With Valentine's Day on the brain, love is all flowers and candy. But we all know that the truth is that relationships are hard work. The most trying point for many of them is the moment you decide to move in together. We tapped relationship expert Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan to give us a run-down of some of the issues she's witnessed as a professional counselor, and how you can avoid the pitfalls of living together before you're ready.
From your furniture to your future, cohabitation is a major step. In my career as a relationship expert and counselor, I often see clients who have previously lived with a partner and had it go badly wrong. Working at an elite dating agency, my clients are often mature and successful in their careers but confused about why they seem to be unable to establish healthy relationship patterns. If you dream of domestic bliss, here's how to successfully establish the first serious step in a long and happy life together.
Are You Moving in For the Right Reasons?
Many of my clients have a similar story from a past failed relationship. In their early twenties their boyfriend or girlfriend moved in, usually for a mixture of financial and geographical reasons. Caught up in young love (which, don't get me wrong, can strike at any age), the plan was to save on rent and see each other more often.
What happened instead was an imbalance. Because they didn't set up clear ground rules before moving in together, and because they moved in on uneven footing (usually one partner was economically more stable than the other), the relationship was pretty much doomed from the beginning.
What Are the Consequences of Moving in Too Quickly?
With many under-thirties in major cities now spending as much as 70% of their income on rent, it's easy to see why you might be tempted to move in with your partner. Unfortunately, this finance-forward way of making decisions can easily make matters worse: Financial stress is the leading cause of disagreement in relationships.
Down the road, this can lead to a huge amount of problems. If one of you is financially more stable, a breakup can leave you continuing to live with your ex-partner months after you've ended things, simply because you can't afford to move out. Couples also tend to assume—often falsely—that cohabitation grants you the same legal rights as marriage does. If you're buying an apartment or a house together, make sure your assets are protected with a legal agreement. If you're renting together, you always keep an emergency fund the size of a deposit and first month's rent just in case the worst happens. No-one wants to move back home in their thirties or find themselves crashing on their friends' couches.
Have You Talked About the Future?
One reason why so many cohabiting couples break up is that they slide into cohabitation, rather than consciously making the decision and laying out a set of ground rules. Before you move in together, make sure you have the hard conversation about where you both see yourself in five years' time. If you want marriage and children, but the other person wants a lifetime of travelling the world and exploring their career options, then you should probably part ways. One reason I often see cohabitation between couples fail is that one partner sees it as a stage before marriage, whereas the other sees it as convenience. Long-term, this isn't tenable.
The media and pop culture can often give the impression that people change, and love overcomes anything. (ED: Some spoilers ahead, if you're still catching up on "How I Met Your Mother.") Christian Grey in "50 Shades of Grey" implausibly decides he's marriage material. Mike, in "Friends," realises that Phoebe is enough to make him break his "I never ever want to get married" rule. Even Robin, in "How I Met Your Mother," turns out to be Ted's The One. This is even though they discovered, years previously, that they weren't compatible and even after Ted married another woman and had two children. In what was described as "the worst ending ever" the writers conveniently wrote off the mother once Ted had gotten his desire for kids out of his system and then set him back up with Robin who was now ready for commitment.
Real life doesn't work like television and film, which is why we like to lose ourselves in fantasy and fiction. At my dating agency for professionals in London, one of the most important things I check for when finding a match for potential clients is that their long-term goals match. If you want two kids but your partner wants four, you can compromise. If your goals are wildly different, it's better to keep your leases, and your lives, separate.
With a bit of hard work, and commitment to making things work from both sides, cohabitation is the first step in truly building a life and creating a home together. If you're sensible, expecting the best but preparing for the worst, then you're going into cohabitation with the right mindset.
Dr. Kathrine Bejanyan is a relationship counselor with a master's degree in Counseling Psychology and a PhD in Social Psychology. She specializes in romantic relationships and is the resident consultant and relationship expert at The Executive Club of St. James's, an exclusive dating agency for professionals in London.