3 Questions You Should Ask Before Moving in With a Partner
02.05.18

T

he first time I went apartment hunting with a partner, I was sick with indecision. I’d been excited by the prospect when we first discussed it, so the nervous welling in my eyes between viewings was confusing and annoying. I confessed my nervousness, thereby infecting him with it too. I’m embarrassed to admit we both forgot all about it when we saw the apartment of our dreams, all French doors and shiny wood floors. We moved in two weeks later and embarked on a journey that kept us together for another three fun years.

I don’t regret the decision, but I do wonder how things might have turned out had I been more critical of that swirly feeling in my gut — had I just paused to give myself a second to observe it, poke it and question whether we ought to spend one more year living apart, just to see. But I was young, 23, and wasn’t yet comfortable voicing that kind of thing honestly. I was too afraid of hurting him or our relationship.

I remember him picking up a book half a year after we moved into that first apartment called The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay. He told me about the chapter on cohabitating and how couples often fail to make the decision thoughtfully and face difficult situations as a result. I’m not sure whether I saw myself in those words at the time, but looking back, I certainly do. So now that I’m a little older and more of my peers (including myself) are approaching this decision, I decided to reach out to Jay directly and ask her for the highlights: What do most couples not think enough about, and what questions should they really ask before moving in together?

Jay is a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia. After The Defining Decade sold 250,000 copies, she gave a TED Talk called “Why 30 is not the new 20,” which has been viewed almost 10 million times. She also has a new book out called SUPERNORMAL: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience. Here’s what she has to say about moving in.

Three common mistakes:

1. Making the decision based on convenience

Jay says one of the most frequent missteps couples make is deciding to move in for reasons of convenience, like the opportunity to split rent or see each other more easily. “I suggest making moving in with someone a highly intentional choice,” says Jay, “one in which you are honest with your partner — and with yourself — about what you are hoping to gain or learn. Moving in tends to end poorly when it is driven by convenience or budgeting rather than by shared intentions.”

2.Doing it as a litmus test for relationship longevity

Jay says some people use moving in as a way to test their relationship before getting married, but that’s not necessarily a fail-safe approach. For one, “if moving in [before marriage] protected all couples from marrying poorly, this would be an easy thing to prove…and divorce could just become a thing of the past. But research shows that much of it depends on how and why people move in together, and then how and why they proceed to marriage or partnership.”

She cites a term used by psychologist Dr. Scott Stanley called “sliding versus deciding.” In other words, says Jay: “Will you and your partner decide to live together or will you slide into it? Because, hey, you’re sleeping over there most nights anyway, and it is cheaper and easier.” In the same way it’d be unwise to “slide” into marriage rather than make the commitment thoughtfully and with purpose, Jay says the same intentionality should be applied to moving in together.

3. Assuming moving in isn’t a big commitment

Jay says people often make mistake #2 because they’ve already made mistake #3 by assuming moving in isn’t a big deal, so why not try it out? You can always break the lease! But Jay points out a principle in behavior economics called “lock-in,” which explains why pivoting isn’t as easy as people might think. “Lock-in basically means that once you commit to someone or something, it is easier to stay together than to incur the ‘switching costs’ of breaking up,” explains Jay. “I cannot count the number of times I have heard someone say that their not-so-great relationship lasted years longer than it should have because they lived together.”

Questions to help you avoid them:

So: How can we better protect ourselves from making these mistakes? “If we are intentional about how we approach life and love…we usually experience more happiness and fewer regrets,” says Jay. Below are three ways you can do that. That said, says Jay, “it is important to remember that no set of questions can protect us from the uncertainties of life or from the challenges of long-term relationships.”

1. “What are five ways this decision benefits me or the relationship and five ways this decision worries me?”

“Couples should make one version of this list they will share with their partner and one version of this list they won’t need to share,” says Jay. “Pay attention to whether your lists match up, whether you’re being honest with your partner and with yourself about your real hopes and fears.”

2. “What is our timeline for regular check-ins about whether this is really working or whether we are staying together due to ‘lock-in.’ Once a month? Twice a year?”

Jay says these kinds of check-ins are important “so couples can be intentional not only about their decision to get together but about their decision to stay together.” In other words: How can they continually decide instead of slide?

3. “If I did not live with this person, would I want to stay together or would I want to look elsewhere?”

