A Therapist’s Guide to Cohabitation

Plastic dog and cat figurines phase in and out of colorful walls

Cohabitation is the practice of living with another person while in a relationship, typically of a romantic or sexual nature.

Cohabitation is relatively common these days, with some past estimates (from 2012) indicating that as many as 7.8 million couples were living together, unmarried. This number has dramatically increased in the past few decades as our culture has shifted from a more religious and conservative stance to a more progressive and practical (though anxious) one.

It’s almost more uncommon to meet a couple who hasn’t taken the proverbial “test drive” in cohabiting before marriage. It’s a relatively practical solution to difficult emotional problem — how two people can coexist peacefully and happily under the same roof.

Living together can be complicated, but when you are practiced and prepared, it can be an incredibly fulfilling experience.

First, Embrace Collaboration

If you’re moving in with your partner, in order to be successful it’s going to require the spirit of collaboration and compromise for both of you. From residence size, price, location, etc., there is a lot to figure out!

Start these conversations with the spirit of collaboration so that you can begin your cohabitation journey on the right foot.

Take Advice From Friends or Family With a Grain of Salt

If you tell your friends and family that you plan on moving in with your significant other, there is a high probability that you’re going to get a lot of feedback. Chances are, if it’s your first time moving in with someone, the people around you may have a lot of thoughts and input to share, in hopes of preparing you for success. They are likely to share their own challenges and maybe even the pitfalls they imagine their advice can help you avoid. Some may even think they know your situation better than you. Be cautious but considerate of this feedback, which is typically well-intentioned

No two relationships are the same, therefore no cohabitation is exactly the same. Stereotypes are lazy, and gross generalizations about your partner (or men and women in general) are unhelpful when considering this next big step in a relationship.

As you plan to move in with your loved one, take all (unsolicited) advice with a grain of salt. Talk through your concerns with your partner, and try to let the other noise and chatter fall into the background.

On the other hand, don’t forget to do some research of your own, and identify the most important things to consider when moving in together. Input from professionals can help reassure you that you’re making the right decision.

Take Time to Reflect and Prepare

Moving in with another person is a big step. If you haven’t lived with a significant other before you may not know what’s most important to you in a shared space.

While you’re still “riding solo,” take a bit of time to do a walk through of your residence (physically and/or mentally). Think of the ordinary things you do that seem benign and natural to you, and take note of them. While these things may seem “right” to you, your partner might have a completely different approach to living. Some things to consider:

  • How and where you store your grooming products (how many do you have)?
  • Where and how you store laundry
  • How you deal with garbage & recycling (where is it located in the home & how often do you dispose of it)?
  • How often do you clean? Are there must haves for cleaning products, etc.?

These may sound silly in the grand scheme of living with someone, but in my experience it’s the little things that really grind your gears on a day-to-day basis. By walking into the shared home with an idea of your pet peeves or related personality clashes, you can preempt these conflicts by proposing solutions or compromises. This will enable you and your partner to focus on the greater emotional impact and changes associated with living together.

Some Serious Things to Consider in Cohabitation

There are some not-so-pleasant realities of living together. There will be challenges simply in sharing common space, and as with any relationship, there will also be conflict to work through.

In addition, there are legal and financial concerns in cohabitating. Partners do well by talking about these issues beforehand and making some sort of agreement about how finances will be managed.

In research on heterosexual couples, scientists found that those who lived together before marriage tend to have a higher rate of marital dissatisfaction, including poorer communication. It should be of note that this study didn’t include a sample of queer or LGBTQ-identified pairings.

And of course, there is the issue of long-term commitment. The research on cohabitation indicates that those who don’t discuss the idea of commitment explicitly beforehand tend to end up in less fulfilling relationships.

Whether or not cohabitation or a permanent (legal) partnership is the end goal, it’s necessary for partners to explore these ideas and possibilities beforehand, rather than wait on having those conversations down the road.

Choose Your Battles

Moving in with your partner should not be match of tug-o-war or a battle of wills. There are likely to be plenty of lifestyle choices that you disagree on — from how the toilet paper should be on the holder to who should pay the utility bills monthly.

There are going to be battles that aren’t worth fighting for any discernible amount of time. Sometimes it’s best to let some battles go to keep the relationship healthy and balanced. If you don’t feel strongly about whether you have a paper towel holder on the counter versus mounted, then perhaps defer to your partner who feels much more strongly about one of those options.

Knowing when to fold a bad hand is an important part of any relationship, especially when you’re going to be sharing your home with the one that you love. A couple’s counselor can be very helpful in deciding how to mediate disputes.

What to Consider if the Relationship or Cohabitation Doesn’t Work

There are certain laws and precedents that dictate what might happen should you later end your relationship, and with it, cohabitation. Issues related to marriage and domestic partnerships, property ownerships, finances, assets and child care may be important factors in a separation down the line.

To protect yourself and your family, it may be wise to consult with a attorney about the local laws in your area concerning these topics.

Finally…Expect the Unexpected

Inevitably, there are going to be some unknowns you run into when moving in with another person. While there is certainly a lot you can talk through and plan for, we are human and you likely won’t address every little thing.

Sometimes we don’t know what matters most in our living space until we have someone else within it. The best thing we can do in those situations is make sure that we are communicating openly and honestly as much as possible.

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Published by

Jor-El Caraballo

Talkspace Therapist