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For many couples, shacking up is a way of taking the next step in commitment and finding out how compatible they really are and whether they'll be able to get along without the safety net of separate residences.
But knowing whether moving in with your significant other is the right decision for your relationship can be difficult. We asked Joan Traversy, a mediator and psychotherapist at Advancing Insights Counselling and Mediation Centre in Ottawa, for her insights into how to know when it's time to cohabitate.
"Dating expectations to meet for dinner once a week versus living together and expecting to share breakfast every morning are two very different things," Traversy says. She offers some important tips to consider before taking the next step.
1. Discuss living expectations
For some, sharing the rent and a tube of toothpaste with a significant other is an important milestone, and for others it may be no different than getting a roommate.
"The first step is to have an open, honest conversation about expectations," says Traversy. She suggests starting the conversation by asking the following questions.
• What does living together mean to each of you?
• What will the roles and responsibilities be in your household?
• Will you maintain your independence, and to what degree? And what does independence mean to each of you?
• How much will you each contribute to the running of the household?
Once you've discussed what each of you expects when it comes to sharing space, you'll have a much better idea whether moving in together is a good idea for your relationship.
2. Find out if you're on the same page
It's also important to consider and discuss what each of you want both in the immediate future and further down the road. "Share your values and your needs," advises Traversy. "If you have a timeline that includes getting married and having children, express those things to your partner. Take this next step with eyes wide open. Do not make any assumptions and don't delay the conversation."
Sometimes one partner within a couple is less inclined to formalize a commitment. Having a conversation about what you both want (or don't want) will go a long way to reducing the stress of waiting for an engagement ring that may never materialize because your significant other is happy with the status quo.
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3. Make sure you're moving in together for the right reasons
When it comes to cohabitation, there are some good -- and some not-so-good -- reasons to sign a lease together.
"Good reasons would include getting the opportunity to enjoy more time together and to grow the relationship," says Traversy. "Living together means more time to understand and discover things about your partner, to get to know them day-in and day-out and to find out whether you do in fact have complementary living styles."
And what about those not-so-great reasons for cohabitating? "Don't decide to live together purely for financial reasons. Don't make a decision motivated solely by thoughts of, 'Well, we could save $500 a month in rent if we just shacked up,'" advises Traversy. "Also beware of making major decisions which you may regret once the romantic 'love is blind' infatuation phase wears off."
4. Avoid outside influence or pressure
Some people may decide not to live with their partners for the wrong reasons, such as pressure from parents or friends offering well-meaning, but misplaced, concern. Don't let other people sway you if moving in together is something you both want, Traversy says.
"It's no one else's business if you and your partner wish to cohabitate," she says. "Do not be influenced by others. If your immediate family or friends have different values than you, focus on your own best interests. Separate from any societal pressures and do your own thorough value check."
5. Consider talking to a professional
Traversy notes that in her own practice she sees both individuals and couples seeking the advice of a neutral third party when considering cohabitation.
"Some counselling around this decision can be a very helpful, worthwhile investment in the relationship," she says. "I see couples with poor communication who do not live together precisely because of those issues. A counsellor can analyze the dynamics of the partnership and uncover what is preventing the relationship from flourishing."
When deciding whether or not to make the big move, be honest with one another about your willingness to compromise on your visions or alter your expectations. Honesty and openness in the decision-making process will set a positive tone and solid foundation for the relationship going forward.
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