I did it twice. I lived with committed boyfriends before marriage. One relationship ended completely and one ended with a walk down the aisle. In both cases, it made practical sense but it didn’t make emotional sense.
Hindsight is always 20/20, right?
Today, more couples than ever before are living together prior to marriage. And I have some serious concerns. Because frankly, what is often considered common is not usually what is best.
One factor to the increase in co-habiting and shacking up pre-marriage, is that relationships linger in the dating phase much longer than they ever have. Maybe it’s a symptom of commitment phobia or a fear of marriage (or even more so a fear of divorce). But when modern couples find themselves committed to each other, rather than getting down on one knee, they instead choose to share a set of keys.
Moving in has become the new way to commit to each other. Along with the boxes and the U-Haul, come some significant misunderstandings and minimizations of the emotions involved.
We show up into this world wired to desire lasting relationships. At our core, we all want commitment. Love has continually evolved to meet our deepest needs to feel secure and safe with one oh so special person. Modern couples face increasing confusion about what commitment is and how to create it. From an over reliance on independence and self-sufficiency, to the ever-increasing divorce rate, couples are hesitant about marriage. They find themselves resisting, waiting, prolonging the exchange of vows. So, the solution to this dilemma seems to be to move in together and temporarily feel as though our need for committed has been met.
When you move in with your partner, there’s an intense excitement about this new stage of your relationship. You might feel more grown up, mature, and adult-like. Even if you don’t want to admit it, part of you likely feels more confident that living together will also move you closer to the white wedding of your dreams. You play your parts, likely reflecting what you saw growing up. Cooking meals, sharing cleaning (or not…), and even starting to share expenses. It all feels so connected! What could go wrong?
As I’ve personally experienced and so many of my client’s experience, the fantasy of the move in is usually short lived. I call it the “uh-oh” factor. The “uh-oh” of realizing we’re just playing house. That this isn’t actual solid and secure commitment. Now that you’re sharing a home, there’s far more at stake and much more to lose. You’re sharing rent, furniture, toothpaste, a pet, and the routines of day to day life. This reality and the intensity of how vulnerable it is hits home… literally. And it hits hard.
My reality moments were different in each relationship. In the first relationship (the one that ended) the “uh-oh” hit early. It was the first night in the new place and I was alone. Sleeping on the floor surrounded by boxes. I can still recall the pinch in my stomach that told me this wasn’t the right decision. He found a reason not to be there on the first night in our new apartment. The days that followed he felt distant and disconnected. It was clearly too much for him. He also wanted an agreement that we could always live apart again if we needed. If that’s not a half ass commitment I’m not sure what is. But I agreed blindly, deeply holding onto the hope that everything would be fine.
When I moved in with my now husband, I did some things different. I was clearer about my own expectations. I stated needing to know he was certain about wanting to be married. This was again my attempt to get the security I was rightfully desiring and needing. But I was side stepping my real need for marriage and compromising with agreeing to move in.
After we moved in, I felt the “uh-oh” factor creep in. I realized I was living in his home and with his things. He was amazing with allowing me to refurnish, paint and make it more my own. But I still felt intensely vulnerable to the fact this relationship could end. And how I saw it, I’d be homeless. It stirred up a ton of anxiety because ultimately, I wanted most to know he was 100% committed and ready for marriage. Not just ready to live together.
My primary caution is that couples today are too rational about the emotional decision to live together. You can check all the boxes of it making sense. You save money. You’ll spend more time together. You’ll have help with the dog. And frankly, you won’t need two of everything.
But are you addressing and acknowledging the underlying emotional needs? The needs that call for more commitment? And what does this mean to you both?
Be careful with playing house with your mate. Moving in together requires strong maturity and if rushed, it can pull you apart as you realize the reality of life together presents unique challenges that may be best suited for a sacred commitment made through marriage.