Thinking about moving in together is as exciting as it is terrifying, especially since it opens the door to a whole new level of intimacy (poop schedules are just the tip of the iceberg). And with all of the advice you've been getting from family and friends (unsolicited, but still), deciding if you and your beau are ready to share an address can be, well, confusing.
"Because every relationship unfolds at its own pace, it's important to define the right time to move in together largely apart from the traditional measurement of time (days, weeks, months)," says Michele Marsh, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and supervisor in the Couple and Family Therapy Department at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. In other words, it's a decision based on what stage your relationship is in, or how your relationship is developing, rather than how long you've been together, she says.
Here, six couples therapists recommend basing your decision on the following criteria before turning in your old keys:
Longer, if possible. "This gives couples enough time to cycle through most of life's daily struggles that could reveal challenges in the relationship," says New York-based family psychologist Susan Bartell, Ph.D. According to a SpareFoot.com survey, 58 percent of Americans believe moving in together is a bigger challenge for couples than planning a wedding, which is why it's super-important to forge an initial bond with each other before deciding to take the plunge. That way, when it's time to lock down the fundamentals—which stuff is being moved into your new home, who's giving up what because of space, how you're dividing your finances, and how you'll divide responsibilities (paying bills, laundry, walking the dog, etc.)—you'll be in a much better position to successfully move in together, says Bartell.
Make sure you know your new prospective roommate very well—we're not just talking about their favourite colour or how they take their coffee. You need to know the nuances of how they prefer their lifestyle. "Get to know his or her habits, quirks, and how he or she keeps their own house," says Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing. "These are all things I've seen erupt into fights or even breakups." Having base knowledge of everything from how they like the temperature, to how they are about cleanliness, to how they are with their friends and family—and whether or not you can (literally) live with these things—can go a long way in helping you make an informed decision.
"One of the biggest mistakes that couples make is to move in for financial reasons," says Los Angeles-based marriage therapist Caroline Madden, Ph.D. Even if you have the deceptively practical "why pay two rents?" talk, most women view moving in together as a deepening of the relationship—but for most men, they'll move in with someone who they know isn't the one because it's comfortable, says Madden. Your only motivation for shacking up should be wanting to build a future together.
If you're suspicious of your partner's motives for wanting to move in together, this is huge red flag. For example, if they seem too dependent or anxious about the relationship or seem happy that you won't be going out as much with your friends and will be far from your family, you're both in for trouble once you're shacking up. "If moving in together requires a significant loss of independence for you, the relationship is likely to struggle once the excitement of joining forces wears off," says Marsh. But if the idea of sharing space feels satisfying and interesting and hopeful, that is a good sign.
"The best time for a couple to move in together is when they have established the long-term goal of their relationship," says Florida-based marriage and family therapist Marni Feuerman, L.C.S.W. For example, you both intend to get married or he's put a ring on it. Or neither of you want to get married but consider yourselves committed and monogamous. "Sliding into major life decisions without forethought doesn't bode well for the future of the union," says Feuerman. Goals, values, and intentions for moving in should always be discussed first pre-move.
Ultimately, deciding to move in together should be based on what your heart really wants and what makes you feel happy, as opposed to waiting until you think it's been long enough according to others. And living together is a great way to decide whether this person is the right partner for you, says Texas-based couples therapist Charlotte Howard, Ph.D. Sure, you can discuss and plan for every potential scenario that might cause conflict in your relationship, but your true compatibility won't be uncovered until you're sharing the same space—just make sure it would work out financially for both of you if a breakup were to happen (whether one could afford to keep the house or rental or would have to sub-lease, for example) and both of you are okay with that plan, says Howard. Safety first!
This article originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.