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Living together with your partner? Talking about these 3 things first can pave the way, according to a relationship therapist


Cohabiting partners typically come to this important place in their relationship in two ways – what some clinicians call:slide versus decide.” Cohabitation can just happen without much thought, or it can be carefully considered and planned.

Some couples can see living together as a test for a future marriage. For others, marriage is not a goal, so living together can be the ultimate statement of their commitment.

I’ve been one relationship therapist and researcher specialized in intimate relationships for over 25 years. Based on my research and clinical experience, I recommend that couples discuss the importance of sharing a home before merging households. This gives partners a chance to set realistic expectations, negotiate household roles, and practice their communication.

My colleagues and I developed a list of topics what partners should talk about before moving in together – or even afterwards, if the moving boxes are already unpacked. These topics are divided into three main categories.

1. Expectations

Why do you want to move in together? What is the goal? Will it lead to marriage? Many relationships struggle with the intersection of reality and expectation.

Clients tell me that their expectations of cohabitation are often based on what they grew up with – for example, “My mother had dinner at 6 p.m. every night, so I expect my partner to do the same.” Expectations also extend to intimacy, such as, “Now that we share a bed, we can have sex all the time.”

Conversations about what this stage of commitment means for the relationship and how it affects each individual’s identity are part of this negotiation. Is cohabitation ‘practice’ for marriage? Do we move to one of our current places or do we look for a new home together? How are we going to divide the household finances? How often will we be intimate? Do we get a pet?

Understanding what will and won’t change will help make this transition smoother and make room for conversations about the core of living together.

2. Household roles

As people move out of their childhood homes, the household rules they grew up with — both the ones they loved and the ones they hated — tend to come along.

Decide who will do what.
lorenzoantonucci/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It’s important for couples to talk about how they want to handle common day-to-day tasks such as washing dishes, garbage, cooking, cleaning, and so on. My colleagues and I recommend that couples start these conversations by stating their strengths. If you like grocery shopping but hate cooking, offer to do whatever you want first. Discuss the different needs of your household – including financepets, children, cars and so on – and try to balance the division of responsibilities.

During these negotiations, remember to consider everyone’s obligations outside the home. For example, if one person stays home or has summers off, take that into account when determining the balance.

I once worked with a couple where one partner wanted her husband to be “less of an asshole.” When we dug a little deeper, she actually wanted him to vacuum. As they continued to talk, they began to understand that their household rules were neither balanced nor meeting the ebb and flow of their lifestyle, family needs, and professional demands.

3. Communication

Perhaps the most important conversation to have about communication. How responsive do I expect my partner to be when I text them? How do I tell them I really need time to myself? When can I talk to them about my changing needs?

This can be an excellent time to reach out to a relationship and family therapist to help work through some of these issues. Many times, the hurtful comments people make to each other are really about expectations, fear and the fear of the unknown. Talking about the best way to recognize and meet your partner’s needs and concerns invites cooperation and unity, which ultimately strengthens the relationship.

Couple talking on the sofa in the living room.
Good communication is key to healthy long-term relationships.
JGI/Tom Grill/Tetra Images via Getty Images

People and relationships change over time. Everyone is influenced by their own life experiences, one of which can be moving in with a partner. Communication and empathy are essential as expectations shift and evolve. This remains the case as couples go through transitions throughout their lives.

Big things like moving, graduating, getting a new job, and having kids, as well as little things like choosing which TV shows to watch or trying a new recipe are important topics to talk about. Developing good communication skills can serve as a foundation for navigating the trials and tribulations that relationships bring.

And it’s never too late to have these conversations, even if you’re already living together.

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