Why Living Together Breaks Couples Up

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Have you noticed how often couples break up after taking a major leap? You see couples divorced before their two-year anniversary, or breaking up during the trip to meet each other’s family. Moving in together is another milestone that can sometimes trigger a breakup. It’s odd because you’d think the reason these couples took these big steps—meeting the family, moving in together, getting married—is because they felt like they were on such solid ground. So how could a breakup be so close on the heels? You have to remember that just because a couple makes a big leap doesn’t mean they were ready. A lot of people don’t quite know what their relationship is made of, and making a larger commitment to their partner only shows them the truth. Here’s why living together breaks so many couples up.

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Cleanliness can trump the connection

If neither person has lived with a partner before—or even a roommate—then they’re very used to having things their way. Having another person around can mean towels on the floor, dirty dishes that sit for days, and friends showing up that you didn’t invite—your partner’s friends. Some people get so fixated on not having things their way anymore, that they completely forget they love their partner.

How to Break Up with Your Live-In Partner in the Least Torturous Way Possible

How, Though? is a column devoted to helping you manage all the daunting complications of being alive.

The only thing worse than having to re-enter the dating world is having to re-enter the world of apartment hunting at the same time. Breaking up with a partner you live with (or having them break up with you) usually means finding yourself in that exact predicament. Add on having to decide who keeps what stuff and what the hell you’re going to do about a lease that doesn’t end for five months, and it’s clear that this situation can get messy very quickly.

As of late, more and more people in relationships are finding themselves cohabitating. Between 2007 and 2016, the number of unmarried couples living together increased by 29 percent. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, around 18 million people live with their unmarried partners in America.

Be it because we’re broke, or because love is so rare nowadays that we want to live with our lovers if we’re lucky enough to find them, it doesn’t look like cohabitating is a trend that’s slowing down any time soon. Consequently, neither is breaking up with our live-in lovers. Because this situation can feel so immensely complicated, we called in an expert for guidance: couples’ therapist Shira Etzion.

Before the Breakup

As you’re deciding whether you should break up with the person you live with, you may find yourself taking your living arrangement into consideration: But I like it here so much… finding a new place will be such a hassle… can I even afford a place alone? According to Etzion, you should not be basing the fate of your relationship on a living arrangement. “If you know that is someone you no longer want to be with, then you no longer want to be with them,” she says. “The living circumstances are then the next obstacle that needs to be faced.”

Once you’ve made the difficult decision to end your relationship, you have to actually break it off. Before you do that, it’s best to prepare for what you’re going to do after; spending the night with the person you’ve just ended a relationship with is generally not ideal. Based on her clients’ accounts, Etzion says that “the best emotional experience that people have had comes from getting the fuck out of there, and creating a setup where they can do that as soon as possible.” This doesn’t mean that you need to have a permanent new place lined up for immediately after the breakup, but it may mean calling some friends or family members to see if you can crash for a few days while you sort things out. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

The Actual Breakup

Maintaining civility during a breakup is always good, but when you’re ending things with someone you live with, it’s downright necessary. The two of you are going to have a whole lot of logistics to sort through post-breakup, and it’s not going to be fun if the sight of them makes you want to hack your way through a rage room. Etzion emphasizes that maintaining civility is usually possible, even if things towards the end of the relationship were really awful. “You know that you’ve ended something that is no longer working for you—staying away from that toxicity itself can be empowering,” she says.

It’s helpful to recognize that the breakup conversation isn’t the last conversation you’ll ever have—but things will obviously be different afterward. “It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but the form of the relationship is definitely over, and it’s important to not resist that,” Etzion says. “ reversing any dependency on the partner, coming back to autonomy and independence.”

Photo by Mosuno via Stocksy.

Post-Breakup

Now, the real work begins. Breakups are rarely seamless. While it might be nice to have a place that’s ready for you to move into right after your relationship ends, that’s not always feasible—especially not right away. If you do find yourself having to live with your new ex in the aftermath of your breakup, Etzion advises that you make some agreements that honor the fact that the form of your relationship has changed, even if your living situation hasn’t yet. This might mean that one person sleeps on the couch now, or that you move around your schedules to minimize time at home together, or that you both agree not to start dating until somebody moves out. Whatever you decide on, be honest about your needs, and hold yourself to them (i.e., remember that hooking up with your ex may be tempting, but it’s not going to help your cause).

“It doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but the form of the relationship is definitely over, and it’s important to not resist that.”

Now, if one or both of you are moving out—unless the stars aligned for you and your breakup coincides with the end of your lease, meaning you’re both free to find new places—you’re probably wondering what to do about rent. “In theory—and this comes down to a question of personal integrity—I would say you follow through with your commitments,” says Etzion. “Even if you are no longer living together or speaking to each other, if you are committed to pay a lease then unless you can find someone to take that place or someone to sublet, you pay that lease.”

