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What Should Couples Talk About Before Moving In Together? A Social Psychology Podcast Episode.

What Should Couples Talk About Before Moving In Together? A Social Psychology Podcast Episode.

Today’s podcast episode comes out two days after me and my best friend moved in together for the next academic year and it’s just the two of us for 2-and-a-half months before two more of our friends join us. And even though me and my best friend aren’t a couple, it got me thinking about the sort of topics couples should talk about before they move in together to minimise conflict, arguments and relationship breakdown. Therefore, in today’s social psychology podcast episode, we discuss a wide range of topics any couple (and friends for that matter) should talk about before moving in together. I’ll add in some personal commentary and thoughts to bring this episode alive, so this should be a great one for everyone. Especially if you like learning about relationship psychology, social psychology and couple behaviour.


Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Psychology of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.


Note: as always absolutely nothing on this podcast is any sort of official advice whatsoever including relationship advice.


Why Should Couples Talk About Certain Topics Before Moving In Together?

I firmly believe that all couples should sit down and have a detailed conversation about cohabitation before they live together, because this is a major step in any relationship. To use a close friendship example (as that’s all I know), it is very different seeing your best friend for hours at a time, a few times a week compared to living and being around each other 24/7, so for the sake of the relationship you cannot simply just go into it. You need to think about if this is right for you or not.


Granted when it comes to this sort of thing, because of my past, I am an extremely cautious person.


In terms of relationships, a couple wanting to move in together signs a desire for greater commitment and intimacy. So it’s important that the partners have conversations that help the other to understand their preferences, expectations as well as perceptions of the relationship.


This is something I needed to understand a lot more about my best friend, in terms of perceptions, because I’m used to getting dropped and abandoned by people I get close with, so I needed a fair amount of reassurance. And my best friend was the same a few years ago so they understood.


As a result, Brown et al. (2023) wrote a paper about the topics that couples needed to talk about before they moved in together in the form of questions. This helps the couple to talk about communication, household rules and relationship negotiations to help keep conflict at a minimum.


What Are The Relationship Negotiation Questions?

When it comes to Brown et al. (2023), they suggest couples talk about 4 main areas of their relationship so each partner can understand the other person more. These areas and questions are:


Purpose Of Cohabitation

·       How permanent is the pre-cohabitation agreement? What is our end goal as a couple?

·       What are some problems that moving in together may trigger or exacerbate?

·       How will we share and organize the new space? Should we share our individual belongings or purchase new ones?

·       Does this location suit us both (e.g., proximity to family, friends, or work)?

·       How do we agree on the definitions of concepts, such as cohabitation, infidelity, monogamy, household rules, and shared labour?


Personally, I think these are good questions these “purpose” questions help you to understand each other more and you can get ahead of some of the problems or concerns you both have. As well as your partner’s answers can be very reassuring.


For example, when me and my best friend were talking about moving in together, I found it really reassuring that we spoke about some issues that might pop up. Like, them and their relationship would be a potential issue for me because of my child abuse and sexual assault, so we spoke about it. This is just something we’re going to have to manage when it pops up and I’ve recommitted to working on it and trying to find my own relationship in the future. Of course, that is still difficult being a sexual assault survivor.


In addition, it was really reassuring that we both agreed on just talking to each other if something pops up, and talking about location, household rules and how we would manage chores was useful too.


Overall, this isn’t about finding reasons not to live together. Instead this is about finding out more information so you know more about your relationship so you can decrease the chance of major conflict.


Sex And Romance

·       When or how frequently to discuss sex and intimacy—be it masturbation, pornography, contraception, frequency of sex, freedom to explore desires and fantasies, getting tested for STDs, or open relationships (e.g., swinging)?

·       What are the rules for discussing sex in front of other people?

·       Do we have the same expectations when it comes to date nights and holidays, including where to go, what to wear, and who pays?


Thankfully, this is an area me and my best friend did not have to talk about, but I think this is still important for couples. Since it helps put everything into perspective and it allows you to know exactly what the other person wants.


Culture, Family and Religion

·       How involved are we going to be with our own and each other’s families?

·       How to address family issues?

·       Which cultural traditions to share?

·       When to talk about sociopolitical issues, like the way race, gender, or disabilities affect our relationship?

·       How important is spirituality/religion to each of us and our families of origin?


