Thandi* and Nhlanhla* had been together for two years when they decided to move in together. Instead of one partner moving into the other’s place, they decided to start on a black slate and find a new place to rent out together.

For Thandi, a photographer, the most important thing for them to discuss before they moved in together was their finances and how they would share expenses. “You need to sit down and be open about how much you’re both bringing in, so that you can see how your expenses are going to be split,” she says.

“For instance, if one partner is going to pay the rent, then the other partner can pay for entertainment, but you need to agree on this upfront. You can’t just blindly walk in without having that honest discussion first, because it’s going to cause fights later on when one partner feels like they’re carrying too much of a financial burden for the both of you.”

Tshepiso*, a doctor, moved into the two-bedroom apartment of Kagiso*, her engineer boyfriend, after three years of dating. For Kagiso, moving in together was just a matter of learning to adjust to each other’s habits and needs. “The first two to three months aren’t easy because you’re so used to living in your own space,” he says, “and now there’s a person you have to share it with, so it takes a bit of time to get used to.”

There were many issues to navigate, but the most important lesson that Kagiso has taken from the experience is the value of communication. “It’s very important to be frank and say things as they are,” he says. “The biggest challenge is that when you’re already used to living alone, you’re accustomed to not having to justify your actions to anybody. Once your partner is there, you need to put effort into making her understand what you want, hear what she wants and find a middle ground.”

SET THE GROUND RULES

Anri van den Berg, a marriage and relationship counsellor, emphasises that couples need to be clear on which of their needs are negotiable, which are non-negotiable and to have a frank discussion about them before making a long-term commitment.

“What often happens is that a couple will be in love and think they have a solid relationship, but a year into marriage or co-habitation they realise they disagree on big questions like whether to have kids or whether to immigrate,” she explains. “These are big life questions that you aren’t going to compromise on so you need to know what they are and where you stand before you make a commitment.”

Thandi explains that another crucial issue to discuss before you make the move is where your relationship is and where you want it to go by moving in together. The importance of having this conversation upfront is so that a few years down the line you don’t have one partner wondering if they’re going to get married or have kids, while the other is comfortable with the status quo.