Couples Therapy in Philadelphia: Shacking up: We decided to move in together, now what? So the two of you sat down, had the painful discussions as recommended in the first tip, and you both agreed to go ahead and shack up! Before you go and reach for that Ikea catalog, there’s even more that you want to address before packing those boxes.  From choosing where to live, how exactly to live together, and how long you plan to do so, are all essential topics for the shacking up couple.  The following topics are the next issues to discuss with your partner now that you have agreed to cohabit.  If you do follow through with the following recommendations, you will find yourself in less arguments, conflicts, and less potential of moving out (alone).

Shacking Up: Location, Location, Location.

Before you convince yourself as to why it would be easier and cheaper to add your partner on to your current lease and share your apartment together, consider the idea of neutral territory.  Having neutral ground, a place where neither of you lived before, a place that has no connection to either of you allows a fresh start and fresh outlook on your new journey together.  Going through the steps of finding and deciding on a new place together allows both partners to communicate to each other their opinions, their preferences in an apartment, their concerns. It may help you to view a new apartment as if it were a blank canvas.  The canvas is completely new and untouched to the viewer, there are no previous marks or colors on the canvas from a previous painter, which allows for new and fresh ideas.  The more neutral the territory the more the playing field is leveled for the couple.  For example, the couple has to furnish the place together, which requires joint ideas, joint efforts, and joint finances.  Both you and your partner should enter your new home together and feel that it is a shared space, rather than predominantly yours or your partners. 

If the two of you do find yourself choosing a new fresh place together and are ready to sign the lease, consider the idea of having both of your names on the lease.  Just like a new place gives you an equal and even playing field, both names on the lease provides an equal and even commitment and shared responsibility.  Adding your name on the lease with your partner says “I’m in, if you you are.” Plus, having both names decreases the possibility of one of you leaving the other with the responsibilities of the rent when things get tough,. 

For those of you who aren’t in a place where you can look for something new, or if one of you owns a house, there are still little ways you can make the place more of an “ours” than a “yours.”  Talk with the partner who is moving in, and discuss ways the two of you can work together and make the place home for both of you.  A few ideas could be to clear out a spare room and make that a an office for your partner or for the both of you.  This idea would allow the opportunity for you to work together and share your ideas in order to create a room that represents the both of you.  This is also something you can do with the bedroom, whether it’s picking out new bedding together, painting the walls, or choosing new bedroom furniture.  Most importantly, create room in the house that allows your partner to contribute some of his or her items (personal pictures, paintings, area rugs, television, record player, etc.).  Realistically, when merging two adult lives into one space there will be a few things that will have to be left on the curb, but it is important to have that talk to work out who is leaving what in order to make both individuals feel the move in is equal and fair.

What does a home space look like to you? Is it different than your partner’s?  Each partner needs to meet the other halfway, because each may enter the cohabiting agreement with very different views on what makes a place a home. Perhaps one partner needs more decoration and “homey” touches to feel that the place is a home, while the other partner prefers a more spartan arrangement, and may feel overwhelmed by the additional accessories. Clearly each partner needs to understand the others point of view and needs. You are no longer making your own space, or building on your family of origin’s space, you are making a couples space that represents both of you. 

Shacking Up: Roles and Tasks

The most beneficial conversation a couple can have before moving in together is to discuss expectations of roles, and likes and dislikes of household tasks.  There are going to be a few tasks that each find easy and painless to keep up on, whether it is keeping up with the laundry, taking out the trash, paying the rent on time. There will also be a few tasks that each of you loathe and put off, such as cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, doing the dishes.  Find out from your partner which tasks fall where for for each of you.  Which ones do you not mind doing? Which ones are easy for him or her to take on? This will be a great way to learn what your couples strengths are when it comes to household duties, and how the two of you complement each other.  Then there will be the tasks that fall somewhere in the middle, and neither of you seem to want to take them on.  If that is the case, ask yourself this: Is it relatively more painless for me to do this chore regularly than it is for my partner? If that does not give you the answer, then the next best option is to identify the group of tasks that both of you put off, and agree to take turns. 

As far as expectations go when it comes to cohabiting, everyone has them, but they are not always the same for each person, and not everyone shares their expectations with their partner.  What does this move mean to you and why do you want to shack up? Is it the last step to engagement in your eyes? Are you doing this to spend more time with your partner? How to you expect your relationship to change not just in the big picture, but on the smaller scale as well? Do you expect to have dinner with your partner every night of the week? Are you expecting behaviors for both of you to change? For example, do you expect you and your partner to check in with each other when it comes to going out solo or having a late night at work? Are you expecting more involvement from your partner with your extended family? These are all items that you and your partner want to put out on the table in order to get a better picture of both of your expectations and hopefully avoid any disappointments in the future.

Shacking Up: Holidays

This can be a touchy subject for couples, your families and holiday traditions have been around long before your partner came into the picture, so it may be hard for some to be open to change some things around.  As a cohabiting couple, do either of you expect this aspect to change in your relationship? Perhaps before living together the two of you were happy to separate during the major holidays and each go to your families to celebrate. If either of you want this to change, work together on how you can make the change and both be comfortable with it. Whether taking turns each holiday or year, or basing your decision on how much you value that specific tradition or day. 

Shacking Up: Time lines  

For the couples that have agreed that this move is the step before a proposal or a ceremony, it’s important to discuss your expectations with when such a step would happen.  Some couples prefer setting a time line. It’s important for you to identify and share your own personal time line.  If you are the marrying type, then how long are you able to shack up until there is an “official commitment?” Some couples want to use the first year of living together as practice and then have the discussion at the end of the year as to where they are with such a commitment.  Others may want more than a year to decide, or may even expect an engagement to just happen somewhere within the first year.  Where are you with your expectations of an engagement and marriage? Does your partner know? Sharing these expectations can avoid feeling disappointed or disgruntled when they discover their expectations do not match their partners. However, when both partners feel they are on the same page they feel they are working towards a shared goal, which can strengthen the bond between them. 

         
Cohabiting may mean something different to everyone. Some may view it as living in sin, some may view it as a prelude to marriage, while others may see it as a substitute for marriage.  What is important is what it means to you, and what it means to your partner.  It is you and your partner who ultimately decide where you want to go, and how you want to get there.

Struggling? Contact a therapist at Center for Growth / Couples Therapy in Philadelphia. We are here to help 267-324-9564