There are certain milestones in relationships that every couple hits - from deciding to be exclusive and first acknowledging each other’s existence on social media to getting a dog and tying the knot.
But one of the biggest moves a couple can make is to move in together.
Time was when couples didn’t live together before getting married, but with more and more of us shunning marriage and seeing the benefits of testing the water by sharing a flat first, cohabiting is now the norm.
Getting the timing right, however, is crucial. If you move in before you’re ready and it doesn’t work out, it’s hard to go back to just being boyfriend and girlfriend who live apart. What’s more, the chances are you'll have signed a tenancy agreement together and be tied in for a year.
And living with a partner isn't always smooth sailing - exclusive figures from E.ON reveal that 10 per cent of couples argue about the washing up on a daily basis.
So how do you know when you’re ready to take the plunge?
A 2015 study by Rent.com found that 37 per cent of couples move in together after they’ve been in a relationship for six months to a year. And this would seem to be what Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle are doing, given recent reports they're planning on living together in Kensington Palace.
A further 39 per cent of people decide to do so after one to two years together.
But according to dating coach and relationship expert Madeleine Mason, there’s no one perfect length of time that means you’re ready to move in with your partner: “The ideal time for a couple to move in together is not based on 'clock time' as in days or months,” she explained to The Independent.
Mason says there are four key steps to achieve or discuss first:
- You must be dating exclusively (or at least both be clear on the nature of their relationship) and have met each other's family and friends.
- You must have talked about the future - what you want to achieve, what kind of life you want, whether you want to get married and have children or not.
- You must have talked about finances. “Each should know what their financial situations are and what it might look like in the future,” says Mason, adding that you should discuss whether you plan to buy a home together further down the line.
- You must both agree and want to move in together without coercion, the use of 'guilt trips' or because it makes financial sense - “Find a roommate instead if needs be,” Mason advises.
But how long it takes to tick off all these markers varies from couple to couple and seems to decrease the older you get.
“In theory if you can do that in a week, by all means move in!” Mason says.
“In practice this probably takes months and years. If there's no rush, there's no harm in getting to know one another first.”
She recommends waiting at least three to six months to work out whether a relationship has longevity, but for many people - stereotypically commitment-phobic millennials in particular - that can seem far too quick.
“Relationships move at different paces for different people,” match.com dating expert Vicki Pavitt told The Independent. “Some people might feel comfortable moving in with their partner after six months, some people will wait a bit longer. Don’t under-estimate the commitment moving in can be.”
26-year-old Ben had been with his girlfriend for three years before they moved in together, but had been talking about it for a long time.
“We used to live close to each other in London and see each other every other day anyway, but then she had to move home (outside of London) and all of a sudden there was a big distance between us,” he told The Independent.
“That was just the trigger really - we both felt ready and had no doubt we'd be able to happily coexist, and so far that's been exactly the case!"
25-year-old Lucy had a similar experience and discussed moving in with her boyfriend for a year before making the leap: “He was going to be moving to a new city, leaving his friends and family and changing jobs so it was a big deal,” she says, so they weren't going to rush into anything.
Lucy and her boyfriend had also been on holiday together, which is a good way to test a relationship: “Make sure you’ve been away together for an extended period of time (more than 10 days) before you give them a key, this way you can get a better insight into whether you can stand their living habits or not!” Pavitt advises.
For some people though, the hardest part is knowing how to broach the subject for the first time if you’re not sure how your boy- or girlfriend will react - research from Match says that on average, couples take a year and a half to ask one another to move in together.
“I’ve been going out with my boyfriend for a year,” 24-year-old Emma explained to The Independent. “Whilst traditionally it might seem a bit soon, I'm more than ready to move in with him.
“I love him to bits and feel more comfortable and happier when he's around so it would be great to have him permanently around! The problem I have is bringing this up with him… I don't want him to run for the hills.”
And although it’s not usually advisable to move in with your partner out of necessity, it can be a good reason to evaluate the relationship as well as bring up the subject, as 25-year-old Margot discovered.
“When you’re kind of skint, London isn’t a city that really lends itself to big declarations of love and the like when it comes to moving in. We moved in together out of necessity,” she explains.
She moved in with her boyfriend two and a half years ago, but they’d already been in a relationship for over four.
“Moving in with him was something that terrified me. I was worried it would ruin our relationship, and would make it impossible for us to break up,” she says.
But after she ended up sharing his tiny attic room for two months while interning and then moving in with a difficult flatmate, whilst he was struggling with a horrendous commute, they eventually decided it just made sense to move in together.
“We worked out how much we could afford, agreed on an area to move to, and just went for it!” she explains. But Margot and her boyfriend have never lived just the two of them - they’ve always had flatmates too.
Although the couple bickered for the first few weeks of living together, they eventually ironed out their differences and set clear boundaries and expectations: “We make sure that we split chores and are really open about when we’re annoying each other,” Margot says.
“I’ve loved living with him ever since and have never wanted to live alone again.”
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