Some couples use living together as a way to ease into a marriage. It can be an important in-between time in which they iron out differences, learn to compromise, figure out how to divide chores and financial responsibilities, and see what each other is really like day to day. When the arrangement is time limited (usually about 2 years), the couple is more likely to use the time well and to make a clear decision about whether or not to marry or to move on. When these couples enlist family support (or at least tolerance), they are more likely to last.
Other couples see living together as an alternative to marriage. The stability of these relationships depends on the couple’s willingness to be honest with themselves and their partners, their efforts to negotiate legal protections for their relationship, and their commitment to working through any family disapproval so that they have family support over the long term.
If you and your partner are thinking about living together:
- Communicate. Really communicate. Be sure that you have a common understanding about what living together really means.
- Don’t agree to move in together if you have different ideas about marriage. If your partner is philosophically against marriage, that’s not likely to change.
- Don’t compromise your values. If you feel that living together while unmarried is immoral, don’t go ahead with the arrangement anyway. You will feel guilty and your partner will feel judged and pressured.
- Enlist extended family support. If one or both families are adamantly against it, take it to heart. Although it’s romantic to see yourselves as “us against the world,” couples without family support often break apart. Do your best to respond to the family objections and to help them understand why this arrangement is right for you. If they remain unconvinced, talk seriously with your partner about the implications for your relationship over the long term.
- Unload your emotional baggage first. If you were hurt by your parents’ divorce, make sure that your attitudes toward love and commitment are not unduly influenced by unresolved anger, resentment, or sadness that belongs to your family of origin, not to your partner.
- Set a time frame. Reevaluate whether living together is working for both of you at least annually. Re-decide whether you are satisfied with your arrangement, whether you would be more comfortable as a married couple, or whether it is time to separate and move on. You are less likely to slide into years of no decision if you make a pact to take a new look every year.
- Don’t bring children into the relationship until you have settled your commitment. The very worst reason to have a baby is the hope that it will bring you together. It won’t. Babies are wonderful but they add emotional, financial, and physical stress. An uncommitted relationship will crack under it. For you, having children immeasurably complicates the decision to separate. For kids, it’s only semantics whether their parents are legally married when they separate. The loss of the family as they know it is just as hard.