According to CBS News, there's a new trend: couples are putting together cohabitation agreements when they move in together as a type of pre-nup precursor (http://cbsloc.al/JJLAeu). These agreements, or commitment contracts, address typical issues like how to split assets should the couple break up, but they can also set day-to-day ground rules like who shops for the groceries, how the rent is divided, and so forth.
Sex and relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil agrees with the article: it's easy for couples to just "ease" into living together without laying down any ground rules. The Cohab, as it's being called, addresses potential problems that can arise. "Cohabitation isn't as official or as legally binding as a marriage," says Dr. Bonnie, "but people still end up pooling their resources, financially supporting each other, sacrificing for one another just like they would in a marriage. So it's wise for couples to protect themselves even if there's not a ring on their fingers." She talks about this type of agreement, as well as a traditional pre-nup in her book Financial Infidelity: The Number One Relationship Wrecker.
Once someone leaves their toothbrush at the other person's house, it's a sign that the couple is unofficially living together says Dr. Bonnie. And at that point, the couple needs a commitment contract! Dr. Bonnie relays a similar story from her own experience in her book Make Up Don't Break Up: Before they were married, Dr. Bonnie's husband wouldn't leave a toothbrush at her house, and kept his clothes in the trunk of his car because he was too afraid to contemplate the idea of living together, but still spent the night every night. "I assumed we were living together," she says, "but when I told that to a friend he turned ghostly white!" This underscores the importance of a commitment contract so there's no ambiguity.
It can also be a good step for people who are commitment-phobic. It's less of a commitment than marriage but a cohab is still a document saying that things are changing. "It lays out the ground rules," explains Dr. Bonnie, "so that people are on the same page and have a distinct idea of what the expectations are. There are no assumptions.
Some of Dr. Bonnie's patients think this is unromantic, but a commitment contract - signing on the dotted line - to live together is especially necessary so each person is taken care of if the other partner dies. It's about taking responsibility to address issues that people might not think of if they're not married. It also strengthens a couple's bond, especially with people who are "gun-shy," so they can handle expectations for what happens if it works and if it doesn't.
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