With Valentine's Day on the brain, love is all flowers and candy. But 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 make your cohabitating and apartment hunting experience go smoothly—for the sake of your sanity, your wallet and your relationship.
Thinking of moving in with your significant other? You're not alone. Due to the decline of marriage rates and skyrocketing of rental prices, cohabitation before the commitment of marriage is more popular than ever. So often, though, it's something poorly thought out and rashly jumped into. Emotionally, legally, and financially: you can be opening yourself to a whole world of complications.
If everything checks out, and you're certain that it's the right time to move in together, then you now face new questions. Who should give up their apartment or house to move in with the other one? What happens if you both own furniture?
My Place or Yours? And Whose Stuff Do We Keep?
If you're living somewhere with extortionate rents like London or New York, then the chances are that, pre-cohabiting, you will have roommates. If that's the case, you might want to consider moving into a new place together—just for the two of you.
If you have the financial freedom to move in together, it gives you both the chance to start fresh and create "our home" together. You'll avoid the awkward questions of "but where does my stuff go?" because you're filling a fresh space, together.
If you own extraneous furniture, then renting a storage locker for the first year of living together is definitely a good investment. It will significantly lessen the financial blow if things don't work out, and you won't be left resentful. If things work out, you can either sell the extra things for some extra cash or, if you're ready for kids, you can use it to furnish a bigger house together down the road.
What if We Can't Agree on an Apartment?
Apartment hunting together is a useful stage in your relationship; doing it successfully requires compromise, sacrifice, and that you each have the same level of commitment to each other. I know one woman whose boyfriend was assigned a job in a small city in Wales. Despite the small town having zero job prospects for non-Welsh speakers like her, he'd accepted the job. When she arrived, having given him the task of finding an apartment, he'd found one that met his needs and absolutely none of hers. There was only one key, only one bus into the city every hour, and no shops for food. And it was unfurnished. With no car and no key, she was left stranded in the tiny suburb, stuck at home hungry. One month later she left him.
The moral of this story? If the early signs show that one of you is more committed than the other, read them and get out before you're financially committed, too.
When advising my clients on moving in together, I get them to each clearly state their needs. If they can't find a compromise on location, apartment, and furnishings, then perhaps they aren't ready to live together just yet. Statistically, the longer you're with each other, the less likely you are to break up. So if moving in together isn't the right idea right now, you can still reevaluate after a year or two.
How Do I Compromise On Space and Time Now Our Lives Are Intertwined?
An important aspect to consider when planning to live with your other half is finding an apartment that allows you both personal space. Even if you can't afford a large apartment, make sure that you find a way to use every square foot you have so that you have time apart from each other. If you work the same hours, or if one or both of you work from home, alone time is vital in a relationship for maintaining your sense of self and your independence.
Just as keeping your own space is important, so too is keeping your own hobbies. Don't fall into the habit of doing everything with each other. I've seen very few couples who can spend every waking second together and not burn out on each others company. Matches that work at my dating agency aren't people who have everything in common. Rather, they're people with shared values and aspirations in life. If one person loves something but the other doesn't, there's no reason to stop doing it. In fact, stopping someone from doing their hobby often leads to resentment and breakup.
True love might conquer all, but it still needs good communication skills, a large amount of compromise, and understanding if it's to stand the test of time.
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.