Moving in with your girlfriend is a big step.
It can be an exhilarating experience. You’re both ga ga for each other, you’re both hopped up on hormones and stomach butterflies…
What could possibly go wrong?
Here’s the thing:
No matter how in love you are, making the transition from just dating to “shacking up” introduces a whole new dynamic to your relationship. While 90% of it is positive, if you’re not careful, moving in with your girlfriend can cause unnecessary strain on the relationship.
Here are 8 important tips you need to know before you move in with your girlfriend:
1. Move in For the Right Reasons
For many couples, moving in together is just that inevitable next step in a prolonged courtship. Which is fine. But if you’re moving in together just because it seems like the next step, beware. That could be a sign that you’re on relationship autopilot.
If you’re going into this thinking, “well hell, I’m already at her place all the time anyway…and we could save some money…” that’s not exactly a great reason to take the plunge.
Even if you have a purely budget-driven view of moving in together (by splitting rent, I’ve calculated that we can save an extra $1000 per month for pizza and beer, hooray!), there’s a good chance she’s seeing this as the step to something bigger.
What may just seem like a 6-month lease to you might be the precursor to walking down the aisle for her.
But that’s not all. Many married couples will tell you that moving in together is actually a bigger deal than getting married. Moving in creates a huge shift in the mechanics of your daily life and your relationship. And ironically, filing divorce papers is nothing compared to the hassle and pain of deciding who gets to keep that pricey couch you bought together or who has to suddenly find a new place to call home—especially if you’re in a competitive rental market.
All of that to say that if you’re combining addresses, make sure you’re going into it eyes wide open.
Call me old fashioned, but to be safe, only move in with a woman who you could see yourself marrying…and staying with.
2. Start Fresh in a New Place
When you decide to shack up with your girlfriend, you might be tempted to move into her apartment or yours. Try to avoid this if you can.
If you can swing it, I highly recommend starting fresh in a totally new apartment.
First of all, it eliminates the potential for one person to feel like a guest in their own home. If she moves into your apartment that you’ve had for the last 2 years, she may never quite feel like the place is hers, since it has always been your pad. The only difference now is that she has a set of keys and can store her stuff there.
We all develop certain ideas about where things go in our apartment, and the way space should be used—it’s easy to get set in our ways.
Cereal doesn’t go there! What are you thinking!!? That shelf is for my ironic mug collection!
Starting fresh in a new apartment allows you to take equal ownership of the space from the get-go. And it allows you to envision the space together.
3. Agree on Your Finances Upfront
When you’re still in the rosy glow stage, it may be hard to imagine screaming at the top of your lungs at each other about your checking account balance.
But there’s probably no other thing that causes more stress in relationships than money.
Some couples think once they start sharing a bed, they should share a bank account. Beware, this is a recipe for disaster.
A better approach is what my wife and I did when we moved in together:
We each kept our own checking accounts, but we set up a third joint account to share. We agreed upfront on all the common expenses that we’d pay from the account. Then we figured out a rough estimate budget—and each of us puts a set amount in each month to cover those regular monthly shared items like rent, toilet paper, groceries, utilities, etc.
It’s far less messy than trying to remember that I paid the PG&E bill this month and she paid the cable bill, and I only bought groceries once in May, while she stocked the fridge 5 times.
Best of all, if I want to blow $100 on a nice bottle of Scotch, I can just dip into my own account without her resenting me for being a drunken spendthrift.
It may seem obvious, but a critical part of figuring out your shared budget is to align your lifestyles. Even if one of you makes significantly more money than the other, you’ll need to see eye to eye on your budget to avoid any ruffled feathers.
For instance, even though you are accustomed to having 6000 cable channels and the full interactive sports package, she may not want to shell out for a $300/month for a cable package. You, in turn, may not want to spend $50 extra per month to run the air conditioning all throughout the Summer.
