Wedding Details: Sharing Spaces

Dating did not tell you everything there is to know about the person you’re marrying. You may know her weight, what size boxers he wears, what she spends on shoes, and definitely each other’s ring sizes, but no matter how long you’ve been together or whatever else you’ve shared, you’re both in for a surprise or two.

Living together takes a relationship to an entirely new level, and reveals things about your partner you never suspected—that she steals your T-shirts, or that he cranks the air conditioning in December. The secrets you’ve managed to keep hidden so far will come tumbling out in the open when you start unpacking boxes and run into your first struggle over closet space.

Some people argue that discovering their partner’s idiosyncracies is part of the joy of marriage. And others just argue. Relax—this is normal. Every couple faces similar obstacles, whether they move in together days or years before the wedding, or wait until after they’ve said their vows. Navigating the rough spots is a skill you’re constantly honing to keep your relationship strong. And it can stay strong, however you decide to handle living arrangements, as long as you remember the only thing you can prepare for is to be surprised.

First Comes Love
About 60 percent or more of couples live together at some point before marriage, says Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, Ph.D., staff therapist for the Council for Relationships in Wynnewood and Center City. Especially among those in their 20s and 30s, the reason often is as simple as convenience. “It makes sense because they can share rent, and it’s easier to live together because of commutes or money,” she says.

Convenience was one reason Collegeville residents Jessica Bauer and Jay Marcial moved in together after three and a half years of dating, but it wasn’t the only reason. Sharing a home meant ending a long commute and more privacy, but the couple, who weren’t engaged at the time, also saw it as a move toward marriage. “Whenever you do something like that, it’s always the next step,” says Jay. “And when you live together first, you’re working at things because you want to work at things.”

When the couple got engaged less than a year later, they were doubly glad they already lived together as they began planning for their August 2005 wedding. “Getting married and moving in together for the first time, that’s a whole huge lifestyle change all at once,” says Jay. “Breaking it up in pieces is a way to ease into it.”

“I can’t imagine going through all that after planning a wedding, how stressful and dizzy it is,” says Jess.

With This Ring
A proposal is a common catalyst for couples to move in together. High-school sweethearts Missy Kline and Jamie Stump got engaged on Memorial Day 2004 and moved into their North Wales apartment that summer. “It was almost as if it planted our relationship,” says Missy. “Then it was, ‘Yes, we’re going to take the next step.’”

Both feel that the relationship has gotten stronger as a result. “This is a good transition period,” says Jaime. “After you’re married, you have to make all these major decisions.” In the time before those choices—about jobs, homes, kids and taxes—they’re learning to compromise about everything from what to have for dinner to what TV shows to watch.

Although they dated for seven years, “you never really experience those things when you’re not living together,” says Missy.

Many couples see living together as a trial run for marriage, but that’s where they can run into problems, says Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, a private-practice psychologist in Exton and author of Why Can’t You Read My Mind (Marlowe & Company, 2003). “Living together isn’t necessarily going to make people learn to handle conflict better, or create empathy,” he says. And without a permanent commitment, people might adopt the attitude that they can abandon the relationship if they hit rough spots.

Waiting It Out
For these reasons and more, some couples avoid living together before marriage. Annmarie D’Ortona and Valentino Piacentino III were high-school sweethearts, but the Cherry Hill couple waited out their two-year engagement until their wedding last June to move in together. For them, the reasons were more about personal convictions than religion.

“My feeling is, if you’re going to live together, that’s a big commitment in itself,” says Annmarie. “What’s holding you back from getting married?” It may have helped that none of their close friends or family members had lived together before marriage. “My sister’s wedding was very classic,” says Valentino. “It was sort of ingrained in me that that was how you did things.”

After the engagement, the couple did get impatient, especially while enduring Valentino’s long hours as a med student. “At that point we were kind of antsy to be together, but we were lucky if we saw each other two or three times a week,” says Annmarie. “Sure, it would have been great to see each other more, but it almost made our time now a little more special and important.”

The Big Talk
Whether or not you sign a lease before a marriage license, if you’re signing either, you should have a heart-to-heart first. “More than anything else, couples should really work seriously on issues before they make the commitment to get married, whether they’re living together or not,” says Pillai-Friedman. And remember, “Do this before you go look for the dress.”

Discuss your attitudes about the big issues—money, sex, kids, spiritual beliefs, family involvement, friendships, splitting up household chores—and see how closely your values meet. You don’t have to agree on every issue, but being able to talk through your differences will head off any hard feelings and unrealistic expectations down the road, and make for a stronger marriage in the long run.

“The premise of a marriage is real simple: It is a union of two,” says Valentino. “I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”