This is one that both of you should regularly and privately ask yourselves, recommends Jay. “This is a gut check you are better off doing before marriage or a commitment ceremony.”


Finally, and more broadly, Jay suggests trying your best to be realistic about what cohabitation means and stay clued in to how things are going if and when you’ve taken the plunge. This kind of intentionality and thoughtfulness can make moving in a worthwhile decision. “Figure out how you’re going to share the cooking and cleaning, pay attention to what happens to your sex life, see how the weekends and vacations go. What you see is what you get (and it is what you’re going to keep getting for years to come).”

Are you thinking of moving in with a partner? Did you already? Curious to know if you’ve asked these questions or wish you did.

Collages by Adriana Gallo

Get more Postmodern Love ?
  • Adrianna

    I’m a woman living in NYC, and most people are surprised I waited five years to move in with my boyfriend. He started asking to move in together 6 months into the relationship, but I couldn’t ignore my gut feeling. This is especially surprising, because I’ve always annoyed everyone with endless stories about my boyfriend.

    I waited to move in with him until it started to feel weird that we weren’t living together. Neither of us are actually saving money in this arrangement – we decided to split rent based on what we previously payed for our underpriced sublets.

    Most importantly of all, we worked out our lingering issues before moving in. We established our boundaries and relationship requirements before we were financially responsible for another.

    • Kattigans

      This! I’ve been with my bf for almost 3 years and am living in SF. People are surprised we don’t live together either. We’ve talked about it but never really committed so its never happened. “but at this point I feel like I know how to assert myself and have a constructive argument with him. Our relationship feels stronger today because we weren’t locked into it through marriage or a lease for so many years.”–> I think I know what you mean by this statement and I really can relate. We’ve gone through a lot and I think having gone through the ups and downs all while not living together has helped us assess if we’re ready to walk away or not without the added pressure of cohabitation.

  • This is so important. My boyfriend and I moved in together after being together for 3 years and the process in and of itself was frustrating-we bought a place so they basically asked for my first born child-but I feel like it brought us closer together. A lot of people tease me like, “where’s the ring?” when I tell them I live with him but if what we went through (and paid for) to get the place isn’t an indication that this is a serious relationship I don’t know what is.

    With all of that being said living with someone, especially a significant other, can be tough no matter how in love you are with each other. To be frank, you lose a lot of the alone time you have with yourself and sometime that can be hard to deal with. It’s so crucial to know how to give each other space which is something that I feel like is important no matter what stage of a relationship you’re in.

  • Autumn

    Wow is this timely! My bf and I are moving in together next month (eek!). Looks like I have our next dinner topics of conversation

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    What you see is what you get (and it is what you’re going to keep getting for years to come).” THIS!

  • I really, really wish I had a partner to live with. My last two boyfriends expressed that they wanted to live together before we inevitably broke up, and each time one of us (first him, then me) felt like we couldn’t. Which, I realise, is probably good in the long run, but I also feel like I need more help around the house and I want more emotional closeness than my roommate can give. When I’m burnt out and exhausted, my executive functioning can get so bad that I can’t remember how to do the simplest things. I’ve called my partner crying in the past because I can’t remember how to do a sink of dishes. In stressful times, all I want is that other person to hug and help me calm down at night as well. But I also feel like that’s such a fine line between a healthy relationship and an over-dependent one. Idk. Right now I’m in a very NOT healthy place independently and I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of my comfort at home because I need to meet work deadlines; having a partner who’s looking out for my well-being AND who I can communicate effectively about practical things that need to be done or maintained would help me continue to live ‘alone’

    • Adrianna

      “I’ve called my partner crying in the past because I can’t remember how to do a sink of dishes. In stressful times, all I want is that other person to hug and help me calm down at night as well.”

      I’m coming into your comment with limited context, and I’m not super familiar with executive functioning disorders. But I’ll add that I’m grateful I worked through my severe depression and trauma on my own. It was a difficult journey, but one I feel will pay off for a lifetime.

      My boyfriend wanted me to move in with him when I was struggling with depression and unemployment, but I knew that I was not in the mindset to accept that kind of help. I feared over-dependency leading to increased depression. This was kind of a ‘fake it until you make it’ situation – I’m paying my own rent for my little room, that means I can take care of myself, right?

