Should You Move In Together?

A lot of couples move in together because it makes their lives easier. Maybe they spend so much time together anyways or they have so many sleep overs that their stuff is split between two houses; its just easier to live in one place. Or maybe they are both moving to a new city or state so they decide to get a place together because that’s easier than finding new roommates. For whatever reason it seems like more couples are living together before marriage than before.

It can be a dangerous choice if not thought out properly.

Personally, I’m not for living together. Trust me, I would love it. I’m in a long distance relationship and so badly I would love for my boyfriend to move to New York when he’s done with school. It would be easier for him to move in with me since I already have an apartment and he doesn’t know many people out here, but for me that might be risking too much. Reading “The Cohabitation Effect” chapter from The Defining Decade helped me confirm I’m making the right choice.

“…couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.” (p. 91)

Living Together is NOT a Test for Marriage

This is a common assumption for many people, young and old. This was true for Jennifer, one of Dr. Meg Jay’s clients. Jennifer was now seeing Dr. Meg Jay because she was getting a divorce after feeling she got into the wrong marriage too quickly. Jennifer and her husband Carter dated and lived together during their twenties. As Jennifer was nearing thirty she saw her other friends marrying and having babies of their own, Jennifer started to worry that Carter would never be serious about a career or their relationship. Jennifer thought living together would be a good test for marriage. With Jennifer and Carter as an example Dr. Meg Jay explains how living together is not a test for marriage…

“They vaguely had the idea of testing their relationship, but they didn’t venture into areas that typically stress marriage: They didn’t pay a mortgage, try to get pregnant, get up in the night with kids, spend holidays with in-laws when they didn’t want to, save for college and retirement, or see each other’s paycheck and credit-card bills.” (p. 93-94)

In the same way, marriage is not  a test to see if the other person will get serious about the relationship. 

At the very least if you are going to move in with someone you need to have a talk about what that commitment means for your relationship. Too many times couples who have been living together for numerous years feel that the next step is getting married, but too often these marriages quickly fail.

Sliding, Not Deciding

Often couples move in together after a quick decision without a conversation as to what the move will mean for the relationship. This is “what is known as ‘sliding, not deciding.’ Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation…” (p. 92)

Without a conversation couples can have different motivations for moving in together and different opinions on what it means for the severity of the relationship. Research has shown that twentysomething men are motivated to make the move for chances of more sex while women are motivated for chances of increasing love. “But both men and women agree that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than for a spouse.” (p 93)

Isn’t that sad? Why are we lowering our standards? If we’re looking for love and want to be on a path towards marriage shouldn’t we be at least keeping to the same standard?

Couples still slide into moving in together, probably because they are unaware of all these know facts from researches. It seems harmless because so many people are living together. It’s the new norm to live together before marriage or even being engaged. But, unfortunately as couples slide into living together, the time starts sliding as well.

Jennifer recalls how after a couple of years she wondered what her and Carter were still doing…

“Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the mot frustrating part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me.” (p. 94)

Time slides by and it suddenly feels like you should be married by now. The daunting thirty deadline gets closer. Friends start walking down the aisle. Then more friends are walking down and then baby carriages start appearing. Everyone else is settling down, making you feel behind.


The “lock-in” comes when there is a pressure to get married due to the number of years the couple has lived together and/or age. The problem is because the couples’ lives have become so intertwined it is harder to leave the relationship than he/she thought when first moving in together. When a couple moves in together they underestimate the risk of combining their lives financially because the consequences are in the future; the future possible problems don’t seem as real or complicated until the very real complications hit them in the face.

“Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for other options, or change to another option, once an investment in something has been made.” (p. 96)

The investments are called “setup costs”. The setup costs can be as small as a signature or as big as adopting a pet or splitting costs for all of the furniture. Setup costs, big or small, can lead to a lock-in. Setup costs create an attachment that makes it more difficult to leave later, even if leaving will provide a better option.

This can happen because of the “‘switching costs’… the time, money, or effort it requires to make a chance.” Switching costs are what couples underestimate and are what make it the most difficult to leave.  Lets say a couple adopts a dog. When one of them has thoughts about leaving the relationship one starts to wonder, who gets the dog? Or if you have a joint bank account or credit card, how will you get out of that smoothly to support yourself? Couples stay in their live-in relationships because of the uncertainty of how to leave and the fear of what will happen to the things, pets and even friends that “belong” to both couples.

