Relationships: Making The Decision To Live Together

Is cohabitation a good idea or way to prepare for marriage? Before you commit to living together, here are some things to consider and plan for.

Forty years ago, the idea of living together without benefit of marriage was one of those concepts that only "bad" people or free-spirited (translate: irresponsible) artists engaged in.To this day, I still recall how my parents cut off their burgeoning friendship with a next door neighbor when they discovered that he was only "shacking up" with the woman whom they assumed was his wife.

Even couples who opted to cohabitate prior to an upcoming wedding date were regarded with a raised brow of suspicion.After all, once both parties had moved their respective belongings under one roof, what would stop either one from requesting a postponement that could conceivably drag on for years?My mother's admonition that "there's no sense in buying a cow when you're getting milk for free" was consistent with her generation's mindset that marriage was the only acceptable contract for two people who wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

As the country's divorce rate began to escalate, however, more and more couples warmed to the idea of rehearsing their compatibility prior to a walk down the aisle.The rationale of seeing each other 24/7 in the best and worst of circumstances is intended to preclude the discovery of unpleasant surprises the significant other managed to keep secret during the courtship phase.While it's certainly cheaper to hire a moving van than a lawyer if the relationship turns sour, the following considerations should be taken into account before you put both of your names on that lease.

Have you set a wedding date already?With everything else you have to think about during the planning stages, orchestrating a move on top of it may be more stress than the two of you can reasonably handle.Even though it's a given that your stuff will be co-mingled after the honeymoon, there's a big difference between the two of you moving to a brand new place and one of you moving into the other's current abode.Territorial issues and matters of personal taste can take on larger proportions when you're also in the midst of juggling dates and times for a reception hall, interviewing caterers and trying to figure out who's going to get elderly Aunt Agnes to the church.

On the plus side, of course, is the money you're saving on the rental of a second residence and the excitement of setting up your first household together.Because you are under the same roof, you're also going to be more sensitive to each other's moods than if you were simply talking on the phone several times a day or continuing to be "up" for ongoing dates.The ability to compromise will be introduced to the equation as well, laying a foundation for the resolution of disputes that will inevitably arise throughout your married life.This further applies to the management of joint incomes, the relationships with family and friends, and the division of labor pertinent to indoor and outdoor chores.

Is one of you ready to take the plunge but the other's not so sure?Living together is often served up as an excuse to lock down a relationship that might otherwise wander off in search of better company."If we're recognized as a cohabitating couple," one of the partners thinks, "I won't have to worry about him or her being hit on by someone else."The reality, of course, is that neither the presence nor absence of a wedding ring has stopped anyone from cheating if it's something that they really want to do.

One of the strongest arguments that is made against the idea of living together is the fact that it has about as much""if not less""permanence as a monthly rental agreement.If you're dissatisfied with how your landlord is maintaining the property, you have two options.You can either insist that the problems be fixed or give 30 days' notice and start combing the want ads for someplace new.When the "maintenance" question is one involving emotional issues, however, there will always be greater pressure on half of the partnership to ensure that the other half's needs are being sufficiently met in order to keep them happy.Suffice it to say, the burden will invariably be on the one who is pressing for a long-term commitment and not the one who's "just thinking it over."

What if both of you are gun-shy when it comes to wedding vows?Perhaps you like each other's companionship and can't imagine ever being with anyone else.On the other hand, maybe you've both been burned by prior relationships and deem marriage a curse that could ruin a perfectly lovely friendship.If you're both steadfast in this belief, there's nothing wrong with combining resources and being a live-in couple.Where matters get sticky, of course, is if you decide you want to have children or if one of you should become the victim of a life-threatening scenario in which the partner is powerless to make decisions on his or her behalf.Unlike a marriage, a domestic partnership""regardless of its duration""could also strip a surviving partner of health, retirement and inheritance benefits that would otherwise legally be theirs.These questions need to be addressed at the outset to the satisfaction of both parties rather than simply left to chance as time goes by.

On a final note, living together has become an increasingly complex problem for senior citizens.Not only are they of an era that frowned on such arrangements but they are further saddled with the censure of their own children and grandchildren who believe that they should choose propriety over companionship.In addition, there are economic and tax considerations that enter into the mix.While sharing the same house or apartment seems a logical first step toward matrimony and filing joint tax returns, remarriage for a widow or divorcee could also impact the ongoing receipt of retirement pensions, Social Security and alimony checks.Many seniors are encumbered as well by having spouses who are still alive but living in institutions as a result of Alzheimer's, dementia, cancer, etc.Since divorce and waiting-it-out are not viable options for those in advanced years, it becomes a matter of informing family and friends that day to day happiness with a live-in companion is a higher priority than catering to the morality standards of outside parties.

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