Living In Sin: Unwedded Bliss
It used to be called "living in sin." Now it's the status quo. According to the U.S. Census, nearly 5 million unmarried couples wake up together every day. As for everyone else, the majority of husbands and wives had the same address before walking down the aisle. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than half of women have lived with a significant other at some point by age 30. When you're in love, it makes perfect sense Ã¢â‚¬” you save money by splitting the bills, your favorite person is around to talk to every night, and best of all, there's sex on tap.
But people rarely talk about how surprisingly stressful living together can be. "It's about more than sharing a bed," says Marshall Miller, coauthor of Unmarried to Each Other. "It's about making intricate, complicated decisions about money, housework, and time." To keep your love thriving under the extra pressure, take these six realities of cohabitation into consideration.
Reality #1 It doesn't seal the deal.
Moving in seems like a natural precursor to marriage, but you shouldn't count on it. In fact, only 45 percent of couples who cohabitate get hitched, says Susan Brown, Ph.D., a sociologist at Bowling Green State University. And research has linked living together before tying the knot to an increased risk of unhappy marriage. One theory as to why: People who live together often swap rings not because they're right for each other, but because they feel too invested in the relationship to break up, says Paul Amato, Ph.D., a sociologist at Penn State University.
Strategy #1 Talk about the future.
If marriage is what you want, make that crystal clear even if Ã¢â‚¬” scratch that, especially if Ã¢â‚¬” it requires an uncomfortable conversation. A recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that couples who get engaged before setting up house are happier pre and postmarriage than couples who do so after the move. "Make sure you understand each other's reasons for wanting to move in," advises study author Galena Kline, a research associate at the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies. Even if you don't go shopping for a diamond, agree on a timeline for how the relationship is going to unfold.
Reality #2 All roommates are irritating.
Just because you're hot for each other doesn't make living together easy. Annie Sargent, 34, a lawyer in Seattle, says she's frequently been on edge since her boyfriend moved in a year ago. When he washes dishes, "he's a whirling dervish Ã¢â‚¬” soapy water gets all over everything," Sargent says. She gets so annoyed she yells at him, and then he gets upset because he was trying to help. And that's just one example. "I want him there," she says. "But now I'm irritated all the time."
Strategy #2 Choose your battles.
Yes, he's annoying. But he'll always be annoying! And so will you by virtue of sharing the same space 24/7. "You need to let go of the little things that bug you but aren't meaningful," says Noelle Nelson, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Power of Appreciation. Easier said than done, so try this: Whenever he's driving you up the wall, try to think of three nice things he's done for you lately. It should defuse your irritation just enough to keep you from lashing out.
Reality #3 It's not just about you anymore.
You want to grab a drink with an ex after work. Or apply for that amazing job in Newfoundland. But now your decisions, from trivial to momentous, will affect another person's routine, lifestyle, and bank account. "Everything I did suddenly involved an extra step," says Bill Schmidt, 36, who moved in with his girlfriend 8 years ago. Formerly speedy grocery runs now required remembering what kind of yogurt, or cookies, or bread she liked. "It took a while to adjust to not just thinking about myself."
Strategy #3 Be a better half.
As corny as it sounds, moving in together really does mean becoming a team, and that means giving up a lot of the autonomy you've been reveling in since you were 18. Before making decisions that could affect him, ask yourself how you would feel if he did the same to you. Then proceed accordingly even if it makes you groan. "If you don't do that, you won't stay together, or you'll stay together and be miserable," says John Jacobs, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage.
Reality #4 Love doesn't solve money problems.
You might be saving a bundle on rent Ã¢â‚¬” unless, of course, you moved into a bigger, more expensive place together. But money problems are as inevitable as basement drafts and broken toilet-bowl handles. According to an April 2006 Money magazine survey, 70 percent of couples admit to arguing about finances. "Money is so entwined with power and control, it's seldom something you can talk about objectively with your significant other," says Deborah Knuckey, author of Conscious Spending for Couples.
Strategy #4 Decide now how you're going to handle financial stuff.
Don't wait until the bills start clogging your mailbox. Some ideas: If one of you earns more than the other, that person should contribute proportionately to the bills. A lot of couples divvy up money chores pretty traditionally: He handles investments, she takes care of bills and daily expenses. "But there's no right or wrong Ã¢â‚¬” people decide these things very differently," Knuckey says. Come up with a plan and put it in writing: If arguments arise later, it'll help clear up any fuzzy memories.
Reality #5 The sex will change.
According to the 1997 Durex Global Sex Survey, people who live together but aren't married report the greatest frequency of sex. So that's a plus. The minus? The sex can lose its wow factor. A 2004 ABC News poll found that 58 percent of people who are married or have lived together for less than 3 years report "very exciting" sex lives, compared with 29 percent of couples who've been at it more than 10 years.
Strategy #5 Keep searching for new triggers.
A new body in bed might be a bigger source of excitement, but when it comes to truly satisfying, orgasmic sex, nothing beats knowing each other well, says Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a Denver marriage therapist and author of The Power of Two. Take pleasure in the fact that he knows exactly where and how to rub. Just don't assume there's nothing left for each of you to learn. "Keep trying different kinds of touching, different times to fool around, different ways to turn each other on," Dr. Heitler says. Use what you already know to find out more Ã¢â‚¬” if he likes your tongue in his ear, he'd probably love it on his upper thigh.
Reality #6 Expect the unexpected.
When Melissa Haroza, 36, and her boyfriend, Chris, shacked up 3 years ago, she had a cat, but Chris was against pets. "Then one day before a vacation he said he was worried about the cat," says Haroza, who married Chris last year. "He thought she'd get lonely and suggested taking her with us." And it wasn't because he wanted to toss her out of the plane. He'd actually started to care about the kitty. Never underestimate the power of a solid relationship to bring out surprising new sides of a person.
Strategy #6 Stay the course.
If the basics are there Ã¢â‚¬” trust, shared values, good communication Ã¢â‚¬” don't give up when you hit a rough spot (and you will). To keep the going as smooth as possible, build a support system of friends and family members who you can count on as a couple, Dr. Nelson says. As for major brawls, sometimes just letting time pass can give each of you a chance to sort out your feelings. That's one of the great things about moving in together Ã¢â‚¬” you can go to bed mad, and, chances are, you'll still wake up happy to see each other.