Before long someone is forcing the other down the aisle. The couple is quickly married then most likely divorcing, and leaving is becoming even more complicated than before.

Yes, I will agree that this is not the case for all couples. For example, the cohabitation effect is less likely for couples who move in together after a public engagement. I thin the key here is if you are considering living together, first be sure to have a converstaion. Find out why you want to live together and what it will mean for the relationship. Talk about what you would do if you ran into any of the problems we talked about here or how you could avoid them. Second, be sure to re-evaluate. Having the initial converstation is a good start, but you need to make sure you continue to “check in”. Think on your own to make sure you are happy and have what you want. But also make sure you are always being honest with each other. Revisiting the conversation can be a good thing.

For me, I will continue to stick with my decision to not live together before I am married. I think it is too easy to fall into a lock-in. I also worry that it could ruin a relationship, even if the relationship does not work out romantically, I would hope that we would be able to to stay in each other’s lives. Leaving a live-in relationship seems too messy and might ruin that chance of being friends, instead there could be too much animosity.

What do you think about the cohabitation effect?


Related Posts:



Can You Pick Your Career and Your Family?

When you were a little kid how many times did friends, family members  and teachers ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Since you were a little kid life was about picking your career. If someone asked you, “What type of husband/wife do you want when you grow up?”, well then I’m incredibly surprised.

In my last post on love, inspired by The Defining Decade, I spoke about the problem of how society views marriage. Society doesn’t worry about marriage until the age thirty deadline hits and then it suddenly feels like you’re behind. We should be striving for our dream marriage as we are for our dream job. Especially if the family you grew up with was not the perfect family you wanted or had internal struggles, your marriage can be a second chance at family.

We talked about customizing your life, not settling. This should apply in your love life as well. Think of the type of family you want. Think of the life you want to have for yourself and your family. Do you want a big family who is involved with extended family? Or do you want a quite little family? Find out what characteristics you want in a husband or wife. Find someone who can help you be a better you. Then there’s your future children, what type of life do you want them to have? What type of environment do you want them to grow up in?

Someone once told me to find a man with the same values as me and everything else will work from there. I think it makes sense because we should have the same basic wants then. A couple with the same values can work together and support each other. We should naturally have a relatively similar picture of what we want our futures to be.

In The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay suggests couples have “the define-the-relationship talk.” This talk will help see where you current relationship is going and see what that person’s view of the future is. If they have a view that’s completely opposite from you, maybe it is not the best relationship to be in.

This is why it is important to be smart in your twenties when it comes to matters of love. I don’t think I’ve explained what the age thirty deadline is yet… To me, it’s the unofficial expectation of society that you should be married by thirty. If you’re in a relationship now that isn’t going to end up towards marriage you’re cutting your time short. I’m not trying to pressure you into settling down right this second, I’m saying use this time wisely. Dating around can be fun, but be careful because time flies. Before you know it you can be 27 and only have a few years to date wisely and hope for the best.

“Twentysomethings who aren’t at least a little scared about their relationships are often the ones who are being the least thoughtful.”The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay (p. 87)

I think we should start getting serious about dating. Men and women should have standards. We shouldn’t date people just because they’re fun or really good looking, we should have some credentials  Let your dating experience show you what you like and don’t like, then stick only with the likes when you choose the next person to date. Let your relationships have some substance. When you have this picture and these standards, then you will be on your way to picking your family.

In my next post on love I will talk about dating down to speak a little bit further about sticking with your likes and giving your relationships some substance.

What Career Path Should I Take?

After walking off the stage with your tassel turned and a diploma in your hand the adrenaline is high and you’re ready to take on the world! The next day the sparkle starts to fade as you as yourself, “So now what?”

Ian was one of the twentysomethigns who met with Dr. Meg Jay to move pass this point. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do which left him feeling lost. He described this feeling as treading in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight.

Having too many choices can cause us to want to tread water rather than swim in one direction. Treading water can keep us in one place but at least we are staying afloat by meeting minimum requirements like paying monthly bills.

