Is Moving in Together the Right Decision for You? 6 Questions to Consider
By: Easton Thomas
Times are changing, especially when it comes to attitudes about living with a romantic partner. Cohabitation (defined as living with a romantic or sexual partner without being married) has become more popular, with 59% of American adults having lived with a partner before marriage1. There is research showing cohabitation leads to more problems with marriage, including divorce2. While these studies are scary for those looking to move in with their partner, the research also shows that there are factors that put some couples at more risk than others. Moving in together is a big decision and having a conversation about it is important. This post will focus on how you and your partner can navigate such a complex decision and what the relationship looks like moving forward.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Partner:
- Would this be the first time you or your partner have lived with a romantic partner?
Living with a partner is an exciting step in a relationship and may be uncharted territory for some. While having experience living with a partner may bring comfort, those who have lived with a romantic partner prior to living with their spouse are more likely to have their marriage end in divorce3. While the reason is unclear, research shows the higher the number of partners a person has lived with, the higher the chances of getting a divorce3. If this is your (and your partner’s) first time living with a romantic partner, your chances of a successful relationship are better than if it’s your second or third partner3.
Are you in a “stay-over” relationship?
A stay-over relationship is a relationship where one person spends several nights a week at their partner’s place4. These relationships are fun and a great way to spend time together while maintaining your own space. However, keep in mind that stay-over relationships can cause issues if there is confusion on what the next steps are4. Having a conversation about the long-term living situation can be a way to clear up that confusion. When couples decide to move in together, it can add a sense of certainty that may not have been there before4. Couples who are happy with a stay-over relationship and have discussed the future of the relationship are fine if they continue to communicate about expectations for the future. Some couples may find the decision to live together comforting as a confirmation of the relationship status and future4.
Are you “deciding” to live together instead of “sliding”?
The idea of “sliding” has to do with a slow increase in commitment to the relationship5. It often goes unnoticed and feels like a pressure to move on to the next step5. Clothes in a drawer turn into a shared closet and before they know it the realization sets in that a couple is living together6. While many may experience this slow transition into cohabitation, making the decision together ensures everyone is on the same page about the relationship5. When “deciding” to move in together, both partners are aware of what to expect and can plan for different relationship outcomes5. Sometimes sliding into a relationship can lead to one or both partners feeling trapped and unable to leave the relationship7. Keep this in mind when considering the next question.
If you are planning on sharing resources, can these resources be separated in the event the relationship ends?
Sharing resources goes together with “sliding” into a relationship5. As a couple goes from having a drawer at the other’s home to sharing the entire living space, it is easy to see how it can be difficult to determine what belongs to whom5. An example of this is getting a pet or having a baby together. An unhappy couple may stay together solely for the pet or child7. If the relationship ends, the difficult decision of who keeps the pet or who has custody of the child must be made. To add another layer of complexity, financial dependence on a partner makes it harder for the couple to break up if they are unhappy8. While uncomfortable to think about, discussing how to split resources if the relationship does end is an important part of planning to move in together.
Do you and your partner have the same long-term/marriage goals?
For many couples, marriage is an important step of a relationship and the ultimate goal2. While some may see living together as a step towards marriage, not everyone has the same set of beliefs2. Therefore, having a discussion of both partner’s goals in the relationship is crucial. For couples living together, those that do see marriage as an important step tend to be happier than the ones that don’t care about marriage or try to delay it9. Couples who are engaged when they move in together also tend to be happier and are less likely to divorce8. Additionally, most couples who are not engaged when living together tend to feel uncertain about at least one aspect of the relationship, particularly whether the relationship will last10. Couples should discuss their beliefs on marriage and long-term relationship goals before deciding whether to make a commitment about moving in together.
- Are you moving in for reasons other than testing the relationship?
