WHY? The one question you should ask yourself before shacking up

My grandmother would never ever have shacked up before marriage. The expected flight pattern for a respectable young woman of her day was from the family home to the warmth of the marital bed.  There may have been a connecting flight living with a same-sex roommate en route to her final destination, but living with a man other than her husband, father, or brother would certainly have earned her a scarlet letter.

Times have changed. By the time I married, no one was expecting to see bloody sheets blowing out the window as proof of the bride’s lost virginity. My husband and I lived together for close to five years before marriage and even my grandma (may she rest in peace) did not bat an eye.

People are shacking up in record numbers. In the United States the number of cohabiting couples has increased more than 10-fold since 1960. And, a recent report from the Center of Disease Control found only 23% of women said they were married when they first started to live with their partner. While there is little societal stigma in living together, it is still a big deal. Moving in together is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you are one of the many people out there that is about to call the movers, I have one important question that you should discuss with your partner before you shack up and cut an extra key:

Why?

While there are lots of good reasons to live together, there are also lots of reasons not to. Living together is not necessarily the next logical step in the evolution of your relationship.

I know many successful couples that maintain separate residences while being deeply in love and committed to each other. One of my friends has been in a serious relationship for a decade. She and her partner see or talk to each other every day, spend all vacations and family holidays together, and are in a monogamous union. They determined years ago that living together would blur important boundaries that could threaten their relationship.

So don’t be afraid to discuss “why” before making the decision to live together. There are many legitimate reasons but make sure that you and your partner’s motivations mesh before plowing ahead:
· Economic: Living with a roommate with “added benefits” could save you money when you consider the cost of rent, food and other living expenses. You may be spending so much time at each other’s places anyway that it makes financial sense to move in together. It is important to discuss whether this arrangement really symbolizes a deeper long-term commitment – or just a cheaper one.  And don’t forget friends and soul mates can become enemies pretty quick once they become roommates – usually after one has bought all the food and the other one has left empty containers in the fridge and dirty dishes on the counter.
· Security: Having your partner under your nose makes it easier to monitor their comings and goings, and keep them on a shorter leash. But, if either you or your partner needs these types of assurances, could there be bigger issues of trust going on – something that may not be a good thing for your long-term success? Living together of course provides some short-term security given the hassles of finding another place to live, divvying up cutlery, arguing over shared custody of the goldfish, etc. but do you really want to hold someone else hostage to a romantic union – or be held in captivity?
· Trial run: Some people view living together as a stepping stone to marriage or long-term common law relationship. My husband and I did. It was a risk-free way to iron out differences before signing on the dotted line. You learn a lot about a person when you live with them day-to-day as opposed to the “fun” of dating. (Incidentally, my husband and I also raised two cats together before starting a family).  You should know that living together before marriage increases your chances of divorce, the theory being that couples may marry for practical considerations such as a joint lease or shared pet – rather than true love and compatibility.
· Romantic: Of course there is a romantic reason for living together whether it is as a pre-cursor to marriage or long-term common law scenario. There are many intangibles of living together that cannot be experienced living apart – waking up every day to your best friend and lover, knowing there is a person waiting with outstretched arms to melt the worries of your day away, establishing yourself as a couple in your community. These romantic dreams can only be fulfilled though when the commitments, compromises and sacrifices of living together are made transparent early on. Being a romantic partner also means being a co-pilot in housework, financial planning, kid-rearing and the other minutiae of daily life. The devil is in the details.

Living together should be a step in the right direction based on a shared understanding of your short and longer-term aspirations. Missteps can be costly both emotionally and financially, and threaten the great relationship you already enjoy.

The “why” question really challenges you and your partner to consider, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

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