This is a critical section because you do need to know this stuff. If the other person is a devout member of a religion and you are not, then you need to know this and what that entails. This could be a dealbreaker for you so you will have to come to a compromise that means your partner can practice without the religion constantly being forced down your throat.


Also, if you both have different positions on sociopolitical issues then this is important to talk about. You can still have a great relationship even if you don’t agree on everything, but the key is to respect each other and know when to talk openly about your beliefs. Thankfully, me and my best friend agree on 99% of stuff politically and socially so this isn’t a problem. Yet the one topic we do disagree on, I know not to talk about unless it’s the right time or place. Granted, this isn’t a rule, this is just something I wanted to do to decrease conflict.


Ultimately, I think this set of questions comes back to respecting your partner as a separate person with their own life and belief system. That isn’t a bad thing and often a few differences can make a relationship more interesting.


Individual and Shared Identities

·       Do we plan to have separate spaces in the house (for some "me time")?

·       How to maintain our individual and shared time, goals, hobbies, and other relationships (e.g., friends, coworkers)?


Continuing on with our mini-theme of respecting your partner, these last two questions confirm that even more. It is important that you find time for yourself, your hobbies, your interests and your friends because you can’t be around each other 24/7. That would lead to burnout, you would get sick and tired of each other and it wouldn’t be good for the relationship at all. This is why having these conversations and making sure you both want alone time away from each other is important.


In terms of me and my best friend moving in together, this is something we are sort of aware of. Since I have my business, my writing and my podcasting that takes up a lot of my time. Also, me and my best friend have Outreach work at our university so that can be done together or alone. As well as my best friend has their Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, their own friends and they want to spend the summer building a gaming PC from scratch. Therefore, we will be spending a lot of time together, especially in the evenings, but we aren’t going to be around each other and attached at the hip 24/7. Something that will be really good for our relationship going forward.


What About Household Rule Questions?

 This is certainly an area where a lot of conflict can pop up so these questions are certainly important and critical to talk about.


What About Chores?

·       What is a flexible and fair way of splitting up the chores?

·       How to make decisions about grocery shopping (diets, brands), cooking (scheduling, leftovers), doing laundry (frequency, folding techniques), cleaning (vacuuming, doing the dishes), and outside maintenance (mowing the grass, shovelling snow)?


This is even more important when it comes to student housing to be fair, so what me and my best friend are going to do is there will be a whiteboard with a list of chores, and one of our names will be next to each chore. It’s that person’s job to do that chore each week and we swap every week. 


That’s fair and I don’t have a problem with that method.


I know my parents are a little more gender-based because of their age so my Mum does the more typical female jobs round the house, and my Dad does the typical male jobs. Yet when I move out I know my Dad is going to have to start doing the stuff I did like the food bin, dishwasher, hanging out the washing on the washing line from time to time and a few other pieces.


Basically, just talk to your partner and work this stuff out now before you move in together. Believe me, you do not want an argument about chores not being done and someone seeing the other in the relationship as lazy. Those arguments never go well.


What About Debt, Budgeting and Finances?

·       Do we have similar views regarding spending and saving, financial contribution, making shared purchases, bank accounts (joint vs. separate), debts (including debts from previous relationships), and systems of managing finances?

·       Should we make a budget (e.g., for travel, emergencies, large purchases)?

·       What are our financial resources (incomes, savings, and investments)? What about recurring expenses and bills?

·       When to revisit our financial goals?


Whilst this is basically null-void for student housing because everything is the person’s own responsibility, when it comes to relationships this is important because you’re together and financial decisions impact both of you. And because these conversations can be so detailed, so depend on your upbringing, your attitude towards money and a whole bunch of other factors, all I will say is make sure you have these conversations.


I think money can make or break a relationship, so please don’t let money issues mess up yours.


What About Pets?

·       Does either of us have any pet allergies? Who will be responsible for the costs and daily care of the pet(s)?


Again similar to money, this is a needed conversation because if one of you really wants a dog or cat but the other is allergic, this is something you need to know about now. Also, if you want a pet but the other doesn’t, this will be disappointing and it’s healthy to know why so you can understand where the other person is coming from. For example, my Mum would flat out love a dog but my Dad seriously doesn’t. Mainly because of the cost, the price of the actual dog and my parents like going away for weekends at a time so their lifestyle doesn’t always accommodate a dog.