Partner compatibility is the third most common concern in relationships, which explains why many couples live together just to test the relationship10. Testing a relationship is when a couple hopes that moving in together will provide clarity on whether marriage is a good idea and whether it will solve existing problems11. These couples are less confident and have less commitment to their partner11. In comparison, couples with fewer problems while dating are more likely to marry; this is likely due to the increased confidence from not having the need to test the relationship through cohabiting11. Testing the relationship is a problem not only because the relationship is more likely to end, but because moving in together adds constraints that make it difficult to leave the relationship (as discussed in questions 3 and 4)5. To summarize: don’t move in to test the relationship.
Moving in together is an extremely personal decision between you and your partner where there is no right or wrong answer. Hopefully, by raising these questions, you and your partner will be able assess the state of the relationship and the ultimate goals you each seek. Having this assessment will allow you to make informed decisions on the future course you wish the relationship to take. Remember to consider your own well-being as an individual when asking these questions as they serve not only to improve upon great relationships, but also prevent from getting into or staying in those which are unhealthy. If the relationship is not going well or if there are questions about the next steps, moving in together probably won’t make things better. In the end, do what you think is best for your overall happiness.
What’s your risk score?
If you answered yes to:
- 5-6 Questions = Low Risk
- Give it a shot! Moving in may be a good thing for the relationship. Remember to keep having regular check-ins with yourself and your partner.
- 3-4 Questions = Medium Risk
- Sleep on it. Moving in may or may not be the right next step at this moment. You might have a few more steps to take before you and your partner are ready, but keep giving the decision and relationship some thought.
- 0-2 Questions = High Risk
- Hold your horses. Moving in can wait. You and your partner may need to have a few conversations before the decision of living together is on the table. You might want to reevaluate the relationship all together and whether it is a relationship you want to continue.
1 Graf, N. (2020, May 30). Key findings on marriage and cohabitation in the U.S. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/06/key-findings-on-marriage-and-cohabitation-in-the-u-s/.
2 Copen, C. E., Daniels, K., Mosher, W. D., & National Center for Health Statistics (U.S.), I. B. (2013). First premarital cohabitation in the United States: 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.
3 Rosenfeld, M. J., & Roesler, K. (2018, July 5). Cohabitation Experience and Cohabitation’s Association with Marital Dissolution. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://web.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Rosenfeld_and_Roesler_Cohabitation_Experience_NSFG.pdf.
4 Willoughby, B. J., Madsen, B., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2015). “Want to Stay Over?” Demographic, Intrapersonal, and Relational Differences Among Those Who Date, Stay-Over, and Cohabit. Marriage & Family Review, 51(7), 587–609. https://doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2015.1060287
5 Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding Versus Deciding: Inertia and the Premarital Cohabitation Effect. Family Relations, 55(4), 499–509. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2006.00418.x
6 Manning, W., & Smock, P. J. (2005). Measuring and Modeling Cohabitation: New Perspectives from Qualitative Data. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(4), 989–1002. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00189.x
7 Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Kelmer, G., & Markman, H. J. (2010). Physical Aggression in Unmarried Relationships: The Roles of Commitment and Constraints. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(6), 678–687. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021475
8 Steuber, K. R., & Paik, A. (2014). Of Money and Love: Joint Banking, Relationship Quality, and Cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues, 35(9), 1154–1176. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X13503324
9 Willoughby, B. J., & Belt, D. (2016). Marital Orientation and Relationship Well-Being Among Cohabiting Couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(2), 181–192. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000150
10 Steuber, K. R., Priem, J. S., Scharp, K. M., & Thomas, L. (2014). The Content of Relational Uncertainty in Non-Engaged Cohabiting Relationships. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 42(1), 107–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909882.2013.874569
11 Kline, G. H., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., Antonio Olmos-Gallo, P., St. Peters, M., Whitton, S. W., & Prado, L. M. (2004). Timing Is Everything: Pre-Engagement Cohabitation and Increased Risk for Poor Marital Outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(2), 311–318. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-318.104.22.1681