Regardless of whether you’re moving out or staying, Etzion says that surrounding yourself with a new space is really important at this point in time. If you’re moving out, this will happen naturally, but if you’re staying in the home that you and your partner shared, it’s really important that you have a physical change of space that helps you look at this time as a new beginning. “You want to move out of the relationship in all the ways that it existed, and sometimes that includes the furniture you bought together or the color of the walls, or whatever it is,” says Etzion.

When it comes to separating your stuff, try to be fair despite any anger or other hard feelings you’re likely harboring. Consider who bought an item, who uses it more, and if keeping something sentimental is going to bring you more hurt or joy. Etzion says it’s important to recognize that “a breakup is a break on all levels, and it’s a change on all levels… sometimes the relationship with your coffee maker might need to end too.”

These changes may seem tedious and difficult, but that’s okay. “The point of this time period is not comfort, it’s discomfort,” says Etzion. Moving is always hard. Breakups are always hard. Doing both is going to be hard, but it’ll be worth letting go of a relationship that was holding you back. Plus, next time you’ll know some things before deciding to move in with a partner. If you’re ever thinking about it again, Etzion says it’s vital to “question the meaning that one places on moving in together” and to make sure that both partners are aware of each others’ intentions (lest you end up moving in with someone who thinks the move basically means you’re engaged, when you just wanted to save a little rent money).

Lastly, if you’re living with a partner who is abusive, leaving them is of the utmost importance. You can find a list of resources here for help and advice on how to get out of your relationship safely.

How Moving In Together Makes It Harder to Know If He’s the One

Editor’s Note: This article has been reprinted with permission from Verily magazine.

Today, most couples live together before marriage—more than 75 percent. Many people will live with different partners during their 20s and 30s, too. While it’s common, it doesn’t mean the trend is good. In fact, those who live together before they have decided and planned on marriage report less happy marriages later on and are more likely to divorce. It’s true that there may be some benefits of living together. You may discover some of the faults your partner has or learn ways that you are incompatible. But the risk for many is that you may stay with this person due to inertia even if he or she doesn’t ultimately pass your test. My colleagues at the University of Denver and I call this phenomenon “sliding versus deciding.”

Here are four reasons why living together may make it harder to know if you’ve found “the one,” plus some tips on ways to decide for yourself rather than sliding into something that’s not right for you in the long-run.

1. Living Together Makes it Harder to Break Up.

This fact sounds obvious, but we don’t think about it when we sign a new lease together. I’ve been studying relationships, particularly cohabitation, for the past 18 years. My research with more than 1,200 people in their 20s and 30s shows that moving in together increases your chances of staying together, but it doesn’t increase how committed or interested you feel. It increases the number of constraints in a relationship—things that may make you stuck or make it hard to disentangle—like pooling finances, adopting a pet, co-mingling kitchenware, or buying furniture together. But there isn’t a corresponding increase in how much you want to marry your partner.

If you or your partner aren’t sure that you want to commit to this relationship, don’t take on constraints that make a break up harder (and therefore less likely) and messier. It will be hard to know if he or she is the one in the context of all of these constraints. You don’t want your decision to be based on whether breaking up is just too much work.

2. For Most Couples, Living Together Increases Discord.

Research shows that living together is associated with more conflict than either dating or being married. The reason for this is that while living together, couples deal with the same issues dating couples commonly face (time spent together, friends, jealousy, commitment) as well as issues common to married couples (household contributions, money, in-laws, raising children). These married-couple issues are easier to deal with when there is already a long-term commitment to the future—like there is in marriage. Living together defies the typical evolution of couple issues and may make it seem like there is more conflict in a relationship than there would be otherwise.

Living together might also make a couple conflict-averse to the larger issues that matter for marriage, which can lead to greater conflict down the road. As one woman shared at Verily in the past about her cohabiting relationship:

One evening, for example, it became apparent that he and I did not share the same values regarding working motherhood. I was completely aghast at the things he said to me that night; I felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. Who was this man that I was living with and how could this be his expectations for our—my—future? But I didn’t say anything. I had class the next day, dinner to clean up, homework to do, and I just could not face such a serious conversation with no place to retreat to in case it went poorly. In a non-cohabitating situation, I probably would have broken up with him right then—it was that bad—or at least taken time to seriously reevaluate our relationship. But I did neither of those things. I told myself that I could maybe change his mind sometime in the future and left it there. We went to sleep that night as usual. This situation played itself out over and over again. These silences grew into unacknowledged mutual grudges that lived ominously under the surface until a disruption in our lives brought them to the surface.

This woman’s experience demonstrates how living with a romantic partner can affect your ability to respond to large relationship issues the way you would if you were discerning the relationship from different living quarters.

