Although fewer people may be walking down the aisle these days, there are still plenty of couples that cohabitate together, sometimes as a test-run prior to getting married, but not necessarily. Over the past two decades, I have learned as a matrimonial attorney not to make any assumptions, however, if you want to successfully navigate shacking up together here are some tough discussions you need to have before moving in together:
What is an equitable division of household expenses? First you need to establish a realistic housing budget and agree on what counts as joint expenses, which typically include housing, food, and shared travel and entertainment. Then, if you don’t earn the same, it probably isn’t fair to split everything evenly. However, if someone is paying off significant debt either from a student loan or prior obligations (such as alimony or child support) then maybe using a pro rata share of net income is more appropriate than focusing on just gross income numbers.
How will you manage your finances? Most modern couples have a joint account for shared expenses, but they maintain separate accounts for their separate expenses, such as clothing, transportation, medical costs, debt or independent travel and entertainment. However, not everybody has a transparent discussion about what those separate expenses look like or how they may impact future choices. If the plan is to eventually buy a house together or grow old together, then I would suggest you embrace total transparency as your policy with each other.
Which chores do you want to tackle separately vs. together? Often, the most efficient way to divide up tasks is to divide and conquer by playing into each other’s strengths. Usually, one person is the better cook, while another one might enjoy doing laundry more. Be honest about what you are capable of taking on, and also what you would prefer to farm out. For example, if you both hate cleaning and/or lack the time, then look into hiring a cleaning service. If neither one of you enjoys cooking, maybe consider taking turns using a meal prep service. The key is to not take on more than you are able to handle and letting resentment build up.
What happens in the event of an illness, death or a separation? These are admittedly not pleasant topics to discuss, but you do need to plan ahead in the event someone gets sick– the only way your partner can freely talk to health care providers is if s/he is listed a your health care power of attorney. And in the event of death, the only way to ensure your partner gets anything is either by naming them in your will or a life insurance policy. Finally, if you need to part ways, it would be very helpful to already have a cohabitation agreement in place (this is similar to a prenup) that outlines how you will untangle your joint assets and liabilities.
Could you benefit from couples counseling? If you have issues communicating respectfully and effectively, then I believe 100% you should not hesitate to seek out professional help. Romance aside, the reality is there are a lot of triggers that occur when you start to cohabitate with someone. Conflict is inevitable when living together, and rather than burying your feelings or lashing out at one another, it would be in everyone’s best interest to lay some ground rules for managing conflict together in a healthy and productive way.
Falling in love is the easy part, but managing a solid domestic partnership that will stand the test of time is not– it takes commitment, perseverance and a lot of compromise. These skills are not easy to come by, but are definitely worth developing when you find the one that makes you want to move heaven and earth so you can be together.