There are various reasons for this, ranging from wanting to test the waters of compatibility to a lack of financial resources. Some people say they don’t need a piece of paper to prove their love and commitment to each other, while for the commitment-shy, living together offers the comfort of an escape clause in case their love goes sour.
Whatever the reason, there are a few things to consider and discuss before you and your partner shack up.
There are advantages to living together, says Claudia Abelheim, facilitator of The Family Life Centre’s Marriage Preparation and Marriage Enrichment Programme. Molefi Lebone, a relationship counsellor based in Joburg, agrees.
You get to know each other because living together gives a couple the opportunity to see sides of each other they might not get to know otherwise. “When you live separately, there’s always an ‘exit’ – somewhere to go when things get tough,” Claudia says. “Couples must find ways to manage the tough times together.”
Modern couples don’t see anything wrong with living together and it’s becoming the norm, Molefi adds. “Some use it as a chance to see if there’s more to the relationship than just physical attraction,” he notes.
For many, it also makes financial sense to share living expenses in order to save money. Claudia says you can learn how to budget and manage money together.
“Financial issues are one of the top causes of problems in a marriage, so the chance to work these out prior to getting married can be beneficial.”
Molefi says it’s convenient for couples to pool their money, especially if they’re still studying.
“Living in cities isn’t cheap. Sharing expenses works out well and makes cash available for other things.”
For some, cohabiting could become so comfortable there might never be a marriage proposal, Claudia warns.
“Problems arise when the partners haven’t been honest about their long-term goals. For example, one person might never have intended to have a long-term relationship or doesn’t want to get married or have children.”
Molefi says it isn’t unusual for some men to pay a portion of lobolo during the negotiations and stop before completion. “Not formalising the relationship means they can still play the field. Cheating on their partners isn’t uncommon in such cases.”
Family conflict as a result of the decision to move in together can affect a couple’s relationship too, Claudia says. “Couples might upset and even cause division in their families if their religious or cultural backgrounds prohibit cohabitation before marriage. This can be very stressful and might impact on the relationship.”
Molefi says fear of parental disapproval might also cause the pair to keep their living arrangements secret. Lying to their parents could require elaborate arrangements to stay one step ahead. “There could also be conflict if roles or responsibilities in the relationship aren’t clearly defined and one partner feels taken advantage of,” he adds.
“When the relationship ends there’s always a fight over who gets what.”
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
As unromantic as it might seem to place your cards on the table when you think of moving in with someone, a frank discussion beforehand will benefit both partners in the long run, Judy Ramsden, head of counselling at The Family Life Centre, explains.
Trust in a relationship is crucial and will set the tone for how two people treat each other, she adds. Judy says the following should be discussed and that it’s important to voice what you’re not comfortable with: Commitment to the relationship, faithfulness and children. Make it clear from the start if you’re not ready to get married.
This will prevent unrealistic expectations. If there are children involved, you’ll have to agree on how to take care of and provide for them, where you’re going to live and what happens to your possessions. You’ll have to decide whose place is better or whether to find “neutral ground”.
One of you might want to keep some of your own possessions or you’ll buy new things together. Keep receipts to prove payment should a dispute arise later. You’ll also have to discuss your roles in the household, especially your finances − who will be in charge of it and pay the bills. Will you pool your money or have separate accounts? Be open about the debt you still have and come up with a plan on how to pay it off.
“A decision to open a clothing account, get a credit card or buy a car has implications for both partners,” Judy says.
Draw up a will. This is one way to avoid disputes with your partner’s family in the event that one of you passes away. Making provision for your partner in your will shows a high level of commitment and appreciation. It’s important not to leave your grieving partner in a situation where they’ll have to fight over what you’ve accumulated during your time together.