3. Living Together May Instill a Break-up Mentality that Can Hurt Later Marriage.

Oftentimes, partners move in together with ideas about how they will split up furniture, books, finances, and pets in the event of a breakup. This mentality can make it harder to fully commit later on because it becomes habit to think about what the end of the relationship will be like. Early research in this field has shown that living together made marriage seems less attractive. Making a decision to marry and spend a lifetime with someone means giving up these plans for “what if.”

If “what if” is engrained from the beginning of living together, it may be more difficult to change that thinking, even after marrying. Surviving the inevitable stress in marriage takes both partners being firmly committed to making it work. Thriving in those times takes a commitment to learning from experiences together. But by living together already, both parties have likely developed a thought pattern of “what if this doesn’t work out,” thinking you could just move out and move on, which can undermine that sense of commitment that is essential to a thriving marriage, and that most women seeking marriage want.

4. Living Together Can Hurt Your Chance of Determining If You’re Truly Compatible.

Living together isn’t a very proactive approach to testing out your compatibility. More telling would be to plan activities with your partner in different settings and with different people. What is your partner like with his or her family? With your friends vs. his/her friends? How does he/she act at work?

Consider planning low-cost, low-commitment projects together. If you’re considering marrying a person, you’d be wise to learn what it will be like to work together. You’ll essentially be running a small corporation together when you’re married. You’ll manage your income together, run a household, do renovations, call plumbers, garden, have babies, raise children, support one another through health problems—many, many tasks. Before you take on these job responsibilities together, it’s wise to get a window on what it will be like to face challenges together.

Some small projects you could consider are:

  • Plan and take a short day trip. Doing so involves several of these areas but doesn’t have to mean a long-term commitment.
  • Learn about relationships together. Read a book, take a class, attend a retreat. Put effort into your relationship to see how you both react.
  • Try a new sport or hobby together. Do you have similar interests? How do you do together under the stress doing something new?
  • Babysit together. What is it like to parent together? What topics come up for discussion when you spend time with children?
  • Ask for feedback from friends or family you trust. What do others who know you well see? Ask them to ask you the hard questions—and be open to their feedback.

If your goal is to decide if you’ve found “the one,” and not to slide into a long-term, ill-fitted relationship, try these tips. It might not be as common as cohabiting, but research shows that consciously deciding—rather than sliding—is more likely to lead to a happier ever after.

Galena Rhoades, Ph.D., is a Research Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Denver.

13 Things That Change When You Move In With Your Man

Getting to the point in a relationship where you’re ready to move in together can be great. You get to spend more time together, make decisions together, get that puppy you’ve always wanted… But living together can also be super challenging. Who does what chore can be a source of contention, those endearing quirks can start to become grating, and even what kind of dinners you cook can turn into a fight!

Still, with a little communication, living together can be a wonderful decision that enhances both your lives. To prepare yourself for what’s ahead, here are 13 things that change when you move in together:

You stop eating like a bachelor(ette)…

The days where you come home and reach for a packet of ramen noodles are going to be fewer and fewer. Now that there’s two of you, it’s time to start making proper meals! Or, you know, at least order a pizza.

… But you also start eating more in general.

Studies have shown that women tend to pick up bad eating habits when they move in with their partner. Which may explain those extra few pounds you’ve been carting around…

You’ll sleep differently – and not just because you’re sharing a bed.

Always been a night owl? Well, that’s going to be tough when he’s up and ready to go at 7am!

You both have different cleaning duties.

In a 2014 cohabitation study, cleanliness was cited as the number 1 hurdle couples had to overcome after moving in together. The problem is that one person is usually cleaner than the other, so it’s important to talk about who does what household chores as to avoid any conflict. And yes, it does means not living in your own filth for weeks on end.

Sex.

Yes, it changes. Some people say they get more, some people say less. It really depends on your chemistry, communication and priorities. In general, the great thing about moving together is that sex can happen whenever and wherever (within your home) that you want!

TV is finally good for you!

Did you know that watching TV together can make couples closer? Well, it’s true! Depending on the genre, of course. Comedies are great for sharing a laugh together and therefore helps create a stronger bond between the two of you. Dramas can ignite interesting topics of conversation. And deciding on what to watch actually works as training in terms of negotiations within your relationship. So now when you feel guilty about binge watching OITNB you can tell yourself it’s for the good of your relationship.

You don’t text as much.

Because, well, you don’t have to! You can just walk down the corridor to say hi! When you do text, it’s much more about day-to-day tasks, like who’s going to pick up the milk or what time you’ll be home at, then it is about anything intimate.

Flaws start to get super annoying.

Remember how you used to find his little quirks endearing? Well, now those same cute habits are super annoying. It’s time to learn to love them all over again!