      • I think that’s a really smart way to approach moving in! Even though that time must have been terrible for you, you did make it through and are stronger for it. I would say my experience with executive dysfunction is more akin to yours with body dysmorphia, in that it’s less of a longer, major episode and more something that I know will recur in future whether there is a partner there or not, despite having a partner initially helping with symptoms bubbling up.

        A lot of what I deal with is related to outside physical hypo- and hypersensitivities, but, for example, I have more control over not knowing when I’m hungry than I do over the noise outside my apartment. So, there’s always a chance of something sending me into brain fog and later panic attacks if it’s just too much to deal with. And when I’m at the level of panicking, my most effective coping strategy is to talk with someone I’m close to, or else I can stay in that heightened, super-anxious state for a really long time and exhaust myself even more.

        I do have my own systems for helping myself, some friends will occasionally offer to help with administrative tasks, and my roommate will sometimes pick up the slack in housework, but it’s nowhere near consistent help. Unfortunately I don’t have any relatives I can rely on, otherwise that would be my next logical decision.

        I’ve been living alone in various housing situations for a decade now, I was able to work at a good job out of undergrad, and saved to pay for grad school and living expenses for that duration completely independently. In these other aspects of my life I am grateful that I’ve been able to accomplish what I did alone, much like you feel about struggling with depression and unemployment. Now I feel more like I’ve identified a type of relationship and a living situation that could really benefit me, because living with roommates or alone (what I previously thought would be best for me) is not as good for me as I had hoped.

        That being said, I still need a partner and am definitely not seeking to rush into anything! So it’s like this daily tension of me wishing I could improve this one thing, but not being able to.

  • Megan

    This is something I’ve been thinking about so much lately! I’ve been living alone since ending a long relationship, the last year and a half of which were spent cohabiting, and I’ve experienced so much growth and just, like, unexpected fulfillment from being on my own that I want to keep this going for a while.

    I’m in a new relationship that is definitely heading in that direction, but we’re both on the same page about enjoying our own space and wanting to live separately for a while. It’s so nice to have a partner who shares my desire to live alone for a couple years, especially in New York where it can feel a little self-indulgent and a little bratty not to rush to share rent.

  • Lucy Negash

    I totally agree with everyone here, but I might be the only one on the other end of the spectrum! I moved in with my boyfriend after only 5 months, and we’ve been dating for almost 10 months now. It was definitely a big decision to be made at the time, but it felt like an unnaturally good fit, plus we talked about it at length beforehand. I’d say overall its been a great experience, but I do definitely miss my own space when I get in my own head too much, or he’s making me crazy. Also, phone calls to complain about him to family and friends are hard to sneak in 😉

  • Madmoiselle Catastrophe

    Loved this! My boyfriend really wants to move in and he really can’t understand my doubts. He’s lived with previous girlfriends before and I have always been on my own, and I do love the idea of living together and having him over for dinner every day, among other things (especially, because he’s such a great cook), but I’m terrified. I don’t want it to be a temporary arrangement and I don’t want it to be an experiment of how it is to live together, but I don’t see any easy way out of my terror! So thanks for this article!

  • Bmo

    I’m post-breakup and living alone for the first time, and I absolutely love it. Yes, my rent literally doubled, but the freedom is amazing.

    • Aydan

      live alone until New York, been living with roomies for 1.5 years, I’m moving to my new place on sat (day before my birthday) and YESSSSS am I ready to be on my own again. My roomies are lovely, but there’s just something so special about living alone!! HERE WEEEE GOOOO!!

  • lillian c.

    my boyfriend and I moved in together because his friend was moving to our city and he needed a place to live so he just decided he’d move in with me and give his friend his room. so no, I did not ask these questions but it has somehow worked out for the best. I think it also helps when you have another person living with you. I’ve lived with the same girl for five years now and we all three get along super great, she does work as a buffer sometimes though. Having her there doesn’t make it feel like my boyfriend and I are “playing house” and I have someone to air cohabitation related complaints to because she gets it.

  • Mollie Ward

    I’m on live-in-boyfriend number 2. I’m only 22, we moved in after being together for less than a year and right after 3 months on different continents. I know I didn’t ask these questions but I like to think I didn’t go into totally blind. I did voice the issues I had had living with the last guy I lived with/ and what I expected. What worries me is the concept of having to live apart for any reason (new jobs, schooling) going forward. It’s been 8 months but I already feel like NOT living with him would be horrible and feel like we’re going backwards. It feels like it was a nonchalant decision while also feeling like it was a big step in the relationship. So if we do need to live separately, how do I not feel like we’re failing?

