Shacking up: How to Move In Together (Without Killing Each Other).

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Moving in together is one of the biggest milestones for a relationship; it’s up there with marriage and starting a family in terms of signs of commitment and investment. It’s also incredibly appealing – splitting the cost of living 50/50, hot and cold running sex whenever you want it, not having to maintain two households, the thrill of waking up with the man or woman you love in your arms… it’s almost enough to call your honey and tell ’em to start packing their bags, isn’t it?

Of course any dream can turn into a nightmare without warning. You’re expecting the sort of cohabiting bliss that you normally only see in sitcoms from the 50s, but what you get instead is the roommate from hell. You don’t know who this obsessive-compulsive demon is and what he’s done with the guy you thought you were shacking up with. The awesome “bangin’-out-on-every-flat-surface-in-the-apartment” sex has turned into “Once a month if the stars are aligned perfectly and there’s nothing better on TV.” Every conversation is a fight about money, chores or how you spend your free time.

You’re just about ready to choke a motherfucker and hope that they technically qualify as a recyclable rather than having to wait for the bulk pick-up. Where did your happy fantasy disappear to?

The unavoidable truth is, moving in together will inevitably change your relationship. You’re going to be sharing more than just living space and expenses, you’re going to be sharing your lives. So if you’re going to make the big leap into living together, you might to make sure you’re going to do it right.

There aren’t any guarantees in life, but following these tips will help you avoid turning your domestic bliss into a single-bedroom nightmare.

Make Sure You’re Doing It For The Right Reasons

For a lot of couples, moving in together is something that “just happens”. Instead of weighing the pros and cons and making plans in advance, the process of cohabitation occurs in dribs and drabs. It starts with keeping a spare toothbrush at their boyfriend or girlfriend’s place. Maybe a spare shirt and pair of underwear, just in case. Or a razor and some toiletries because, hey, you never know, right? Before too long one or the other of you decides, hey, you’re half-way there already, might as well pull the trigger on this, right? It’ll totally be more convenient for the both of you…

Other times, you may have entirely different reasons for moving in. You may be seeing this as a relationship test, trying out what your long-term relationship will be like when the two of you get married while your partner is thinking that this is a low-emotional-investment way of putting off getting engaged while they desperately look for an exit strategy.

Either way, you’ve not had any conversation about what moving in means or what your expectations are. As a result, the two of you have ideas that are night-and-day different from one another and you’re inevitably going to come into conflict when you get clocked upside the head with the hob-nailed boot of reality.

To make matters worse, by the time you’ve realized that moving in together – or your entire relationship – was a mistake, you’ll find that pulling out is much, much harder than it would be if the two of you were still living separately. Your lives – and finances – are so intertwined now that it can feel like you’re stuck.

Those Home Owners Associations rules are CRAZY strict.

You have nowhere to go and your personal effects are so tied up in your shared home that you can’t afford to leave.

If you’re going to move in with your honey, you can’t just throw your stuff into a couple boxes, carry them over to her place and call it a day. You have to have a long series of conversations to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Sort Out The Money Issues First

Before you even start buying packing material, you need to sit down and hash out your financial issues in advance. Money is one of the biggest cause of conflict with couples – single or married – who live together, and poor planning can haunt you for decades.

To start with, whose name is going to be on the lease? If your girlfriend is moving into your place – or you’re moving into hers – the name on the lease is going to make a significant difference. If your boyfriend ends up not coughing up his half of the rent and causing your landlord to begin eviction proceedings, it’s your credit rating that’s going to take the hit. The same applies to who the utilities are registered to. If things go wrong and you’re listed as the responsible party, it’s your ass that’s going to be twisting in the wind.

While you’re at it, how are you going to handle bills? Are you splitting it down the middle 50/50? Will you be establishing a joint checking account that you both pay into? Will one of you be paying the rent while the other handles the utilities? What about insurance? If there’s a significant income disparity between the two of you, are you going to be expected to kick in the same amount each month, or does the person with more take-home pay shoulder more of the financial burden?

How about large purchases? If you decide you want that huge flat-screen TV or a new leather couch, do you have the autonomy to just go ahead and buy it, or are you going to have to work things out in advance?

These are questions that you need to ask and answer long before you start looking at moving in.

Pro tip: most banks can set up automatic bill payments via their websites. Take advantage of this service. Knowing that your bills will be paid on time automatically even if you can’t remember what day it is will save you both a lot of headaches.

