It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the time is right to take your relationship to the next level, and you may wonder if it’s even a good idea to live with a partner before marriage. According to Los Angeles-based Psychotherapist and Relationship Expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, many couples prefer to experience living together prior to an engagement or getting married. “The old adage of buying cows and free milk in many cases no longer applies,” she says. “In fact, many couples that choose to live together go on to have perfectly healthy, loving relationships, many of which lead to marriage.”
So, when should you move in together exactly, and how soon is too soon to move in together? Since it’s a big step, it’s advisable to wait until you’ve dated for at least a year to make sure that your relationship is stable. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re relationship is doomed if you decide to move in together after only a few months of dating.
Each couple is different and has its quirks, so do what you feel is best after considering our tips. We’ve got the perfect guide for you so that you can be informed before you change your living situation. We spoke to some marriage and relationship experts about how to know when it’s time to move in together.
For starters, you’ve already spent a lot of time in each other’s living spaces—say, most nights of the week—and you plan to continue to do so for the long haul. You’re familiar with how your partner is in their home space, what their daily routines are, how they unwind, and what they’re like when they wake up. And thankfully, you haven’t seen any red flags that signal an impending breakup after the honeymoon phase is over.
Traveling together can also be a good simulation of living together or cohabitating. “The couple, ideally, would have gone on some trips together where they had a preview of what living together would be like,” said Lee Wilson, a relationship coach with 20 years of experience. “It's amazing what you can learn about someone and how the two of you interact while sharing a room or house for a few days.” If things were good or better, then proceed with caution.
Think carefully about why you want to live together in an apartment or house. Be sure that you are not feeling pressured to move in together—by friends, family, or even your partner. Also, finances shouldn’t be the primary reason. “Don’t make the decision to move-in together solely to save money,” notes Richards-Smith. “If saving money is the goal, you may want to consider a non-romantic housemate instead.”
Don't move in together until you are both clear on what it means. Does moving in together mean that you both believe that you two are going to spend forever together? Does it mean that you will get married? Or is it just for fun, without consideration for the future? “The two of you need to have clear expectations and an understanding of why the other person wants to move in together,” Wilson says. “Nothing will cause problems like two people with different understandings of why they are moving in together!”
In fact, before even considering cohabiting or having a shared space with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s critical that you and your partner are clear about where your relationship currently stands and what you’re both hoping the future will look like as a couple. “If you are both on the same page and working toward the same goals, great!” says Richards-Smith. “If not, you may seriously want to reconsider moving in with your partner without further clarity on where you are headed collectively.”
It may seem like no big deal if you work opposite shifts or have different schedules, but it can be deal breaker if you have conflicting schedules. Also, if one partner works from home and the other spends a large amount of time at the office or traveling for work, moving in together can lead to resentment as one partner is left alone often listening to podcasts to fill the void.
Also, don’t just consider your work schedules, but for your mental health, think about your habits. If one partner loves waking up at 6 am on a Saturday morning to go to the farmers' market and the other wants to sleep in until noon, there could be conflict. Moving in together while in a new relationship can be a big decision. Just be sure to have some honest talks about your schedule beforehand.
You’re probably ready to move in together when you don't feel the need to get back to your own place: When you two are together, it feels natural and you would rather stay with your partner than go home. “That doesn't mean that you don't ever want personal space or time to yourself,” Wilson notes, “but if you feel comfortable or ‘home’ when you are around your significant other, moving in together makes a lot of sense.”
Money can cause conflict, especially if one partner carries the financial burden. Some of the best relationship advice from family therapists centers around having honest conversations about money, especially if this is the first time you’re living with someone. It’s perfectly normal for one partner to make more money than another. However, you need to talk about who is paying for what. Will you split bills down the middle, or is your partner responsible for the rent on your New York apartment while you pay for utilities and groceries?
How do you know how to split everything? That’s up to you and your significant other. There is no one size fits all plans. However, coming up with a strategy can be one of the milestones that solidifies your relationship and makes things stronger for the future.
Having established really good communication and establishing boundaries with your partner is very important if you’re considering moving in with one another. “Living with your partner will certainly present new challenges for your relationship,” says Richards-Smith, “but a solid foundation that includes healthy, honest communication with your partner is an important element that can make this arrangement successful over the long haul.” Give your romantic partner space to have alone time and set boundaries if you need to.
Additionally, it’s not just the ability to communicate but how you communicate. If you grew up in a family where you talked openly when there was an issue and your partner’s family just swept things under the rug, you can have a halt in communication. You could be moving along thinking everything is ok while your partner is frustrated and holding things in. Don’t just communicate, but also discuss your communication styles to set your living situation up for complete success.
If you two have had some disagreements with successful resolutions, then the light to move in together is green. “When you live together, there will be conflict, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings—that's simply human nature,” Wilson says. “If you two can handle them like mature adults who place loving each other above pettiness or the need to always be right, then living together won't put much in front of you that you can't handle.”
If you haven't had any disagreements, waiting might make more sense because a spat or two is inevitable, even for couples who love each other dearly. It's best to know for sure that you two can handle that. It also gives you a chance to experience your partner’s conflict resolution style. Do they talk calmly or shout while they’re expressing their views? Knowing this can help you decide your future together and whether or not that includes living together.