Singaporebrides | Weddings 101

October 2011

Should You Move In Together Before Getting Married?

Marriage is and will be undoubtedly the biggest decision you’ll make in your entire life. Is that why you should cohabit to find out if you can live with your man before you promise to be with him ‘til death do you part?

Relationships and marriage involve more science than you think it would; there are steps involved. First off, you have the man wooing the lady before they enter into an exclusive relationship. After a few years of courtship, he proposes and she says yes. Finally, the marriage would come.

That model was how it worked for the majority of the couples in the past. Now, things are a little different. More specifically, there’s an additional step before marriage for the modern couple: premarital cohabitation.

Still primarily a Western trend

Having your very traditional and conservative parents agree to premarital cohabitation—a primarily Western practice—will be trickier than convincing your partner. Coming from a generation that was raised in a less Westernised society than ours, our parents view premarital cohabitation as a forbidden intimacy left only for marriage, much like premarital sex.

But for the younger, more contemporary generation, premarital cohabitation is nothing more than an avenue for couples to test out living together and see if they can face joint responsibilities of owning their own home, independent of their families with only themselves to work with and support each other.

Because of this difference in perception, we find ourselves with a dilemma and conflict that our parents and the generations before them never had to deal with. We speak to two married ladies, Smitha and Jane* about their cohabitation experiences to get you some answers on some of the common reasons for and problems of cohabitation.

Purpose of Cohabitation

Jane describes the purpose of cohabitation as getting to know more about the real character of your partner before you go to the next level. That and also because it was convenient and economical for her and her then boyfriend to rent a place together here, since they were both Indonesians working in Singapore. They have both since split up and she is now happily married to another man whom she had also cohabited with before they got married.

Like Jane, there are many couples that regard premarital cohabitation as a “safety net” before taking the leap of faith into marriage. Premarital cohabitation reveals the realities of a relationship by lifting off the veil courtship throws over our eyes. It’s about sharing your closet and keeping your socks in the laundry basket and not on the floor.

Smitha Marquardt and her husband felt the differences in their living habits when she moved into a rented apartment with him. She was used to tucking anything she didn’t need away, keeping things neat and tidy, whilst her husband would leave dirty clothes on the floor, and used plates and cutlery on the table. “Having lived in a tiny apartment with my parents all my life, I was used to having minimal possessions,” says Smitha. “My husband on the other hand grew up in a decent sized house with a front yard and back yard. Having grown up poor, my in-laws didn’t believe in throwing anything away even if it was an item that was no longer used or required.”

Should You Move In Together?

What Smitha and her husband encountered is similar to what every couple will go through when they cohabit. Cohabitation is not just about living with another person and getting used to their living habits; it’s about being aware that you’re sharing a home with someone else; it’s about paying consideration to the other person around the house.

Cohabitation works best with a little give and take, Smitha shares. She’d drop gentle reminders for her husband and he took care of the house for the first half of the year they were together while encouraging her to learn how to run a household, as she had a helper when she was growing up in Singapore. Also, Smitha finds that not bearing a grudge or being calculative helps as well. “I was very lucky to have a partner who was very patient with me and encouraged me constantly to learn how to cook, grocery shop, do laundry and everything else that comes with running a household. Now he tells me constantly that I am ten times better at it than he is.”

Smitha, too, decided to rent an apartment with her husband because she couldn’t afford to get a place of her own then. And like Jane, she was initially reluctant and uncomfortable with the idea, having come from traditional Asian backgrounds. But after speaking to their parents and getting their blessings, both decided that cohabitation was the best choice for them.

Another reader, who only wants to be known as Paper, highly recommends that couples try it out. “My now husband and I had both been cheated upon in our previous marriages. After we fell madly in love with each other, we decided to have a “Thousand Day Engagement”, living together as a married couple, to see just how crazy we can drive each other. It worked wonders.”

There are other things to worry about

The downside to cohabitation is the absence of commitment and promise. Without that, couples tend to take on a more flippant attitude towards their relationship. It becomes easier for them to walk away from the relationship when they find themselves up against a seemingly unmovable wall of differences, rather than putting in the effort, tolerance and compromise to make things work. Married couples, however, are more likely to do so because of the commitment they’ve made to one another.

But perhaps the more pressing concern here is how plausible premarital cohabitation is in Singapore. Our housing regulations prevent young individuals below the age of 35 to own a HDB flat in Singapore. You can, of course, opt for private housing, but few young couples below the age of 35 can afford to do so, especially when housing prices continue to skyrocket every now and then. Most couples just opt to apply for BTO (Build-To-Order) flats and wait out the 4 years for its completion while living separately in their homes.

But where does this leave you if you won’t go into marriage without going through premarital cohabitation?

Should You Move In Together?

Stay-overs

A doable and slightly more acceptable arrangement would be stay-overs at one or both your houses. You get a pretty good idea of what you need to do to get along with your new family. It could be for a few days, weeks or months at a time. But before you start packing your bags and moving in with your man’s family (or he yours), stay-overs are not a long-term resolution to premarital cohabitation.

It is not an accurate representation of your living habits at home and of the responsibilities that comes with owning your own home. You neither have to pay for the roof over your heads nor household necessities like food and the monthly utilities bill, so there won’t be any arguments involving money and whose turn it is to get the groceries or take out the garbage.

Furthermore, if like Smitha, you are used to relying on others around the house to do things for you, you might be incapable of running a household if you were to live outside of your home without anyone to help you do it.

“Can or Can’t” not “Do or Don’t”

If the circumstances permit, and you’re dead certain about going into cohabitation, Smitha and Jane has some guidelines for you:

  1. Cohabit with the intention of marriage in the future.
  2. Always talk to your parents beforehand and proceed only when you have their acceptance and blessing.
  3.  Enjoy your courtship for at least two-three years before you decide to cohabit.
  4. Watch out for the first six months – it can either make or break you.
  5. Most importantly, never move in with your partner expecting that he will change his habits because 9 out of 10 times, it will not happen!

*Name changed to protect the identity of the person.