Establish the Ground Rules

Living together is completely different from staying together over long weekends; once you’re sharing living space together, you’re inevitably going to discover that the way you are used to living may not be completely compatible with the way he is used to and vice versa. You’re a neat-freak who likes keeping your place as tidy and organized as possible while she’s used to living in an apartment where the cockroaches moved out in order to find a place that’s less disgusting.

Much like dealing with finances, you need to find a way to make your lifestyles mesh as smoothly as possible. The less time you’re spending butting heads over unmade beds and toilet seats being left up is more time you can spend actually in the beds and dirtying up the sheets.

This, by the way, includes establishing who’s responsible for which aspect of the housework. Splitting up the chores in advance means that you can ensure that neither of you is left feeling like an indentured servant, drudging away to a chorus of singing cartoon mice while your honey is busy in the other room catching up on Dr. Who reruns and Internet porn. Laying out the responsibilities early means that you can ensure that everybody is pulling their weight, rather than unfairly stacking the deck.

Be Ready To Redecorate

Living together means you need to make your new place feel like home to both of you. If you’re going to both be happy and feel comfortable in your new apartment, you have to make sure you both have a mutual sense of ownership.

This is especially true if you’re moving into her place or she’s moving into yours. If you want her to feel as though she actually has a place there instead of being a long-term guest, this means that you’re going to have to do more than just give her space on the book-shelf and room for a couple prints on the wall. You want your home to be a blend of your two personalities rather than one dominant theme with the occasional hint that maybe somebody else lives there too.

This ultimately means that you need to be ready for a great deal of compromise and sacrifice for the both of you. You may love that reclining lounge chair with the pulsating shiatsu massage and built in mini-fridge, but living together means having to give it up so that your girlfriend can put in her couch and ottoman combo instead. In exchange, as much as she loves Louis XII replicas, she has to be willing to compromise on the Shaker modern style furniture instead.

"You know this is going to the dump as soon as your back is turned, right?"

Have Your Own Space

Living together doesn’t mean that you have to be together 24-7, nor does it mean that you magically no longer require time on your own. Both of you should make a point to carve out your own space, especially if it means giving you some much-needed personal time.

In an ideal world, these would be literal, physical spaces that you could designate as your own private retreat;  a man-cave, workshop, craft room or library/office that you could decorate and trick out however you want. Detached garages and spare bedrooms make for excellent personal spaces if you have them available.

However, the odds are good that your personal space may be as much in the mind as anything else – a willingness to be left alone watching TV in the living room or soaking away in the tub for a while without being disturbed is just as useful if space is at a premium. Having a place to retreat to in order to take a time out and just relax on your own can be invaluable, especially when the two of you feel as though someone’s always right on top of you at all times. The ability to have a brief escape from the stress of living together – and it will be stressful at times – can mean the difference between screaming matches and pre-marital bliss.

Have Your Own Lives

Similarly, you should maintain your own lives outside of the house as well. Living together doesn’t mean that you’re chained at the hip or forming one gestalt being with no outside interests or contact with the world around you. Both of you should be nurturing your social life outside of your relationship with your lover. Time spent with your friends helps build your external support system as well as helps continue to round you out as a person.

In practice this means that the two of you should make a point of having guys and girls’ nights, without feeling guilty that the other may not have plans. You’re both allowed to have a life outside of each other without having to feel obligated to check in constantly, or to call it an early night because the ol’ ball and chain is back home waiting for you. That way lies resentment and co-dependence, two fates you want to avoid.

Separate Bathroom Sinks

Trust me on this one. If it’s at all possible, you want his and her sinks and mirrors in the bathroom. Hell, aim for separate entire bathrooms if you can. This may well save your life and your relationship.

"Honey, if you don't get out of the way, Momma's gonna have to cut a bitch."

Be Prepared For Your Relationship To Change

Living together means that changes to your relationship are inevitable. Even couples who’ve dated for years prior to living together will go through the long and sometimes torturous routine of learning all of their honey-bunny’s little quirks and habits. The little things that were cute while you weren’t up in each other’s business all day and all night will become teeth-grindingly annoying. Snuggling together and waking up wrapped in each other’s arms starts to become less romantic when you’re sucking in his morning breath and he’s realizing that you fart like the brass section of a John Williams retrospective in your sleep. She’ll resent the pubic hair on the toilet rim, you’ll want to know why you suddenly don’t have any space on the bathroom sink. The little things that you used to be able to laugh off will cause you to pull your hair out as you resist the urge to blow your top.