While it may seem unromantic, having an honest conversation upfront about your wants and needs (and willingness to pay for them) can help avoid tons of stress and anger down the line.
4. Divvy Up Household Responsibilities
OF COURSE you and your girlfriend are SO compatible that the household chores will just magically get done, right?
In the movie montage in your mind, your love will be so strong that you’ll both completely selfless:
You: No baby, please let ME take out the trash. You did it last time…
Her: Ok, then I’m going to go ahead and scrub the toilet again
Both in unison: Ohh snoookems…. [fade out as couple shares a longing gaze]
While the love part may be true, and while you both might be totally selfless and caring individuals, the reality is that household logistics don’t just work out on their own.
Rather than playing it by ear, try dividing up household chores so you each have separate tasks you’re responsible for.
For instance, my wife hates dishes and I hate laundry, so there’s a natural division: she does the laundry and I do the dishes. We don’t ever swap—these are just our assigned roles.
That way there’s never any question about whose responsibility something is. If there are piles of crusty dishes on the sink, Kyle is slacking off on his dish duties. If I run out of underwear or socks, wifey needs to get the washing machine cranking.
Even better, when you are each responsible for your own “domains” you’re more likely to take ownership for the chore…and actually want to do a good job. Somehow since it’s your thing you have a little more pride and interest in maintaining it.
Of course there still may be household tasks that you do together—and that’s fine. For instance, my wife and end up shopping for groceries together pretty regularly.
As you look at all the regular chores and responsibilities, you’ll find system that works for the both of you.
5. Plan For Quality Time Together
One of the biggest changes to your relationship when you move in together is that you no longer just see each other on dates or during extended romantic weekends.
When you’re dating, you get the well-edited, polished feature production. When you move in, you get the full director’s cut…complete with bonus scenes that you may not have asked for.
On a basic level, you end up spending a lot more time together now that you share an address. But most of it is not quality time.
Your interactions change: Now instead of seeing you arrive at her door with your hair combed and just the right amount of cologne, she hears you clipping your toenails on the toilet or catches you popping a zit in the bathroom.
Don’t get me wrong: when you’re with the right woman there is something pretty special about the everyday micro-interactions that happen in the course of daily life.
There might be a beautiful peacefulness about the way you both wordlessly grab coffee in the kitchen while ignoring each other until you’ve both fully woken up and/or brushed away the morning mouth.
But when you move in together, you now have to consciously try to inject romance into your relationship. Get in the habit of setting up date nights—maybe a weekly Wednesday night calendar invite when you both dress up and go out somewhere nice.
Setting up a date night reminds you of why you shacked up in the first place—and that your relationship is more than just about paying bills and watching mindless TV while she does Soduku before waking up for another grueling day at work…
6. Maintain Your Own Distinct Identity
Closely related is the need to make sure you both maintain your sense of self in the relationship.
Since moving in together is such a big change, it’s not uncommon for couples to completely alter their normal social patterns and lose track of their friends.
You may initially be tempted to spend all your time with your girlfriend now that you live together. But as I mentioned above, quality time is more beneficial than quantity of time. And even more importantly, you need to maintain other social outlets.
Be sure to keep the regular touch-points you had with your buddies before you shacked up.
If you don’t have regular times to get together, now may be the time to set up a recurring monthly poker night, or a man brunch, or weekly happy hour. Or as Bob Gordon called them, “Big Boy Play Dates.”
This is a win/win for your relationship because when you’re out of the house and hanging out with your friends (1) it gives you a chance to recharge and it giver her some space as well, and (2) it gives you both something to talk about when you come back from your evening with the boys.
When one person in the relationship fails to maintain ties with their social circles, it can put a lot of pressure on the relationship.
They are essentially trying to get all of their social energy from the relationship, and that’s not healthy. But when you both have your own separate lives it can relieve the pressure and help you continue to respect and love each other as separate individuals.
