Saving money. Convenience. Codependence. Desire to upgrade your lifestyle. What do all of the items on this list have in common? They’re all really bad (yet surprisingly common) reasons to move in with your partner. Cohabitation is not to be taken lightly; although couples move in together all the time these days, it is a big step and should be honored and treated as such. Used skillfully, cohabitation is an excellent tool couples can use to beta-test and improve their relationships.
We’re going to define what exactly constitutes ‘cohabitation,’ then explore how cohabitation can be utilized as a test for relationships and why this particular test can really help couples develop their relationships positively. We’ll also share some advice on knowing if you’re ready to cohabit + tips for cohabiting couples or couples considering cohabitation.
Cohabitation is defined as “the state of living together and having a sexual relationship without being married.” If you’re sharing a living space with a sexual partner, you’re not married; then you’re cohabiting with them. However, if you just sleep over a few nights per week (or even most nights), that’s not cohabitation. Cohabitation means your stuff is all in the same place, and you’re truly living together.
Why Test a Relationship?
Although the idea of ‘testing’ your partnership may sound daunting, it’s actually an important (and normal) part of relationships. In order to build trust and plan for the future, you need to know that the relationship is strong, resilient, and able to accommodate flexibility. The different steps we all take in relationships (such as dating, getting physical, sharing a key to each other’s apartments, moving in together, etc.) are all ways that we test relationships in order to better understand where we’re at, what’s going well, and what our challenges are–all in service of (hopefully) building a fantastic future together for many years to come.
Some people may not like the idea of ‘testing’ relationships because they interpret it as sounding perhaps manipulative or power-hungry. While constantly manufacturing hurdles over which your significant other must jump to appease you would indeed be manipulative, testing a relationship by guiding it gradually through a progression of steps that lead to greater and greater commitment is far different than testing a person or testing excessively.
As you may have noticed in the introduction, we referred to these tests as ‘beta-testing’ a relationship. A beta test is done with an eye towards improving a product before releasing it to the public, not scrapping it entirely. So fear not!
Think of it like buying a new car: You wouldn’t buy it without test-driving it first. It’s not that you don’t trust the car; it’s that you and the car are getting to know each other better, and you need to see what you feel like together in different situations: at a stoplight, on the highway, waiting in traffic, etc. It would help if you felt the resistance in the steering wheel, saw how it feels to sit in the driver’s seat, pressed your foot on the brakes, and see what happens. Similarly, in a healthy relationship, you must do test runs at various stages to determine how far you want to take the partnership and what challenges need to be overcome.
Another way to think of it is like a test in school–in a subject that’s actually relevant to your life and future. Let’s say you’re studying English grammar as a part of your linguistics degree. You take a test, and you get back some surprising results: you did poorly on something about which you felt confident, and you did well on something you were nervous about. The test alerted you to which areas you should focus on. Testing a relationship also helps you illuminate what you’re doing well and what challenges you need to keep working on.
Cohabitation is an excellent test for a relationship. Of course, it’s not a test you should take if you aren’t ready, just as you shouldn’t take a test in school without studying for a while and attending the requisite number of classes first. However, if the time and conditions are right, moving in together can help you test and improve your relationship–with an eye toward the future.
How Cohabitation Acts as a Test for Relationships
When you test your relationship through cohabitation, the valuable information you glean gives you the opportunity to get to know each other in new ways and work as a team to find solutions to issues–or, if you discover that it’s really not working out, to call it quits without wasting time dating for years.
Here are just a few areas where cohabitation tests your relationship.
Test 1 / Cleanliness: If you don’t both have the exact same cleaning and organizational habits, are you able to find a balanced middle ground when you move in together? If one of you feels a spike in blood pressure every time you see a crumb out of place, and the other can happily wade through a pile of clothes on the floor without batting an eyelash, the way you handle your differences in organizational styles will act as a fantastic test for your problem-solving skills.
Test 2 / Household tasks: How do you divide and share chores (such as cooking, laundry, dishes, and shopping), and do you both take responsibility for a satisfactory amount of work around the house? Are you satisfied with the division of labor? Some couples discover after moving in together that one person is more relaxed about doing chores while the other is more on the ball. In other cases, a partner who works more or feels that they work harder might also think they shouldn’t have to do as many chores. The same can happen if one person earns significantly more income than the other.
Test 3 / Together time: Are you both happy with the increase in together time that naturally comes about due to cohabiting? You might find that you really treasure the extra time spent together–or you might find yourself craving more time to yourself. Both are valid and normal responses. It’s also normal for that to change from day to day. The important part is that you communicate directly about it.
Test 4 / Boundaries: Now that you’re sharing more space and time than ever before, how do you navigate healthy boundary-setting when it comes to things like together time vs. alone time, privacy, and sharing certain items, such as electronic devices? Perhaps one person finds it normal to sit down and use their partner’s laptop when it’s open on the table or to share passwords–while the other feels uncomfortable with the idea of someone else using their device or going into their accounts, despite the fact that they have nothing to hide.
Test 5 / Habits: Does your partner have any habits you find really annoying when living together? Maybe you found their nervous nail-biting cute and endearing when you first met, but now they’re putting their germy mouth-hands all over your clean cutlery right after biting their nails. Or conversely, maybe you discover with dismay that you’ve gone your whole life without knowing that your footsteps apparently sound like bigfoot breaking down the house. Moving in together means tolerating one anothers’ annoying habits–or negotiating changes in habits.
