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November 11, 2009

Cohabitation and Relationship – Part One: Marriage Eventually?

Cohabitation is all the rage these days. Couples reach that point in their relationship where they want to be together in a more permanent way, but are not yet ready to get married. Cohabitation (living together, common-law, shacking up, whatever you want to call it) offers the perfect compromise between dating and marriage; when approached from a healthy, open perspective, it can be a wonderful time for two people to share together.

Some readers are aware that I’ve recently moved; what I haven’t talked about until this article, is that I have not moved alone. No, my BF of 5 ½ years has moved in with me, which is quite a change in the dynamic of our relationship. It’s an extremely exciting time for us both, as individuals and as a couple, but it’s also been a serious decision, made with lots of on-going discussions and compromises.

Before deciding to live together, there are key items that should be discussed and decided upon. It may not seem like a big step; after all, it’s not like it’s permanent like a marriage, right? Wrong! Deciding to share a space together is deciding to share a life together, with or without the fluffy white dress and all-important piece of paper.

There are many things you need to discuss together before deciding to move in; what those things are depends on your individual relationship. For this article, I’ve picked what I consider to be the 10 essential things, based on my own recent cohabitation experience;  we are going to go through them in this article, one by one.

Marriage, eventually?

Most people, particularly of your parents’ and grandparents’ generations, will assume that if you’re living together, you are intending to get engaged and married at “some point” down the road. The more old-fashioned they are, the sooner “some point” should be, in their opinions, usually. When you announce your decision to live together, be prepared for the “Are you getting married?” – most importantly, be prepared with the same answer! If one says yes and one says no, it will make for a very awkward conversation, with the family watching. You need to discuss: are you living together with the intention of getting engaged and married, or are you living together with the intention of being together but not married? It’s better to get this decided, privately, before having to deal with the expectations of family.

Secondly, you should make sure that both of you have the same wants and ideas for your future. We all remember that episode of Friends, where Mike and Phoebe move in together, only to discover that Phoebe wants to get married, where Mike doesn’t. Not only will be awkward and confusing, but it could prove to be a determent to your relationship. If you are someone who definitely does not want to get married, be open about it when discussing cohabitation; better to find out up front, than to feel misled later on. The same goes the other way; if you absolutely do not want to move in unless you’re getting married, be clear about it! Don’t move in, each planning to change the mind of the other. You will end up resenting one another, and your relationship will suffer. It might be scary, but HAVE THE MARRIAGE TALK.

What did we do? We had “the talk” about 2 months before beginning our cohabitation. We discussed our finances, our job prospects, and a short- and long-term plan. Our plan is for me to find a full-time job (he already has one) before we become engaged, and then get married. It’s the plan that works for our needs, which is what’s important. Come up with a plan that reflects your lifestyle and what you want for yourselves. For us personally, it makes sense to wait a little while longer, so we can make sure that our finances are more in order, and my employment is in better shape than it is right now.

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