It was that little explanation that helped my Mum understand why my Dad was so against this, so it prevented this disagreement ever becoming an issue in the relationship.


What About Guests?

·       How long or frequently can we have guests over? How much notice is required?


I think this is an answer that will change depending on the level of your relationship. For example, if you’re a relatively new couple then you may be more forgiving of surprise guests, but if you’re married, you do need to tell each other with notice about guests coming and staying around.


In terms of me and my best friend, we often make fun of our tenancy agreement because the legal contract specifically says something along the lines of we are limited to two guests a month and they cannot stay for more than two nights in a row and they cannot stay more than 4 nights in a month. Or something stupid like that.


So the agreement we mentioned in passing was the other can always bring friends over as long as they tell the other, and if my best friend brings their partner over then I want notice because we’ll probably have to talk about it a little. Not because I don’t want my best friend in a relationship (I seriously do and I just want them to be happy) because of my sexual assault and child abuse stuff.


Ultimately, this question about guests is simply being respectful because if you’re living with someone, this is their house too. You cannot treat it like you’re the only person who lives there, because that isn’t fair. So just talk to your partner about guests out of respect for them.


What About Transportation?

·       How to budget for transportation expenses—be it public transportation, renting a car, or maintaining a vehicle we own? How to share a car (e.g., drop-off schedule)?


I sort of understand the wording of this question but I also don’t like it. I don’t really think budgeting for transportation is a major concern depending on where you live. I think a more important question is about the shared car if you only have one. I think that needs to be sorted out so conflict doesn’t arise by one partner not feeling like they can use it if needed, and the other partner doesn’t get annoyed because the other used their car without permission.


I’ve already said to my best friend I will drive them to Outreach events if we’re both working it, and I will drive them about if it’s local and whatever. For example, I’ll take them to the shops, train station and whatever if it’s convenient for me. I’ll also take them to the university most of the time to some extent because it’s a five minute drive away. I wanted to have this conversation so my friend knows I’m happy to help them out and they don’t have to stress about getting public transport and whatever.


What About Communication Questions?

The final set of questions looks at how to manage communication in the relationship when you move in together.


Questions About Rules of Communication

·       When do we discuss relationship issues? Are we planning to use regular check-ins and, if needed, conflict resolution techniques or psychotherapy?


Conflict is always going to pop up so please plan for it so you have a plan of action to sort out any issues. Don’t let the issues go unresolved because this isn’t healthy in a relationship and it can be the small things adding up over time that causes the relationship to utterly fail. Even if you promise each other just to talk about any issues or conflict, or when the other annoys you (that’s what me and my best friend have agreed) then this is better than nothing.


Questions About Communication Needs and Styles

·       Should we set aside time to talk about our day, and to schedule time to discuss major relationship issues?

·       When bothered by an issue or feeling upset, how will each partner communicate those feelings? What verbal and non-verbal cues (gestures, body language) to look for?


This connects to the last group of questions because it’s important you resolve and talk about conflict, but you also need to know how you talk and communicate these issues so you can both effectively deal with the issue.


Questions About Social Media and Privacy

·       What is private? How do we differentiate privacy from secrecy?

·       How much time are we each going to spend on social media?

·       What are the expectations regarding posting about our relationship on social media?


This is an interesting one because I never would have thought about this topic and these questions but I can understand why these are important. Since it is really annoying when you’re spending time with someone and the other person is constantly on their phone or social media, in the early days of Facebook my Mum used to do this a lot and it was annoying. And if one person in the relationship doesn’t want to be on social media or “advertise” the relationship on social media a lot then you need to know this to avoid conflict.


Logistical Questions

·       What is each person’s daily routine?

·       How do we share our personal and professional schedules?


This is something me and my best friend need to talk about a bit more because we will work fine together and living together will be great. But we have reasonably different routines, and routines are important to us because we’re both autistic. For example, I get up at around 8 am (I try 7 am but that doesn’t happen these days), I do 6 hours of work throughout the day with longish breaks in-between so I can do my steps, watch online courses and whatever. Then I’m normally in bed by 10 pm (okay, I’ll lying in bed doing Duolingo and reading). My best friend gets up at 11 am or 12 pm and doesn’t go to bed until midnight or even 2 am in the morning.

However, it’s just useful to think about daily routines and how you might need to adapt them now you’re living together. This helps decrease any conflict and it allows you both to keep living your own lives without you feeling like you are getting lost in the relationship.


