4 Lessons to Learn from People Who Moved in With Their Partners “Way Too Early”
Let’s face it: Moving in with a partner before marriage is no longer a big deal. Yes, while it still can be a little nerve-wracking to tell your more “traditional” family members, your property management company and neighbors (usually) won’t bat an eyelash. But while it’s no longer taboo, there are some lessons to be learned by moving in with a partner “too soon.”
As Millennials delay marriage or forgo it altogether, cohabitation has become a relationship status unto itself says Dr. Alexandra Solomon, author of “Loving Bravely” and assistant psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. And it’s a status more and more couples are taking on: Not only have cohabitation rates risen 27 percent in the last decade alone, but Dr. Solomon also says serial cohabitation (or living with two or more partners sequentially over a period of years) has become a trend as well.
How Soon Is Too Soon?
While it’s no longer taboo to live with your partner if you’re unmarried, it doesn’t mean it’s always socially accepted. It’s no longer a question of “if” it’s okay, but “when” it’s okay. Take, for example, a conversation I had with a friend not too long ago: She told me that she had decided to move in with her boyfriend(!). Living in New York, it made financial sense (two people paying for just one bedroom? Yes, please) and she and her boyfriend were both enthusiastically ready to take the next step in their relationship.
However, given that they had been dating for three months, some of her friends and family took pause. Many cautioned that it was happening “way too early” in their relationship, and one friend even flat-out told her that it wasn’t a good idea. While my friend knew it was a risk, it was one she thought was worth taking.
Why so much negativity from the peanut gallery? Dr. Solomon says that despite being generally accepted, many people (parents included) feel that cohabitation can jeopardize relationship quality and make it easy to get “stuck” in an unhappy relationship. The caution, of course, comes from a place of love—but ultimately, their concern can feel hurtful.
Three Stages of a Relationship
This impasse comes largely from people conflating relationship development with dates on a calendar. According to Dr. Solomon, relationships progress through three stages: Early Idealization (thinking your partner is the most perfect being alive), Fall From Grace (that perception-breaking moment when you realize your partner is human), and Brave Love (when you know they’re not perfect, but you’ll figure out ways to deal with it anyway—together).
Dr. Solomon says, ideally, a couple will choose to move in during the Brave Love stage since the transition is a stressful one but it can go a bit more smoothly if a couple has been tested before. (This, generally, is when your friends and family will validate your relationship as “ready” to cohabitate). However, moving in before this stage isn’t the end of the world (or your relationship!)—it’s just adding extra stress on top of an already entropic period.
“Could a couple survive if they moved in together while still in the early idealization phase? Of course,” she says. “The stress of the move will probably usher in a fall from grace because opportunities for conflict abound—new roles and responsibilities, shared closet space(!). That’s survivable, but it’s a lot to ask of a fledgling relationship.”
In that vein, I asked Dr. Solomon, as well as some of our writers and readers who moved in with a partner “too soon,” to share some wisdom on how they moved past the myriad of foibles that come with sharing space with an almost stranger (but a cute one!). Here are their four best tips for happy cohabitation—no matter the timing:
1. It’ll take time
While Diana W. and her husband married after nine years of dating, the couple started living together… 10 days after meeting.
“We were planning on becoming housemates before we hooked up, but our landlord rented what was going to be my room out for another month—leaving me room-less,” she says.
There were definitely hiccups in the process (e. g. having to welcome each other’s families into each other’s lives much sooner than they’d wished), but ultimately it worked out for the couple because they didn’t feel the pressure to keep the relationship advancing. They knew that, despite moving to the “next step” relatively quickly, there was no rush to figure things out.
“So many people rush to get a wedding that they forget that a relationship is about spending every day with each other long after the honeymoon period wears off,” she says. “So work at whatever pace works well for you.”
Dr. Solomon echoes this: If you fast-track the moving-in process, expect an increased number of speed bumps—but don’t feel like you need to break up because of them.
“You’ll feel more like a couple after living together six months, versus six days,” she says. “It’s a transition. The bumps don’t mean you made the wrong choice.”
2. “Decide,” don’t “slide”
“Decide, not slide” is a model that researchers Markman and Stanley came up with; it means that a couple should talk together and clarify expectations about what cohabitation means to each of them before living together. Deciding is how you ensure that one person doesn’t assume that moving in together is a step toward marriage, while the other just needs a new place to live because their lease is up or their roommate moved out.
