way—and I told her to stop that! Romance does not mean we stop being practical! As long as both parties are clear about how they feel about cohabiting, and have expressed the range of feelings and expectations they have about it, factoring in the money angle is a great idea. Red flag:  If one party or the other is only looking for a way to save $ and is not really committed to the relationship, it goes without saying: go no further!

Are they simply thinking moving in together is the “next step”? I asked Karen if she feels there is some unspoken schedule she has to adhere to in order to keep her relationship on track. Is she worried the partnership will founder if they do not move in by a certain date? For many couples, moving in together is a step they take on the path of their shared journey. It is not “inevitable.” It is not “required.” It should never, ever be considered “automatic.” Red flag:  If moving in together feels somehow mandatory, step back and reassess.

Those of us who are of a “certain age” remember a song by The Beach Boys called “Wouldn’t it Be Nice?” Back in the revolutionary era when people were beginning to reassess what love could look like, and how it could be expressed—with a great deal more freedom than in the past—this song became a kind of anthem for dreamers and lovers. (Here is a link to it—it’s a sweet song). So as you think about moving in with your sweetheart, be sure that it would, in fact, “be nice” but also remember to get a handle on how you both feel, what your concerns are, what you hope for, and what you are expecting. Next week I’ll write about what Karen decided to do, and how I coached her and Jared as they made their plans to move forward.


Speak Your Mind