What About LGBT+ Issues?

·       How “out” are each of us?

·       Might there be negative legal, financial, or social consequences to telling others about cohabitation? How to manage or reduce the negative consequences?


If this is relevant to your situation then these are probably some of the most important questions you will talk about, and that’s all I’ll say about this generally.


With me being gay and my best friend being bisexual and both of us are fully out to our friends and families, this isn’t going we need to hide or not talk about when our parents or family visit us. That’s reassuring but equally, there are some stuff we know not to tell the family of the other. For example, I don’t think I’ll be allowed to tell my best friend’s parents any details of their relationships when they visit, and I’m not allowed to tell my best friend’s partner about my best friend’s past relationships because he’s sensitive to that sort of stuff.

So just talk, be honest and be considerate towards the other.


Goals and Plans Questions

·       What are each person’s plans and goals—be they related to physical health, mental health, emotional well-being, or finances and career development?

·       What are our future plans (e.g., marriage)?


These questions are rather interesting because they’re ones I would never normally think about. Part of that is probably just down to me never being in a relationship, but when couples move in together these are important questions to consider. They mean you can help each other move towards your goals, you can grow as a couple and individuals and again, this helps you to define yourself and your own individual identity so you don’t lose yourself in the relationship.


And if your partner has very different goals and plans to yourself, then talk about it. See if these are dealbreakers, see if you can compromise and how you can help each other.


Exit Strategy Questions

·       Do we have a plan for the possibility of relationship dissolution, including ways of dealing with legal issues?

·       How might we split the assets, liabilities, and debt? What about the marital home (e.g., mortgage)?


Finally, whilst no one ever wants to think about exit strategies and relationship breakdown, these are good to think about when moving in together. Since moving in together adds some legal considerations like the mortgages, the rent, the bills and more, so you need to know what happens if you decide to break up.


Social Psychology Conclusion

Ultimately, when it comes to moving in together a lot of couples never take the time to have an open and honest conversation about topics that would help them to understand their partner’s views, plans, preferences, desires, routines and so on.


However, if you don’t have these conversations then living together can be very stressful and filled with conflict. You might need to address sexual satisfaction, division of chores, budgeting, communication styles and needs as well as what to do if living together doesn’t work out.


As a result, when you want to live with your partner, definitely aside time to chat about the topics we’ve discussed in this episode and see these are opportunities to improve and develop your listening skills. As well as improve how you express yourself,  your planning, perspective-taking and improve your intimacy building.


These are all critical skills for healthy romantic relationships.


If these topics cause you a lot of anxiety and if you cannot find solutions or come to an agreement, then maybe consider couples therapy. We’ve covered this a lot on the podcast before so please check out the backlist.


On the whole, even though me and my best friend aren’t dating, I am still really looking forward it to because it will be fun, we’ll have a great time together and it will be a massive improvement in both our lives. But I’ll admit because of my past, I was scared of it, I was nervous and I thought this was impossible at first.


However, we took the time to talk about it over the course of a few months (and I’m neglecting the fact we got a house 4 days after confirming it then we had these conversations. Do not do that when you’re dating them) and I am a lot more relaxed now and I’m really, really looking forward to it.


Give yourself and your relationship the best chance of survival and having fun whilst living together.


So just talk, communicate and respect each other. That really is the key to a happy cohabitation.

 


I really hope you enjoyed today’s social psychology podcast episode.


If you want to learn more, please check out:


Psychology of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.



Have a great day.


Social Psychology References and Further Reading

Brown, K. S., Schmidt, B., Morrow, C., & Rougeaux-Burnes, G. (2023). Pre-cohabitation conversations for relationships: Recommended questions for discussion. Contemporary Family Therapy, 45(2), 131-145.


Brown, S. L., Manning, W. D., & Wu, H. (2022). Relationship quality in midlife: A comparison of dating, living apart together, cohabitation, and marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 84(3), 860-878.


Foran, H. M., Mueller, J., Schulz, W., & Hahlweg, K. (2022). Cohabitation, relationship stability, relationship adjustment, and children’s mental health over 10 years. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 746306.


Manning, W. D. (2020). Young adulthood relationships in an era of uncertainty: A case for cohabitation. Demography, 57(3), 799-819.


Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2012). The different effects of “living together” Determining and comparing types of cohabiting couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(3), 397-419.


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