  • Jolie

    I wholeheartedly agree with this advice (moving in together is a HUGE decision)… but I have to admit I was a total hypocrite about taking it! My partner and I moved in together after 2 months of dating/knowing each other. It was a classic New York tale of “we live in different boroughs and have completely different schedules, and my roommate is moving out so…”

    I thought it was a horrible idea, he was skeptical too, but we did it. I agreed because despite my skepticism, I could see how much I liked him and it was the first time I wasn’t cynical in a relationship. And it worked out! Our 3-year anniversary is soon, and we now live in a much bigger, better place than the studio we used to share.

    I can definitely see why most couples wouldn’t want to “ruin” the honeymoon phase of a relationship by moving in together, but when you have very few options to see each other (I was sleeping like 2 hours a night to squeeze in seeing him on our insane schedules), it can quickly show you whether or not the relationship is worth it. I’m glad we showed each other our “true home selves” in 2 months rather than 2 years.

  • Gigi

    The last one Rly hit me. Im trying to find work in New York to move back, but my partner is in school & would have to transfer to come with me. I even signed my lease for a 6mo. deal so that my future is open to moving there in September.

    Im so devoted to New York. Its the only place where it actually felt as tho geographic location influenced my happiness & well-being substantially in a good way, (& its not bc the coffee is so good…altho thats part of it). I felt like I got to know the woman I want to be when I was there, & I hate to say it, but even if he can’t come with me, that’s probably what I’ll do….it’s too important. In this way, even tho I wouldn’t trade my time with him 4 anything & am glad we moved in over a yr ago, I wish I wld have had the foresight to follow my natural path, which is conscious in its impulsivity, & therefore not likely to stay active & engaged amongst the liminal strip malls of suburban IL…

  • Julia

    My boyfriend asked to move into my apartment (via text!) around four months after we started dating. Needless to say, I panicked and started questioning his motive – did he just want to live closer to his place of work? Did he think that since I was more organised/domesticated, he’d get access to a clean apartment and a nice home-cooked dinner without any effort on his part? I always assume the worst. My answer was a firm no. But the thought lingered in my head and after a couple more months, when he brought it up again, I’d had time to ask myself most of the questions posted in this article, and voiced my concerns to him. Once we were both honest about our intentions and expectations, I was ready to give it a try. We make it a point to revisit the intentions we had set in the beginning, as honestly as possible. I will say, it helped a LOT to talk to close friends who were already in a cohabiting situation, so that I could anticipate where resentment could build up in the relationship.

  • Emily

    My boyfriend and I committed to saving up to buy a place together last month. I thought it was something I always wanted to do with him, but ever since it became tangible I am throwing a serious wobbly. I have only lived with my parents and would go straight into living with him- is that wise or do I need time to build my own one-woman nest? Before he existed in my life I had this vision of me upping sticks from where I live in England and going to work in another city in another country. In the back of my head I’ve always assumed I’d get to that ‘eventually’ but now we’ve made this plan I feel as if it’s guaranteeing that I’m never going to pursue it- but if we weren’t together would I be brave enough to make it happen anyway!? I feel like I would be kicking myself if I didn’t at least try, but also ‘lock-in’ heavily applies here- it’s way easier to stay put and stick to the plan. I could cogitate about this forever with no right answer ughhhhhh

    • anne_blushes

      Cogitating forever won’t help—you need to vocalize! I think, if this is the guy you see yourself with, you should allow yourself to have a conversation with him to talk about how you’re feeling—and see what happens. Let yourself talk about it; let him hear what’s going on in your head. Don’t be afraid of that. What you should be afraid of is never getting to do the things you’ve outlined: living in another city or country, going it alone, being independent, doing what you’ve always thought you would. If you were sure about this idea to buy a home together, you’d be sure. No questions would linger, no uncertainty would cloud your mind. Talk to him, talk to him, talk to him. His response will be revealing, and so could yours. Talk to him. Good luck.