That 24-hour sex-a-thon you were expecting will also dry up… likely sooner than you expect. When you’re living separately, you have to make time for sex; you only have so much time together so you have to make the most efficient (and squishy) use of it that you can. When you have all the time in the world, carving out naked time becomes that much less important. There will be nights when all the two of you will want to do is collapse on the couch, watch Castle and turn your brains off…. sex will be the last thing on your mind.  Living together means that you will start to take sex for granted. It’s like having your favorite movie on all day, every day – it’s great at first, but eventually you’re going to get bored of it and then it will become the background noise of your life as you start focusing on everything else.

The survival of your relationship after you move in together will require effort on both of your parts. The two of you will have to put work in – not just to adjusting to your new life together but also keeping your relationship fresh and exciting. It’s entirely too easy to fall into patterns and routines and from there into boredom and stagnation. Even the little gestures that show that you care – unexpected flowers, surprising her by cooking her favorite meal, the occasional flirty, sexy text – can keep the spark going and keep the two of you from becoming roommates instead of lovers.

Don’t let the challenges intimidate you. Living together is a momentous step in the course of a relationship… but it’s one that can lead to some of the best times and fondest memories of your lives.


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  • The money issue is definitely a big one. My husband and I lived together a few years before getting married. The first thing we did when we got out first apartment was open a joint checking account. The account's sole purpose was to pay bills. Best thing we ever did. We still had the privacy of our own bank accounts and could manage our money separately, but the security of transparency when it came to rent and utilities. At the time we were making about the same, so bills were 50/50. We each knew how much to put in each month, and we both could monitor where the money from that account was going.

  • IMC

    This post seems to assume that living together is a universal relationship stage. It isn't universal. It's just common. Before you move in with your sweetie, think hard about why you're going to share space with a person who is not your roommate, nor your fiance, nor your spouse, but who will demand aspects of all those relationships.

    I have lived with boyfriends, and I have lived by myself, and I now live with my husband and our son, plus critters. Living with my husband is the best situation I've had, and living alone is second. When I lived with boyfriends (two of them, years apart), I felt that I had all the obligations of marriage but few or none of the benefits. I had to negotiate space, money, time together and apart, etc etc etc, but I didn't get the security, social recognition, or legal benefits of marriage. When I lived alone, on the other hand, I listened to what I wanted, ate what I wanted, went to bed when I wanted, spent what I wanted to spend on the things I wanted to buy.

    Being a spouse is great, but it's a job as well as a love affair. If I'm going to do the job, I want the pay. Or as I put it to a friend of mine recently, if I'm going to pick up your socks there's going to be jewelry involved.

    My qualms about people living together before or without marriage aren't moral or sexual. I'm enthusiastically in favor of consenting adults bonking each other senseless. My worries are around the people I see who live together with no real idea or consensus on what that means to them–he thinks it's a serious step toward marriage, she thinks they're just saving money–or who aren't clear about the freedoms and pleasures they're giving up by shacking up. They say that they practically live together already, but "practically" isn't the same as "literally." You still have your own place as a retreat. Or they say that they want to save money. What's money for, if not for supporting yourself in the living situation that's right for you? I also hear that they don't want to marry if they can't find out if they live together well. See "practically living together," above. if you've been dating for a while and staying over at each other's places, you've got a pretty decent sense of what it would be like to live with this person.

    Before you share the same address, ask yourself what you're trading for the chance to live with this person. Is the swap worth it to you? Then ask yourself why you're moving in with your sweetie instead of marrying your sweetie. Talk this stuff over. Really consider it. It's not unloving to keep your own place if you decide that's best for you.

    • Elle

      I agree – figure out why you are living together before it happens. Be prepared to hear things you don’t want to hear from your sweetie. I assumed that living together with my sig other was going to lead to marriage one day. He assumed nothing of the sort! You can imagine how hurt and disappointed I was to hear that one year later. Devastated. I was playing house- and he was just cohabitating. My advice is to NOT move in if you are expecting a future marriage commitment but don’t have that date set. My bf always tells me, ” i give him everything he wants (in our relationship) and more”.
      Why would he have to marry me & take all that financial risk- if he doesn’t have to.

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  • i guess i might be an outlier in this but i have spent my entire relationship including my marriage living with my spouse sans one moth. yes the first few months were stressfull and we almost broke up several times for good but i think it made us stronger we have always had shared finaces theres nothing we dont share. we still make space for each other separate and well generally were really happy. its taken us three years to get to a place where we dont fight all the time about trivial things. in fact we havent had a spat in the past 6 months.