So you're ready to put your relationship to the test and move in together? Here are 10 ground rules (non-negotiable!) you should have in place before you take this major step.
How to survive the stress
Living together will be a major adjustment for your relationship. It will test your abilities to compromise, to tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies, to find your yin and yang as a couple and, ultimately, it will be the arbiter of whether your relationship can survive the stress of shacking up.
Before you dive in, check out our 10 unbreakable rules for moving in together...
Make sure you know what your agreement is.
According to Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, treat your living together situation as if you were non-romantic roommates. Before you move in together discuss what living together means. Is it a commitment? Discuss your lifestyles – is one of you tidier? If one or both of you have children, who gets to discipline? How will you divide the space? If the home belongs to one of you, how will you equalize the living areas? You need to know the answers to these questions before you make the move.
Know what to do if there's trouble.
Dr. Tessina advises couples to make some agreements about what to do if they don't agree on things, or if one of you feels that it's not working out. It's a good idea to choose someone to use as a mediator or counselor. Although you might be really excited about each other and this may seem unnecessary, you can still get stuck in an impasse and will appreciate having a plan in place if you need it.
'Fess up about finances.
Stacy Whitman, co-author of Shacking Up: The Smart Girl's Guide to Living in Sin Without Getting Burned, says that while you may be embarrassed to tell your guy about your puny salary or credit card debt, you need to come clean about any financial problems or obligations that will affect your ability to pay your share of the rent or other household expenses. And you need to do this before you move in together. This is especially important if you plan on opening a joint bank account or making any large purchases together.
Don't combine all your money.
Unless you're married with the legal protection that comes with it, Whitman strongly advises against merging all your money into one account. Sure right now, you're feeling optimistic about your future together but if your relationship were to fizzle, there wouldn't be any laws to protect your life savings. This means your beau could clean out your joint account and hit the road, leaving you with a broken heart, a mountain of bills, and not a penny to pay them with.
Whitman recommends keeping the majority of your money in separate accounts. To make paying bills easier, you can open one joint bank account and only deposit just enough each month to cover your mutual bills (plus a little extra to avoid bouncing a check, of course).
Divvy up the chores.
To avoid lots of fights about who does what around the house, Whitman suggest couples sit down and try to agree on how they'll split the household duties. Start by making a list of everything that needs to be done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis - such as washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, changing the sheets, grocery shopping, paying bills, balancing the checkbook, and taking out the garbage/recycling.
A fair division of labor doesn't have to mean splitting the chores 50-50 - certain tasks may be more demanding than others or one of you may have more free time on your hands. What matters is that you agree on a system and each of you tries to hold up your end of the bargain.
If you're going to be sharing a bathroom, be warned that the toilet can be a big source of conflict. To head off arguments, Whitman says it's best to make a list of dos and don'ts for the commode. Topics to cover: a regular cleaning schedule, wiping up pee, leaving the seat up or down, and flushing after use.
Set a timeline for getting engaged.
Right now, says Whitman, one or both of you may not be ready to invest (emotionally or financially) in a pair of platinum bands. But if you know that you want to walk down the aisle some time in the not-so-distant future, you may want to set a timeline for getting engaged - or at least engage in a conversation about it.
By creating a time frame for getting engaged or talking about it, you're clarifying your hopes and expectations - that you're definitely thinking "marriage" at some point - and ensuring that your partner feels similarly. Doing so may help prevent feelings of insecurity that can make the tiny bumps in your relationship feel more like mountains.
Talk about how frequently each of you expects to have sex before you move in together.
According to Dr. Stephanie Buehler, a psychologist and sex and couples therapist and director of The Buehler Institute, sometimes one partner is very surprised to find out that once you've moved in, there's an expectation of daily sex. You can end up feeling resentful or even trapped if you are the lower desire partner, or disappointed if you are the higher desire partner. Therefore it's imperative that you negotiate these expectations up front.
Discuss how much time you are each going to spend with friends.
Living together seems to be different from marriage in that some partners see it as a much more casual arrangement, notes Dr. Buehler. They may expect to keep their lifestyle pretty much status quo. Therefore, before you make the move, it's important to come to some understanding about how much time you each will spend with people outside your relationship.
Do not compromise to the point that both parties are unhappy.
Sascha Rothchild, relationship expert and author of How To Get Divorced By 30, moving in together means compromise... in moderation. If you want to paint the kitchen red and he wants to paint it white, then don't paint it yellow. Instead let him keep the kitchen white but agree that you get to pick the bathroom colors. He hates your mermaid figurine collection? Too bad. Keep it out on one shelf and let him have a wall to house his b-movie posters. You get the idea.
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