Are you moving in with your partner? Talking about these three things first can make life easier for yourself, according to a family therapist.

(TALK) – Partners living together tend to reach this important place in their relationship in one of two ways – what some clinicians call “slide against decision making“. Cohabitation can happen without much thought, or it can be carefully considered and planned.

Some couples can see living together as a test for a future marriage. For others, marriage is not a goal, so living together can be the ultimate statement of their commitment.

I was psychotherapist and relationship researcher for over 25 years, specializing in intimate relationships. Based on my research and clinical experience, I recommend that couples discuss the importance of living together before joining households. This gives partners the opportunity to set realistic expectations, agree on household roles, and practice communication.

My colleagues and I have developed list of topics partners should discuss this before moving together – or even after if the moving boxes are already unpacked. These topics are divided into three main categories.

1. Expectations

Why do you want to live together? What is the purpose? Will it lead to marriage? Many relationships struggle with intersection of reality and expectation.

Clients tell me that their expectations of living together are often based on what they grew up with, such as: “My mom ate dinner on the table every night at 6:00 pm, I expect the same from my partner.” Expectations also extend to intimacy, such as “Now that we share a bed, we can have sex all the time.”

Talking about what this stage of commitment means for a relationship and how it affects each person’s personality is part of that negotiation. Is cohabitation a “practice” for marriage? Are we moving to one of our current locations, or are we finding a new home together? How will we share family finances? How often will we be close? Will we get a pet?

Knowing what will and won’t change helps smooth this transition, making room for small talk about the little things in life together.

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2. Home roles

When people leave their childhood home, the house rules they grew up with—both the ones they liked and the ones they hated—tend to come along with them.

It’s important for couples to talk about how they plan to handle everyday tasks like washing dishes, taking out the trash, cooking, cleaning, and so on. My colleagues and I encourage couples to begin these conversations by describing their strengths. If you love shopping but hate cooking, offer to do what you prefer first. Tell us about the different needs of your family – including financepets, children, cars and so on – and try to find some balance in the division of responsibilities.

During these negotiations, do not forget to keep in mind the obligations of each person outside the home. For example, if one person is staying at home or on vacation, take this into account when determining the balance.

I once worked with a couple where one of the partners wanted her spouse to “be less of an asshole.” When we dug a little deeper, she really wanted him to vacuum. As they continued to talk, they began to realize that their household rules were not balanced and did not take into account the ebb and flow of their lifestyle, family needs and professional requirements.

3. Communication

Possibly the most important conversation actually about communication. How responsive do I think my partner will be when I send them a message? How do I tell them that I really need to be alone? When can I talk to them about my changing needs?

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This may be a great time to reach out to the couple and family therapist to help discuss some of these issues. Many times, hurtful comments people make to each other really about expectations, fear and anxiety of the unknown. Talking about how best to recognize and meet your partner’s needs and concerns promotes cooperation and unity, which ultimately strengthens the relationship.

People and relationships change over time. Everyone is affected by their own life experiences, one of which may be moving with a partner. Communication and empathy are key as expectations change and evolve. This remains true as couples go through transitions throughout their lives.

Big things like moving, graduating, getting a new job and having kids, and small things like choosing a TV show to watch or trying out a new recipe are big talking points. Developing good communication skills can provide the foundation for overcoming the trials and tribulations that relationships bring.

And it’s never too late to start those conversations – even if you already live together.

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