We are afraid of choosing one direction because it might sacrifice opportunities of an alternate direction. Instead of taking a risk we stay right where we are at our dead end, overqualified job with no capital, hoping… dreaming that a choice will be made for us or suddenly become clear. We wait for a raft to come drifting by offering protection, when in reality that is not going to happen.

“Not knowing what you want to do with your life – or not at least having some idea about what to do next – is a defense against that terror.”

In other words, not knowing what to do is not a reason to wait to take action; it is an excuse to not face the terror of taking charge of your life and making decisions.

“Twentysomethings who make choices are happier than those who tread water.”

We do have some idea of what we want or what we could do. Dr. Meg Jay suggests we start by looking at our past and thinking about our futures.

What were some of your interests growing up? Did you develop any skills? Maybe you enjoyed working with your hands or working with numbers.

In the future do you see yourself working behind a desk or out in the field? Can you see yourself working in the city? Maybe you’d like to see yourself working for a corporate company or for a nonprofit.

“You’ve spent more than two decades shaping who you are. You have expectations, interests, strengths, weaknesses, diplomas, hang-ups, priorities. You didn’t just this moment drop onto the planet or, as [Ian] put it, into the ocean. The past [twenty-something] years are relevant.”

Unfortunately our parents have been lying to us… the sky is not the limit. The truth is we have skills and passions we developed in the past. We have desires and dreams about our futures. All of this narrows down out options for potential career paths.

Asking yourself questions about your past and future, narrowing down your options leads us to what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls the unknown thought.

“Unthought knowns are those things we know about ourselves but forget somehow. These are the dreams we have lost sight of or the truths we sense but don’t say out loud. We may be afraid of acknowledging the unthought known to other people because we are afraid of what they might think. Even more often, we fear what the unthought known will then mean for ourselves and our lives.”

Twentysomethings need to take the time to explore our unthought knowns. Be honest. Explore every avenue. It could be helpful to write down a list of your skills, experiences, interests from the past and your thoughts on the future. Seeing them written down in front of you will make them seem real. You can compare and research reasonable options for which path to take.

Remember, making a choice does not mean another choice is lost. It only means your next choices will be “better informed”.

*All quotes from this post and this post series come from The Defining Decade and should be accredited to Dr. Meg Jay.*

Reviewing Identity Capital

Believe it or not we have only covered one chapter of The Defining Decade over the last four posts. We covered four basic topics;

  1. What is Identity Capital?
  2. Erik Erikson’s exploration through his identity crisis and how he managed to gain capital
  3. Dr. Meg Jay’s experience with Outward Bound and how that played a role in applying for graduate school
  4. Underemployment, it happens to every twentysomething and how to deal with it

We’ve learned that identity capital contains the qualities and attributes you pick up over the years. For work it can be experience, training  classes, degrees and more. Erik Erikson taught us that identity crisis and identity capital should happen at the same time. We should explore ourselves to discover a genuine understanding of ourselves. It may not always have to involve back packing through Europe, but taking the time to learn about who we are is crucial. Understanding yourself will reveal what goals and aspirations you have for your personal and professional life. Dr. Meg Jay’s experience at Outward Bound is another example of discovering a true sense of self. She gained some capital at Outward Bound before applying to graduate school, which ultimately made her stand out from the applicant pool. Finally, we covered the topic of underemployment. Every twentysomething experiences it. We know underemployment jobs either pay the bills while we go to school or open the door to new opportunities. We now have Dr. Meg Jay’s advice to choose the job that will give us the most capital. There are four more chapters under the work section of The Defining Decade that I would love to share with you. They are…

  1. Weak Ties
  2. The Unthought Known
  3. My Life Should Look Better on Facebook    (I split this topic into two posts; here and here)
  4. The Customized Life

We will learn who the people are that will help us advance on our career path. We will learn what career path to choose. We will learn how taking action in our twenties will give us results and not leave us thinking we are behind. Finally we will put the pieces of our lives together to create our own future. I really hope you are enjoying this post series on The Defining Decade. I am only elaborating on a few points I found important to share. The stories shared in this book will connect with each reader in a different way. I encourage you to purchase this book or lend it from your local library because I think there is much more this book can offer you. I hope you continue to follow this series as well so we can continue to have great conversations and share stories. I love hearing from you all! I thank you for talking with me. 🙂