Not only is it important to maintain your close friends outside of the relationships, but it’s also critical that you stay connected to your interests and hobbies. If you were a die-hard mountain biker before you moved in with her, but she just likes brunch and shopping on the weekends, don’t change who you are. Make sure you plan time to hit the trails get some cycling in.
As with making time for friends, it helps give you both a little positive space. And best of all, she’ll end up missing you while you’re gone. The old saying: “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a truism. That way, when you are back together at the end of the day, you both appreciate each other even more.
7. Master the Art of Setting Expectations
Another thing that happens when you move in with your girlfriend is that communication becomes even more important. Gone are the single days when you could come and go as you pleased without notifying anyone.
While most couples don’t expect to eat every morning and evening meal together, usually your girlfriend has some expectation that she will see you at some point in the evening after work.
Now that you live together, you’re not obligated to be stuck at the hip, but you are expected to give her a heads-up about where you are.
If you’re used to the carefree days of when you could disappear for days and send the occasional text checking in, I can understand how this might seem like a burden to be constantly informing her of your whereabouts—but it’s not an issue once you get used to it.
For anyone who works in a customer service or client service role, this need to “set expectations” may be familiar.
Get in the habit of trying to anticipate what your girlfriend’s expectations are, and make sure you’ve done a good job communicating.
Does she realize that I’m not coming home after work tonight and that I’m planning to go have drinks with the guys? Maybe I should let her know.
Yes, you should let her know.
You’ll learn that the earlier and more gracefully you set her expectations, the better things are for the both of you.
Depending on the usual balance between free time and together time, you may also find that you need to pair the “I’m not going to be around” conversation, with a “but hey, I’d really like us to do something fun on Tuesday instead” suggestion.
When you move in together, sometimes there can be an initial shock and weirdness where you one or both of you might be worried about whether you’ve made the right decision…or worried that the other person might not be into it.
So it doesn’t hurt to give her a little extra reassurance that, yes, you do want to spend time with her this week, but you also want to catch up with your buddy Phil, who just got a new job and who you haven’t seen in 3 months.
In short, you’ll find yourself quickly getting better at communicating and planning with your new co-habitant.
A shared calendar (like google Calendar) can be a great way to help balance out your social engagements with your girlfriend-time. It doesn’t take the place of letting her know verbally—but it can help you both manage your new shared schedules together.
8. Build the Habit of Healthy and Open Communication
When you move in with someone, it’s only natural for there to be a few bumps in the road. As we’ve discussed above, even if you’re crazy about each other, it doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect roommates.
There are always a few kinks to be worked out.
Before you lived with her, maybe you didn’t realize that her morning ritual involves frantically reorganizing her 30 pairs of shoes while singing show tunes at the top of her lungs. And, in all fairness, she didn’t realize that your morning routine is to sit on the couch watching ESPN in your underwear while eating cold pizza.
It’s easy to let some of these minor annoyances fester if you’re not careful. Besides money, one of the other big tensions for people in relationships is the vicious habit of “keeping score”—tallying up little hurts and annoyances, only to let them explode out months later in an argument.
Try to address these things quickly and gently. If you are bringing up a potential issue, be careful not to make it sound like a demand or like a judgment on her character.
You can always start the conversation by trying to better understand her:
“Babe, how strongly do you feel about hanging your bras off of the back patio? Ideally, I was hoping we could keep them in the closet…”
This way, you’ll be able to get a sense of how important it is to her. On rare occasions she may say that there is no possible way she could ever change her behavior. But 99% of the time, you’ll end up finding a compromise that works for both of you.
If you’re about to make that big plunge and move in with your girlfriend, don’t take it lightly. If you’re doing it for the right reasons, it is a very big step indeed. And don’t think that just because you’re bonkers for each other that moving in together will be a smooth ride. You have to work at it. Use the tips above to help avoid potential stress and make your new living arrangement easier for both of you.
Do you have any tips you’ve found helpful for moving in with your girlfriend? Leave a comment below—I’d love to hear your thoughts.