Test 6 / Sleep: Are you happy consistently sharing a bed, night after night? Some couples might already have grown used to sleeping in the same bed every night prior to moving in together, but many still sleep alone at least some of the time until they move in together. How do you feel a few weeks after sharing sleeping space consistently, night after night? Some people sleep just fine with someone next to them, but some people who don’t sleep as well might find it difficult to adjust to having someone there in bed night after night instead of just on the nights when they actively want to be together.
Alternatively, an increasing number of couples are opting to sleep in separate rooms in order to get better sleep. The most recent research revealed that 25% of couples in the USA sleep separately. Some people call this “sleep divorce” when married or cohabiting people cohabit sleep separately. Navigating the finer points of an arrangement like this can be a test in itself–are both partners happy with the arrangement? Is it an every-night thing or a ‘some nights only’ situation? How does the couple navigate this discrepancy if one partner wants to sleep in the same space more regularly than the other? All of these questions are excellent tests through which couples can discover differences and work as a team to do the dance of attempting to accommodate one another’s needs as much as possible without engaging in self-betrayal.
Test 6 / Schedules: When you’re not living together, you intentionally carve out time in your schedule for one another. If you’re used to occasionally staying the night at each other’s places, that likely means you’ll wind down and go to bed together simultaneously, for example. Or if you intentionally meet to eat a meal together, then, of course, you’ll be eating at the same time. Similarly, if you’ve planned a night in together, you’ll likely spend it doing a shared activity.
However, when you’re living together, you don’t need to be as intentional about making plans to see each other…and that means that sometimes, your schedules might not match up. They may be non-matching in ways that feel lonely. One partner might routinely find themselves alone in bed while the other stays up late watching Netflix, eating alone because the other isn’t hungry, or sitting nearby one another in the evening while doing completely separate activities without interacting. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a major change in dynamic from the days when you actually had to plan to meet up and therefore were more mindful about how your time in the same space was spent. Any change in dynamic acts as a test for the relationship.
How to Know if You’re Ready to Cohabit
If you and your partner are thinking of moving in together but want to carefully evaluate whether you’re truly ready, here are a few signs you can use as guidance. If all or most of these things are true, your relationship is probably ready for cohabitation. If any of these things are not the case, you should slow down and work on those points before moving in together.
Sign #1: You have a clear, open, honest communication culture in your relationship.
Sign #2: When each of you imagines your future, you automatically picture one another being part of it–in a positive way.
Sign #3: You both feel inspired to take your relationship to a higher level of commitment.
Sign #4: You’ve discussed finances, and you know what to expect from one another’s financial personalities. Furthermore, you’re on the same page about how you’re going to jointly manage household expenses such as rent, furniture, other household items, repairs, and more.
Our Top 3 Tips for Cohabiting Couples
- Boundaries. Strike a balance between setting boundaries and accommodating your partner. Consider that if you routinely betray yourself by not upholding your boundaries, you might slowly become less empowered in the relationship, less attracted to your partner over time, and even resentful. At the same time, be mindful of the fact that if you are too rigid and inflexible, you can create an unequal dynamic in which there’s no space for your partner’s sensibilities and preferences in the relationship. It is usually unhealthy if one person always gets their way and the other yields. Even the person getting their way will not be happy in the long run because they will be able to sense their partner’s discontent. Think carefully about how to balance flexibility and stiffness.
- Take your time with this decision. Don’t move in together spontaneously. Instead, decide over a longer period of time (at least a few months) whether you are ready. Discuss all the tests listed above, agree on ground rules for things like money, cleanliness, and anything else relevant to your particular relationship, and plan how you’ll address discrepancies in your living styles.
- Make your home a shared place. Start with a clean slate in terms of home decor. The best thing you can do is buy or rent a totally new place that isn’t your place or their place. Why? Imagine that one partner moves into the other person’s place. It’s full of that person’s stuff. The partner who moves in has to try to slot themselves into and around the other person’s belongings, making copious accommodations for the fact that it wasn’t really their place to begin with.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes couples fail some of the tests cohabitation throws at them the first time around. Sometimes even the second or third, or fourth time around. This is normal; failure is how we learn. However, it’s important to approach each failed test with curiosity and a willingness to learn from what went wrong and do better the next time around. Over time, a mindset like this should lead to a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.
If you’ve navigated all those tests and you’re still happily together, you might be thinking about getting married. Congratulations! Just as with moving in together, there is a range of topics you’ll need to negotiate before you merge your lives together officially. The best way to do this is to get a prenup. A prenuptial agreement allows you to decide what assets will be considered separate vs. marital property, it allows you to protect your partner from your debt and vice versa, and it helps you lay out contingency plans just in case you ever make the choice to split.
Unfortunately, prenuptial agreements are typically pretty costly ($2,500+) and involve a lot of visits with attorneys who don’t really know you or your relationship. If you’d like to save around $1,900 on your prenup and do it yourself from the comfort of your home, check out HelloPrenup. Our interactive software guides you through the process of creating your prenup, helps you learn about your options, and empowers you to personalize your agreement. Here’s how it works.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]