Moving in with your partner is a natural step in the right direction for any healthy relationship. Aside from the excitement that comes with choosing a new couch and decor that speaks to both your personal tastes, the prospect of building a life together is equal parts thrilling and stressful. Where will you escape to in a cramped studio if you and your partner get into an argument? What if you disagree on who does what when it comes to household chores? To help navigate the inevitable issues that arise when moving in together, we called on Sherry Amatenstein, a licensed clinical social worker, relationship therapist, and author of The Complete Marriage Counselor
1. Consider common values
While most couples would agree that moving in together is indeed a monumental step, ensure you’re both on the same page about what the act of sharing a space means. “Moving in together should force you to talk about common values, goals, and what they mean,” says Amatenstein. “Sometimes people think that moving in together isn’t as serious a step as marriage, so they take the act lightly.”
Of course, the implications of a move differ from person to person, and it’s important to determine what sharing a humble abode means to both you and your partner. Amatenstein says it’s important to ask one another if a move will lead to marriage in the future. If you or your partner are moving in together to delay or speed up the process of tying the knot, it’s essential that before partners are aware of next steps signing a lease.
2. Set boundaries
Personal boundaries need to be stated, especially before residing in very close quarters. To safeguard against uncomfortable scenarios, Amatenstein suggests that couples consider the following questions: Who’s paying for what? Are you always together, or would you like to prioritize time with friends? Lastly, when and how often will you check in with each other?
The above questions may not make for a pain-free discussion, but Amatenstein stresses the importance of a daily or weekly check in to help you debrief and remain on the same page. Regular discussions will get easier over time, and in turn, you’ll become better communicators.
3. Pay attention to your partner’s habits
Let’s face it: Moving in together equates to spending significantly more time together. “If you plan to move in together, know that it’s really different than just spending three nights a week at each other’s apartments,” says Amatenstein of the transition to a round-the-clock relationship.
Since you’ll be spending more quality time together, Amatenstein suggests paying attention for your partner’s habits, noting how tidy they are and how they handle emotions like anger. “You should be spending a good portion of your time together while learning each other’s habits before moving in,” says Amatenstein. “There’s a lot of adjustments that need to be made when you’re actually living together.”
4. Discuss your expectations
According to Amatenstein, it’s helpful to determine how much time you’ll devote to each other during the week, and what constitutes your definition of quality time. Asking yourself questions like whether or not you plan to sit down together for dinner every night will help to nail down those expectations and avoid a potential argument in the future.
5. Check in on your intentions
Don’t let your excitement for this new life stage blind you to your inner motivations. Before packing up for a move, consider why it’s important that your relationship takes this next irrevocable step. “Sometimes people move in together as a rebound thing,” Amatenstein says. “They’re just out of a serious relationship or marriage and they’re scared of being alone.” If that’s the case, explore the real reasons why you’re looking to build a home with your partner, and whether your intentions are rooted in growth or fear.
6. Consider the scary “what if”
It’s difficult to imagine failure, especially when it comes to what will hopefully be a lifelong union. Living together comes with plenty of shared commitments (pets and plants included), so it’s crucial to consider what will happen if the relationship comes to an end. In the instance that you own a pet together or share a joint checking account, discuss how you and your partner would proceed in the event of a breakup. “A legal contract doesn’t exist for these items,” Amatenstein points out.