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3 Questions Every Couple Must Answer Before Moving in Together

Will you combine finances and share expenses?

Key points

  • Cohabitation is now normative but can predict worse relational outcomes.
  • Pre-cohabitation conversations may support relationship health and stability.
  • Recommended pre-cohabitation questions include topics about the relationship, household, and communication.
  • Regular check-ins may be an essential tool once partners are cohabitating.

Are you thinking of moving in with your partner? More togetherness and creating a home life together can be so appealing, and perhaps it comes with greater convenience and a slew of other benefits (e.g., financial, more time together, etc). But how do you know if this is the right time, and the right move, for your relationship?

Cohabitation is a major transition

Moving in together is a major transition, one that often reflects a heightened commitment and necessarily involves change. Beyond a change of address for at least one partner, the decision to cohabitate means new day-to-day habits, new routines, and new challenges to navigate, from financial arrangements to household chores. Being prepared for these changes requires consideration of a variety of aspects of your relationship now, and where you want to be in the future.

Social norms now favor cohabitation, even as group-level data suggest that cohabitating can increase the odds of divorce for those who eventually marry (Rosenfeld & Roesler, 2019). Lower relationship stability and lower relationship quality are not the case for all pre-marital cohabitating couples, but one key risk appears to be "sliding" from cohabitation to marriage, rather than "deciding." A "slide" rather than "decide" mentality emphasizes the constraints that bind cohabitating partners together rather than the freedom to actively choose whether to enter a strongly committed relationship (Stanley et al., 2006). In other words, once people cohabitate, it's harder to break up, even if partners are not especially well-suited for each other. When momentum points to marriage, it can be hard to press the breaks.

Pre-cohabitating conversations may support relationship well-being

While most of the research on sliding versus deciding focuses on the transition from cohabitation to marriage, dating partners can also slide into cohabitation (Priem et al., 2015). Maybe it's assumed that you'll start living together at a certain point, or maybe it somehow just "happens."

Unfortunately, this inertia effect does not seem to predict positive relationship outcomes. People who take a different approach, and actively discuss the idea of living together, tend to report more relational satisfaction, faithfulness, and dedication to their partner (Owen et al., 2013).

Essential topics for pre-cohabitating conversations

Brown et al. (2021) assembled a team of couple and family therapy trainees to identify key topics that dating couples could benefit from discussing as they consider living together. Consider these topics as a way to begin talking with your partner about cohabitating*:

  1. Relationship negotiations. Partners may benefit from directly discussing their cohabitation expectations: is it a permanent or temporary arrangement? What goals might you each have about marriage and, if intended, when? Where will you live? How will you negotiate the space that you'll live in, such as whose stuff you'll use? What are your expectations regarding date nights, your sexual relationship, families and holidays, alone-time, and together time? Do you know about each other's religious/spiritual motivations, sexual health, and cultural norms that may become more salient when cohabitating?
  2. Household negotiations. Entering a cohabitating relationship requires house-related work. Don't assume you and your partner are on the same page; discuss it instead (Brown et al., 2021). How will you divide chores? When and what will you eat and who is cooking? Who cleans what and when, and who handles the household and/or yard maintenance? Along with household obligations, what does money mean to you and your partner? How do you each approach saving and/or spending? Will you combine finances and/or share expenses? Are you on the same page about each other's transportation needs and expenses, thoughts on pets, and plans for guests? If you have a child from a previous relationship or that you share, what expectations do you have for co-parenting and/or child-care for your partner in a cohabitation arrangement?
  3. Communication negotiations. Effective communication can preemptively support smooth negotiations of conflicts. What are your communication expectations? You may know your partner's basic communication styles already, but why not discuss your plans for how you want to address new issues together and how cohabitating might change that. How will you communicate with each other over the course of the day? What are your expectations around knowing each other's schedules and how you will communicate when you're upset? Brown et al. (2021) recommend that you also talk about your social media use and plans for keeping some topics private.

Once dating partners begin thinking about living together, an active discussion about cohabitation shifts the pendulum from "sliding" to "deciding." Having intentional pre-cohabitation conversations can predict healthier relationships (Owen et al., 2013), perhaps because people's goals and expectations become known. Rather than relying on assumptions, partners can listen to each other and hear what cohabitation means to them, and which changes they anticipate being the easiest to manage (e.g., shorter commute) and the hardest to manage (e.g., family expectations). These conversations can also reveal incompatibilities that might require deliberate compromise.

Finally, Brown et al. (2021) recommend regular "check-ins" for partners after they begin cohabitating. Relationships change, and people's goals and needs can change: Check-ins that are scheduled (Brown et al. recommend once every 6 weeks for the first 6 months, then as needed) can help support a space for partners to share how they are feeling, what is working, and what can be improved. This pre-cohabitation work is essentially energy-focused on building a strong foundation. As such, it may be a critical step to supporting healthy, happy relationships over the long run.

* See Brown et al. (2021) for the complete list of question suggestions.

Facebook image: - Yuri A/Shutterstock


Priem, J. S., Bailey, L. C., & Steuber Fazio, K. (2015). Sliding versus deciding: A theme analysis of deciding conversations of non-engaged cohabiting couples. Communication Quarterly, 63(5), 533–549.

Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding versus deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations, 55(4), 499–509.

Rosenfeld, M. J., & Roesler, K. (2019). Cohabitation experience and cohabitation's association with marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 81, 42– 58,

Owen, J., Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2013). Sliding versus deciding in relationships: Associations with relationship quality, commitment, and infidelity. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 12(1), 135–149.

Brown, K. S., Schmidt, B., Morrow, C., & Rougeaux-Burnes, G. (2021). Pre-Cohabitation Conversations for Relationships: Recommended Questions for Discussion. Contemporary Family Therapy, 1-15.

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