You’d think the natural progression of modern romance goes like this: Meet cute, fall desperately in love, live together, walk down the aisle, buy a dream house, and have some adorable kids. Great dream, right?
Well, I’m sorry to burst your fantasy bubble with some stats that’ll rock that bliss: New York magazine reported on a recent study that found that 14 percent of couples break up within a year of moving in together and one-third of co-habiting couples head to splitsville by year three.
That’s not entirely promising when living together has become part of modern love’s master plan, but here are three tips on how make it work for you.
1. Set clear expectations
Determine what your goals are for moving in together. Is this a test run for a lifetime commitment? Or is it just a rent-saving measure? Set expectations for your new, combined life together — and realize that co-habitation can’t put a Band-Aid on issues that already exist.
“Moving in together isn’t going to fix a relationship problem like infidelity, fear of commitment, or his or her mother intruding,” says relationship expert April Masini of Ask April. “At the end of the night, you are who you are, and if there are problems in a relationship, a cute condo with Pottery Barn furniture isn’t going to cure things.”
Make sure to not avoid talking through something most couples want to avoid: money. Be clear about who wants to — and can — pay for what rather than skirt the topic altogether because you’re afraid of a fight.
“Money is one of the biggest relationship killers, and yet everyone avoids it because it can be uncomfortable,” says SheNOW founder Brenna Smith. “Guess what, honey — being in a long-term relationship can get real uncomfortable. So get on it, and avoid the heart/wallet ache later.”
2. Create “alone time” and “private zones”
Doing every single thing together — including sharing your home — is a sure way to kill your budding relationship fast. Plan times when you’ll pursue your own interests and hang out with your own friends, sans each other.
This can also be done inside the home. Mugsy PR‘s Emily Taffel and her boyfriend created “private zones” in their apartment where they can enjoy their own hobbies in peace.
“I have a space for all of my craft supplies and a small crafting desk,” she says. “My boyfriend has a video game desk on the opposite side of mine. We can zone out into our hobbies while still being in the same space together.”
3. Don’t do it unless it’s what you really want
When Sarah Marino got engaged to her husband, they made a big decision: They wouldn’t share a living space until after they said “I do.” They were following their faith, but their friends wondered if this old-fashioned tactic could have roots in the present.
“All I knew is that we were in this for the long, long haul, and if he exposes some hidden, disgusting habit after we live together, it’s something for him and I to work out,” she says. One year later, Marino and her husband have found that getting married and living together were steps that were, for them, best taken at the same time.
“For us, living together defines our relationship as husband and wife,” she says. “It’s not some experiment to find out each other’s quirks, an inquiry for whether we want to stay together or break up. Together, we are a dynamic team.”