“The fact that this transition happens in the wake of that kind of life change is not a problem in and of itself, but couples need to work together to be clear and intentional about why they are making this choice,” Dr. Solomon says.
When differing reasons aren’t openly communicated, that’s when feelings get hurt. For example, Susan M., moved in with a boyfriend after two weeks of dating when her college housing fell through.
“While I was confident that moving in together meant that this was the man I would spend my life with, he wasn’t convinced of that,” she says.
However, this wasn’t said until after she had already moved in: What endured, then, was two weeks of nudging for Susan to find a place of her own. Ultimately, she moved out and enjoyed living alone, but it was a painful experience for her because she was so elated to take such an “adult” step in a relationship.
Additionally, know that moving the relationship forward won’t necessarily solve any existing issues. While she knew her ex-boyfriend had commitment issues, Lauren R. relocated to Europe from the U.S. in hopes that the grand gesture would show that she was ready to move to the next step. However, once she got there, she quickly realized that there wasn’t anything she could do to help him overcome his issues.
“Moving in together isn’t a cure-all for pre-existing problems,” she says. “In fact, many times, it just exacerbates those issues. It’s definitely a way to learn that, but sometimes a lot of time and money is wasted in the process.”
Sassafras L. also knows all about this first-hand, too. Ze has moved in with partners relatively early in the relationship not once, but three times: First, after dating a partner for a weekend; second, after one date; and third, after ten months of dating (which was a long time for her, but Ze knows some would consider that to be a short time!) The first two counted as sliding, whereas the third one was intentional—which is probably why the couple is still together!
“We knew the importance of undertaking this decision thoughtfully,” Ze says. “We decided to rent a house together instead of picking one of our apartments, and we sought out a property with two bedrooms. Though we almost always slept in the same bed (we alternated between rooms), we knew we each needed space of our own. I found that because we established open and honest communication about our goals, plans, and expectations, moving in together went really smoothly and resulted in a wonderful, fulfilling long-term relationship of 15 years.”
3. Don’t compromise—agree
This may seem counterintuitive since we’ve all heard relationships are all about compromises! However, Dr. Solomon says focusing on agreements can help both people feel like they are winning versus feeling trapped in a power dynamic.
Many times, this can show up in maintaining autonomy in the relationship. For example, Danny A. moved in with his partner and his partner’s family a month into their relationship (and stayed for eight years!). Ten years later, the couple is still together. “Too much couple time causes suffocation,” he says. “You don’t always have to do things together. It is okay to stay engaged in what makes you happy without your partner.”
Anna M. relocated to Europe to be with her current husband early into their relationship, and six months later, they decided to move in together. “Living together shows you how compatible you are and how much compromise you are both willing to show,” she says. “So much fun and goodness can happen, but only if you are both willing.”
4. Have an exit strategy
According to Dr. Solomon, one of cohabitation’s biggest risks is that it makes breaking up much harder.
“Commitment has two elements: I’m here because it feels good, and I’m here because it’s hard to leave,” Solomon says. “Cohabitation for sure amplifies the latter, so couples need to be proactively working on the former.”
Working on the former can look like coming up with an “exit plan” before moving in together, eliminating any financial or logistical crises if one party needs out. BethAnne F., did “slide” into cohabitation with her now-husband only four months after meeting, initially thinking that their living together was a temporary arrangement while she looked for her own place. However, she added some safeguards for herself in case it didn’t work out, including not signing a lease.
“I thought I didn’t need one; thinking of it as a temporary thing meant there wasn’t a lot of stress to make it work—even if it really wasn’t working.”
Also, don’t wait for a crisis to ask for help: “The stresses of moving in together can be forged into deeper intimacy, but often couples need the help of a therapist to make sense of what is getting stirred up! You do not need to wait for a crisis to ask for help from a trained professional,” Dr. Solomon says, “It’s wonderful to build insight and healthy patterns right from the start.
While an exit plan (or couples therapy) may not be totally feasible for everyone (some people cohabitate because it’s the only way to make rent), it is important to understand the risks of not having one:
Elizabeth S., says moving in with a partner for financial reasons ultimately left her in a situation with extreme domestic violence involved.
“Once your living situation, bills, and finances are even a little bit dependent on your romantic partner, it’s going to make it a lot more difficult to extract yourself from your relationship if you ever need to,” she says. “I can’t explain how painful it is to be in a situation like that and realize how incapable you are of leaving or keeping your own house, even if only financially. Make decisions with caution.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.com, where there is a chat-line manned 24/7.