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tips for living together before marriage

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Relationship trends are constantly changing as couples realize that perhaps some of the norms and rules their parents lived by don’t apply to them – or might even harm them. Research shows that in recent years, more couples live together than ever get married. That’s a total reverse of previous generations, in which more couples got married than lived together before marriage. That same research found that 69 percent of adults say it’s perfectly fine for unmarried couples to live together, even if they don’t plan on ever getting married. Those who think couples should only cohabitate before marriage if wedding bells are in their future and those who don’t think couples should ever move in pre-nuptials are in the minority. It looks like, as a country, we’re becoming a bit more liberal when it comes to relationship norms.

There are many reasons a couple may choose to move in together, of course. Saving money on rent alone is a big motivator. One company did some research on the matter and found that, in some of the most expensive cities, couples can save an average of just shy of $1,000 a month on rent by moving in together. When you think of it that way, it’s almost no wonder so many couples move in together sooner today than they used to. A grand a month is real money. It can certainly cover the therapy if the relationship doesn’t work out. Some couples move in together because they’re basically already spending every night together, so driving across town to see each other and packing a little overnight bag on a regular basis simply doesn’t make sense. But are these really good reasons to sign a lease with somebody? It’s a bigger deal than many realize. We spoke with couples’ therapist Latasha Matthews (pictured below) about some of the benefits and pitfalls of cohabitation before marriage. Matthews is about to release conversation cards that help with boundary setting (something critical to cohabitation), which can be ordered on pre-sale by emailing her at

Latasha Matthews

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You can become just roommates

When you don’t yet live with your partner, it’s pretty clear when time together begins and ends. When you decide to meet up, you’re putting other obligations and distractions aside and focusing on each other. If you know your partner is coming over at, say, 6 p.m., you’ll try to wrap up any work or chores before that to give him your attention when he arrives. But when you live together, there is no real divide between domestic life and romantic life – not unless you consciously choose to create one. Matthews says, “Couples begin to take each other for granted and assume because they live together, they don’t need to plan time to date.” How real is that threat of growing apart? Well, one study found that living together before marriage increases a couple’s chances of breaking up.

tips for living together before marriage

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“I’m not abandoning you; I’m watching Netflix”

Maintaining a happy home when you live together is extremely important. In fact, one study found that cohabitating, unmarried couples report more alcohol abuse problems than married couples. But again, this problem doesn’t have to plague you and your partner if you keep your eyes open. Adjusting to the fact that your partner is almost always around can be difficult. Before living together, if they were present, that meant it was time to engage your partner. But that can’t be the rule when you live together, or you’d never dedicate time to any other area of your life, which is why Matthews states, “Poor boundaries with screen time, alone time, and time with friends and family” can be another issue for couples who move in together. It’s important to make sure you still make enough time for friends and family, even if you live with your partner. Or, on the flip side, make sure you still make time for your partner and don’t only plan special outings with friends and family. As for that screen time, it’s easy to slip into the habit of watching TV and focusing on that when you’re home, together, and not having conversations.

tips for living together before marriage

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You will need to live together someday

If building wealth is a priority, you may be interested to know that married couples, in general, make more money than couples who live together but never marry. But perhaps you can avoid that curse if you communicate and strategize. Matthews says that “Learning to share responsibilities, work through financial challenges, and develop a routine and structure” can be some benefits of cohabitation. Naturally, money will come up a lot when you live with someone. Suddenly conversations about utility bills and Internet/cable bundles become decisions you must make together. Not all couples are comfortable discussing finances, so it’s good to get used to it sooner rather than later. We go over how to normalize financial talks here.

tips for living together before marriage

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You can’t leave; where will you go?

Before living with your partner, if you got into an argument, you could just take time apart. You could take an entire week apart if you wanted to. You had your own home to retreat to. But that simply won’t be the case once you share a roof. You’ll need to learn to resolve disputes in a mature and timely manner if you don’t want that tension in your living space for days on end. There is nowhere to go after all (unless a friend will take you in, but you can’t play that card too often). That’s why Matthews says one good thing couples can take from living together is, “You will also learn to work through fights without leaving.”

tips for living together before marriage

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Hey roomie, are those your dishes?

Before, you could complain to your partner about your roommate. You could vent and say nasty things about that Craigslist or old college mate you lived with. You can’t do that when your partner is your roommate. Matthews says that living together gives you the chance, before marriage, to see if you are compatible roommates – which is a type of compatibility you haven’t explored before. Some mistakes she sees couples make include “Assuming that the other person is going to clean up after them, not helping with the bills, not respecting spending time with your mate, and keeping secrets.” That goes back to the money topic: Cohabitation gives you the chance to explore financial expectations in a relationship before tying the knot. What if one person assumes the other will pay all the bills once you’re married, and the other had no idea? What if one thinks it’s okay to hide purchases?

tips for living together before marriage

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Use this as a time to set goals

If arguments and issues come up around cohabitation, don’t panic: it’s a big adjustment, and some bumps in the road are to be expected. Matthews says this is a good opportunity for a couple to “Get organized and establish short-term and long-term goals for the relationship.” She adds, “They can also begin premarital counseling as a proactive approach to prepare for marriage.” Some may think of couples counseling as only for those who are having major issues, like already married couples dealing with infidelity. But premarital counseling can actually help a couple develop conflict management skills to get ahead of problems, as well as discuss major decisions. Unfortunately, couples who live together before marriage are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies than couples who wait to marry to live together. Discussing stuff like parenthood is just one of the things you might expect from couples’ counseling. We go over more of what to expect from it here.

tips for living together before marriage

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Are you ready?

Matthews works with a lot of couples as a couples’ and family therapist, so she can pretty accurately identify if a pair is ready to move in together. We asked her what some of the signs are so you can see if you’re ready. “You have discussed your goals for living together, you have explored and worked through financial challenges, you are comfortable with each other’s mess, you have established boundaries for the relationship, and you have healthy communication strategies to deal with conflict.” Between comingling bills, sharing closet space, and having nowhere to escape to if you’re upset, you can see how these are essential understandings for a couple to have before signing a lease together.

tips for living together before marriage

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You can’t fix things with a lease

We’ve all seen couples who try to resolve relationship issues by becoming even more committed. They think that moving in together, getting married, buying property together, or even having children will somehow smooth out the kinks of their relationship. Cohabitation can be used as a Band-Aid, says Matthews. “Sometimes couples are hopeful that things would get better after marriage or they try to change something in themselves to make things better.” And then there’s that money thing again. “Also, couples have invested a lot of finances into moving in with their mate and they do not want to lose on their investments.”

tips for living together before marriage

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What are the wrong reasons to move in together?

It might be hard to face if you meet this description, but it’s better to know it now before signing a lease than later when facing the inevitable truth means packing up a full home and finding a new place to live, all while tending to a broken heart. Matthews says these are some wrong reasons to move in together. “You are unable to pay your bills living by yourself, you are lonely, have abusive tendencies in the relationship, unresolved infidelity, you don’t trust your mate, and you want to keep an eye on them.” She’s right. Trust issues don’t go away just because you keep a constant eye on somebody. They may even get worse.

tips for living together before marriage

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Have these talks before signing a lease

We asked Matthews what advice she gives to couples who say they are about to move in together. “The couple should have a realistic conversation about what they would do if the relationship took a turn for the worse once they moved in together.  They might discuss things like purchases made, contracts and leases and how they would split things if they needed to leave the relationship.” She also says discussing the purpose behind moving in together matters. “I would also advise couples to talk about values, family of origin issues, finances, communication, and their overall goal for living together.”

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