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11 Things Couples Must Do Before Living Together in an Apartment

Are you and your girlfriend/boyfriend (or perhaps fiancé) considering living together in an apartment?  Before you make that epic leap, we have 11 things you should carefully consider.

The fact that you’re considering this is not surprising.  The rates of cohabitation before marriage are skyrocketing, and what might have been considered scandalous years ago is now commonplace.  In fact, a 2007 report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University stated “over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared to virtually none 50 years ago.”

Why do couples choose this path?  The reasons are many, but two of the big ones include:

  • Test Drive:  For many couples, living together is a test drive for a long-term engagement. It’s commonplace for couples to live together so they can assess their respective tolerances.
  • Save Money:  Maintaining two separate apartments may not be cost-effective for some couples.  Besides rent savings, pennies can be pinched with utilities, renter’s insurance, and furnishings.

The intent of this post is not to condone the choice you make to live with another person.  The “morals” of a situation are for you alone to decide.  However, if you do choose to cohabitate with a fiancé or boyfriend/girlfriend, here are 11 things you should do (in no particular order) before you move in:

1. Define the relationship. You might define your new living arrangement as a stepping-stone to a lifetime together, while your partner might think it’s just a way to save some cash.  Getting these expectations out in the open is important, so you can clearly define your relationship. And remember, there are roommate issues and there arerelationship issues. It’s best to keep the two separate as you navigate this new landscape with your partner.

2. Figure out the furnishings arrangement.  Furnishings inspire some heavy-duty emotions.  He might cherish the beaten up old leather recliner.  She might cherish the thought of the leather recliner in a dumpster.  Set ground rules upfront for how you’ll deal with the furnishing dilemma.  For example, perhaps each person gets 3 Furnishings Exceptions (or maybe it’s 3 Vetoes.)  Either way, setting ground rules allows for easier compromise.

3. Prepare to accept some weird-o habits.  It’s a guarantee:  If your partner has a weird habit or mannerism, it will reveal itself the day you move in together.  How about her inability to close the cap on the toothpaste – ever?  Or perhaps it’s his habit of chewing with his mouth open?  Something will surface.  You may be able to curb it, and then again, you may not.  So be prepared to accept your new roommate – warts and all.

4. Mind your money.  Money is the root of all evil, and in relationships, it’s usually the root of all arguments.  Out of the gates, you’ll want to build a system that works for both of you in terms of finances.  Maybe you need separate checking accounts.  Maybe one person handles the finances for the couple.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, just find a system you can both accept.

5. Put it in writing.  There are a couple reasons why you may want to write down some of the financial arrangements – such as how much each person pays for rent or utilities.  One, do it so you’re clear on the arrangement, and two, so you have some sort of recourse in case things get rocky down the road.

Don’t view it as a lack of trust; it can serve as a way to keep track of life’s myriad of details.  (Who was supposed to pay the gas and electric?)

6. Notify your landlord.  Read your lease to determine how many people can live on the premises.  If you’re over the limit, you’ll want to alert your landlord.  Sneaking in a roomie doesn’t work – you’ll likely get caught sooner or later.  A word of caution:  Before you ask your landlord permission, be sure your roomie meets all the tenant requirements in terms of financial background and rent history.

7. Establish your respective conflict-resolution styles.  We always tell our renters that cohesive roommate relationships are not based on similar tastes, but on compatible conflict-resolution styles. You’re probably already getting a feel for this if you’ve been dating or have had a relationship.  To be sure, download our Roommate Resolution guide and identify ways you can work through conflict.

8. Expect an adjustment period.  Any lifestyle change will be accompanied by a transition period.  Out of the gates, you’ll have to deal with each other’s quirks.  Once that settles down (and everyone manages to remain on speaking terms) you can expect happiness to ensue.

9. Get away from each other (on occasion).  Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and you’ll both need to get away from each other from time to time.  Not only does that help you maintain relationships with friends, but it also gives you a perspective of how much you truly love your loved one (we hope).

10. Establish a household chores schedule.  Trailing only financial problems as a source of relationship conflict is household chores.  This is one of those issues that needs to be discussed as soon as possible.   Establish what each person’s responsibilities are, and what counts as a job well done.  Toilet bowl cleaning anyone?

11. Figure out what you’ll need together.  Depending on your perspective, buying new things for the apartment can either be stressful or a great source of bonding.  See if you can find areas where your tastes (aesthetic and financial) overlap.  You might also want to come up with a shopping list and a budget before you head out shopping, just to ensure you’re both on the same page and headed to the same shopping destination.

You’ll undoubtedly encounter more hurdles and tests after you move in, but these are some of the big issues you’ll want to settle beforehand.  It could make a good relationship great, or it will expose some potentially fatal flaws.  Either way, it’s best to get these prickly issues out in the open before anyone signs a lease.

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