The recession, which officially began in December 2007, is now in its 16th month. If it continues into next month, it will be the longest since the Great Depression. During a recession "shacking up" may seem like just the trick to keep more money in your pockets but it can be tricky. Elena Donovan Mauer, co-author of "The Good Girl's Guide to Living in Sin" (Adams Media) tells ESSENCE.com the things you need to know before moving in with your boo, how to still get your much needed "me" time and what to do when cohabitation does more harm than good to the relationship.
ESSENCE.COM: What are 3 things women should be sure of before moving in with her man?
ELENA DONOVAN MAUER: The first is that she and her guy are on the same page about their relationship and where it might/might not be headed. The third is that she has protected herself legally. Both names should be on the lease/mortgage, both names should be on bills, except those that you want to keep separate, etc. And the third is that he's worth the big life change. Living together can be a challenge! Is this relationship worth the work?
ESSENCE.COM: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about cohabitation?
MAUER: A huge misconception is that he'll never marry you if you agree to live with him unmarried. Today, many couples see living together as a rite of passage before taking the ultimate step of marriage. Another is that people are "settling" by moving in with someone. Maybe they think you're putting off your future happiness by hanging out in "limbo." But most people choose cohabitation because they want to live with the person they love.
ESSENCE.COM: What can a couple do when they realize living together may be harmful to their relationship? Does this mean they are not compatible and the relationship is doomed to fail?
MAUER: The couple should come up with a plan to move out. A relationship can continue after cohabitation if you both want it to. But remember that you might be able to improve things if you change whatever it is about the cohabitation situation that's being harmful. Many of the problems can be worked through if you both really want this relationship to last. And if it just won't work, it just won't work. You'll learn a lot about yourself and what you want for future relationships through a cohabitation situation that ends in a break-up.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you get much needed alone time without hurting the other person's feelings?
MAUER: Some women are really frank and can say to their boyfriends, "I need some alone time." Others go for walks, take bubble baths, make plans to be out with a friend, etc. Try out some different strategies to see what works with your guy. Everyone needs alone time, but often you need a different amount than your partner does, and that's when it gets tricky. It might not be a good idea to tell him that you're trying to spend some time away from him, but rather that this is what you like to do. Establishing a routine like this from the beginning can be the easiest way to make it happen, but you can start this at any point in the relationship.
ESSENCE.COM: Often, the newness of living together wears off and you start to feel like a stale married couple. How can a couple re-enter the "honeymoon phase" or avoid going down that route altogether?
MAUER: I completely recommend date night. It can be something you look forward to all week or month long and really gives you a feeling of a special place for the two of you outside your daily routine. Anything that shakes up the status quo can keep the spark lit in a long-term relationship. Go on vacation, go for a drive, go to the place where you met or had your first kiss. Always treat each other with love and respect. Sure, you'll argue, but avoid pulling out insults or saying things you'll regret later. A successful relationship relies on respect and admiration to continue down the long road.