It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Fifty years ago, it was frowned upon. But today, everybody does it.
Living together, or cohabitation, is a win-win situation. Sharing the same house or flat gives you the chance to get to know one another better. You get more time together for starters. It makes good economic sense as the two of you can live more cheaply together than apart. And you never know, if things go well, then thoughts can turn to marriage.
But there is a downside. What happens if living together doesn’t work out? How will you be able to bring the relationship to an end?
Smart couples will say that they can just move out. But it’s not that simple.
You don’t have to live together for long to make your life very complicated indeed. You probably sign some sort of joint lease together or at least agree how to share the rent. You may have done the same for your utility bills with the electricity, gas and telephone companies. All of your clothes and belongings are now in the joint home. And your friends and acquaintance now know for sure that you are off-the-market. This means your potential choice of alternative partners is a lot more limited than before you moved in.
If things go wrong, none of these obstacles are surmountable.
But if your relationship does start to drift, or you start to question whether you have made the right choice, then you can easily find yourself trapped.
Other than the legal niceties, it’s much the same as if you are trapped in an unhappy marriage. Only you are trapped in an unhappy living together.
Researchers call these obstacles “constraints”. Constraints add ‘inertia’ or ‘premature entanglement’ to a relationship that make it harder to leave.
Faced with a marginal choice – should I stay or should I go? – the more constraints you have, the more likely it is that you will stay.
Your relationship isn’t what you hoped. Yet still you stay. After all, it’s so much easier to stay. You can persuade yourself that things will get better. Maybe a baby will help. Maybe marriage will make the difference.
What’s keeping you from leaving is that you live together. This constraint is probably the single biggest driver of family breakdown in the UK.
The downside of cohabitation is that it keeps relationships together just long enough to tempt fragile couples into the next stage of fragile parenthood or even fragile marriage.
I’m not for one second saying that couples shouldn’t live together. That genie is long out of its bottle.
What I am saying is that you should take your time before you move in together. Living together can set you on the path to a life together. But it’s not risk-free. Make sure a life together is what you really want before you have it thrust upon you.