      • Emily

        thank you for this, needed to hear it 🙂

    • Lorange E

      Wait, you’d go straight from not-ever-having-lived with him, to owning a home together? Am I reading that right? I think it’s best to live on your own and with others before that kind of commitment. Owning a home (versus renting) is so much more permanent and legally complicated. Otoh, if it’s going to take you years to save up, well then you have time to try out other living situations before then. Listen to your gut.

    • Julia

      Where I’m from, it’s the norm to buy a place with your partner rather than rent out – and yes, most people go from living with their parents to living with their boyfriend. It seems to be a plan that works for most people. Then again, I made it a point to live on my own for a bit – I’m a naturally insecure person and wanted that time for myself to build up my identity, habits, whatever. If you feel that thirst for solitary living, go for it. Even a few months would do a world of good.

  • EmilyL27

    I moved to NYC with my best friend who then became my boyfriend so we just slid into living together for 6 years. We broke up 6 months ago and now both have random roommates and tiny rooms in Bushwick. It’s so nice to have my own space after being pretty much married from 22 to 28. Oh and I got my best friend back. I don’t regret it as we got to share so much and grow up together. I’m glad we tried it and I learned a lot about myself but I don’t know how I’d feel if we weren’t still friends. I’m seeing someone now who’s pretty awesome. He lives walking distance away which is great and really what I’ve always thought would be ideal. (One thing I learned co-habiting is how I feel so much better being independent and having my own time and space.) I honestly only aspire to having a whole studio to myself.

  • Liz

    I didn’t move in with my partner until 2 months before we got married after 5 years of dating, and what I miss most about living separately is showing up to a date/hang out after not having seen them for a while. It’s not the same when you are both at home getting ready to go out together. I also miss living with friends. SO please enjoy those things.

  • myszki

    Ergh, it really is timely.
    I recently broke up with my boyfriend of 2,5 years for this very reason.
    I consider moving in together both a big deal and not so really, since relationship for me it’s all about the daily life and that’s when things get verified. Dating is always fun and it could continue forever but where’s the challenge then? On the other hand, he didn’t want to move in together, living in a rented room with other people, wanting to ‘live alone first’. But in almost 3 years I’ve seen no progress in this field. He hated to talk about it, could get angry, but I still cannot come to grips with what’s more important – my need to live together or his need not to.

  • Jay

    Oh, Haley…
    there is a truth to what my mom used to say…
    „You always no better… in the aftermath“
    So did I.

    Moved in with my BF after 2 years of long distance. Exciting. New city, new people, new lifestyle…

    And his was so different from mine.

    Like… I cook, he orders. I clean, he is having it cleaned. I shop and love finding things (bargains or little treasures) he has a tailor and a ton of suits. I read, he watches TV. I love to hang with wine and good conversations, he is a party person. Like…

    And so I basically gave my life up, and my beloved apartment, to move into something that was … exciting.

    But not really me.

    We broke up after two years of a really not so happy relationship. Our long distance was so much bettter. And we should have gotten out much more early. But we didnt dare to. Cause, well, that is difficult. Job commitments, financial commitments, and admitting it didnt work, first and foremost.

    It is so weird.

    I am thankful for that experience.

    Really.

    And I am thankful for having met him.

    Really.

    Now that we are separate, he has come to be a friend. And that is great.

    But I guess the take away is: Dont rush it. From seeing each other every other weekend into actually living with each other every day… no way…. you could have the best relationship ever, and hanging out on the weekends can be lovely. But it is the weekends. And not all day every day. And all day every day is actually most days.

    What did I learn?!
    Hm. Maybe I stick to dating guys that live in my city. 🙂 so that I can experience the all day every day. And if that doesnt work… well, I guess I would not give up my apartment ever again. And my way to go back.
    (Should have listened to #cocochanel who was a big proponent of this… and even homey wife #audreyhepburn believed in financial independence…)

    So, girls, to add to the advice above: Keep your safe place to return to, in case it doesnt work out.

  • Lia

    My boyfriend was my roommate before he was my boyfriend, so I don’t know what ot think here. We lived together for 2 (or was it 3?) months before we got romantically involved, and actually one of the big factors in my decision to start a romantic relationship with him was how pleasant and easy it was to live with him. I’m having some second thoughts right now because he seems kind of financially irresponsible and I worry about him a lot. But still, he’s one of the most supportive and patient people I’ve met ever. All in all, I think moving in with him was a good idea.