There is no privacy.
Not even when you poop.

Your inside jokes take over your entire conversations.
And most of it is weird cutesy talk that you’d be embarrassed to tell your friends about.

You know each other’s bathroom habits inside out.
When he disappears for 30 minutes, you know he’s in the bathroom. It’s a great opportunity for you to get your manicure done!

Dates are less fancy.
There are a few reasons for this. It could be that you’re budgeting for bigger things (like buying your very own place!) or because you have less desire to impress each other. Either way, dates become much more about spending time together than they do about how much money you’re spending.

It’s harder to surprise each other.
Because you both live under the same roof, you know each other’s routines, and each other’s habits, weird behavior because super easy to notice.

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Sarah Burke Sarah is a full-time content marketer, part-time freelancer. She’s a serial hobbyist (which just means that she does a lot of random things, but none of them particularly well). Her real talent lies in her ability to consume copious amounts of wine, whilst discussing feminism and reading A Song of Ice and Fire for the 8th time… All while saving puppies from burning houses, of course. You can see more of her work here, or pop over to Twitter and say “‘ello ‘ello” @daughterdipstik

Living Together? Just Married? The First-Year Challenges

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When you look at statistics of divorce rates, the highest rates are at the seven-year-itch mark (7.6 years to be exact), which is tied to normal developmental changes at that time. But the second-highest rate is during the first year of living together or being married. (Think Kim Kardashian, 72 days.) Why? Because this time of transition is fraught with major challenges. Here are some of the most common:

The logistics of sharing space

Or rather, whose space? Whose bed do we use? Do we buy a new one? Can I put my gun safe in the living room or put my huge dresser from my childhood in the bedroom? How do we decide on whose dishes we use, who uses what closet, and do you really need all those clothes?

Clashing routines

Clashing habits

Slop meets OCD. Dishes left on the counter vs. tidied up and in the dishwasher before the meal is over. Empty toilet paper rolls vs. extras stacked up on back of the toilet. Clothes on the floor vs. ironed and lined up by color in the closet. Loud music vs. meditative silence.

Individual vs. couple time

Do I still go out with my friends on Thursday night or go out for a drink after work? Do I still work late, because I want to get stuff done, or do I need to show up at 6 for the dinner that’s on the table? Do I work in the garden on Saturdays by myself, or do we go for a hike?

This seems like little stuff, and at some level, it is clearly first-world problems. But underneath are several tensions coming to the surface:

1. You’re seeing everyday life.

Even if you talked about each other’s daily pace and habits, now reality hits — all very different from dating behavior, even with long weekends together that were all about us. Nuances and little-known stuff comes to the surface that you didn’t know about, or things you didn’t think would matter now do.

2. Your expectations and visions shift.

Each partner has expectations and a vision of how life will now unfold, and again reality takes hold: He is on his phone more than you realized; she is more energetic and demanding than you thought. Talking is different from living it.

3. As conflict and pet peeves increase, sex goes down.

When you’re dating, you easily use distance to avoid conflict. Yes, she left her clothes on the floor, and it bothered you, but you’re out and back in your own place the next day and don’t need to deal with it — now you do. Because you can’t just pull away, the rubbing of each other’s lives is a source of conflict. Sex goes down often as a result because of these tensions, as well as because it is often more available, less exciting, and no longer driven by the separation from each other.

4. You experience a loss of freedom and control.

If you want to have total control, you need to live alone. If you live with someone else, there is the pressure to be more of a couple, to accommodate, and you need to compromise. The Thursday night friends’ group or working late gets old, again a clash of vision/expectations and reality. The gun safe, the dresser, and the bed now become big deals, because you understandably feel like you are losing parts of yourself.

What to do

It’s all too easy to begin battling and power-struggling from the start, or for both or one to walk on eggshells and give in. Neither is a good option. It’s time for adult conversations, to accept that this is a new challenge to a new stage in the relationship that needs to get sanely worked out. Here you have the roommate meetings about the dishes on the counter, clothes on the floor, the music, the Thursday nights, the dresser.

Expect these challenges, and proactively decide what is top priority you need to fight for and what you are willing to let go of. What you don’t want to do is be passive-aggressive, drop “subtle” hints in hopes that the other person will get the hint and make the change. Time to get the small stuff on the table and negotiate.

And if you can’t, because you avoid conflict, or conversations too quickly go south, get help — short-term counseling, mediation with minister or professional mediator. Don’t be the victim or martyr, don’t sweep it under the rug, don’t take everything to DEFCON 10. This is not about dressers or clothes, but about your ability as a couple to solve problems. These are the ones you have to deal with now; later it may be about kids or money. It’s normal, but important. If you can’t do it now, bigger problems await.

Step up, talk, resolve. Repeat.

Relationship moving in together

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