Before Cohabitation and Marriage

Equality Starts Early

Strong relationships are built on an equal partnership, and the first step in that direction is taken before you start moving boxes or walking down the aisle. While preparing for the new change in your relationship, it’s important to know what this means to each of you.

Since you will be combining your lives, whether you decide to live together, marry, or both, it’s important to discuss how each of you feels about important things like lifestyle, location, religion, parenting, care of aged relatives, as well as who will earn money outside the home, how it will be spent, and if one of you will be a full-time parent. Talking about these important matters now will help you understand each other better and encourage open communication from the start. Discussing these topics can help you have a better relationship and prevent future arguments about money as a couple.

Many of us avoid talking about money or creating financial plans. Some of us are worried that talking about money will lead to an argument: Financial conflicts are likely to take longer, be more stressful, and continue to remain unresolved than other kinds of conflict in relationships.[i] Others don’t know the best approach or how to stick to a plan.[ii] Others would like to trust their partner to take care of the financial arrangements without having formal discussions either before or after marriage.[iii][iv]

Research shows that discussing the types of questions we’ve included in the workbook can improve your relationship. [v] By having these conversations before moving in together, before marriage, and before having a child, you’ll take the necessary steps for lasting love and a thriving relationship based on equality. Use our workbook, Equal from the Start, to have guided, open, discussions about your future together.


Do you research about the laws where you live. 

For those that choose to marry, it is important to understand the legal rights that you are allowed, both during your relationship and in the event of its end (with death or divorce). For example, married couples may inherit property from each other in death, may make medical decisions for each other in emergencies, and may have their assets divided in half in divorce. If you want to do something different than the default options in your state, you will need to sit down and create an agreement. A premarital agreement or contract, often called a prenuptial, helps establish equality in your marriage from the start as well as protecting each of you if the marriage ends – in death or divorce.

For those that choose to live together, this may not seem as important. But because partnering with someone by choosing to live together includes the same benefits as marriage it can be easy to forget that it doesn’t come with the same legal rights. Fortunately, there are several kinds of agreements that can be drawn up for cohabiting couples to protect your rights as a couple while also safeguarding your individual interests and assets in the event of a break-up or death. These include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a durable power of attorney for financial management, a will, and a cohabitation agreement, living together agreement, or a domestic partnership agreement. If this is your situation, and you would like to have an equal partnership that is enforceable by the court, it’s important to consider these agreements and do some research on the laws in your state.

In either case, without a written agreement, state laws may dictate what happens to your assets and debts.

And really, what better time to chart the future of your partnership than when your love is strong? Suze Orman, author of The Courage to Be Rich, agrees with us: “It’s not a sign of greed, weakness or fear to want the reassurance that you both will be safe, whatever happens, and, in my experience, opening up these issues can bring partners closer together in ways they rarely comprehend until they do it.”

Essential Things To Do:

  • Schedule time together to talk about how you feel about money.
  • Work together to decide on and write an agreement.
  • Start laying the groundwork for ongoing communication about your partnership.

All three of these actions noted above can be facilitated by using Equal From the Start; our guidebook to assisting individuals and couples in initiating and discussing the important elements of their partnership.

[i] Papp, L. M., Cummings, E. M., & Goeke-Morey, M. C. (2009). For richer, for poorer: Money as a topic of marital conflict in the home. Family Relations, 58(February), 91–103. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2008.00537.x

[ii] From the Wells Fargo Financial Health Study, a national online survey conducted by Market Probe, Inc., of 1,004 adults between the ages of 25 and 75, designed to take the pulse of Americans’ perceptions of their own financial health. Wells Fargo. (2014). Conversations about personal finance more difficult than religion and politics, according to new Wells Fargo survey [Press release]. Retrieved from:

[iii] The COUNTRY Financial Security Index survey found that 63% of married Americans trust their partner’s money management skills and that 42% of couples did not discuss how they would handle joint finances before marriage. The COUNTRY Index was created by Country Financial and is compiled by Rasmussen Reports, LLC, an independent research firm, based on a national telephone and online survey of at least 3,000 Americans. This survey on marriage and finance is based on approximately 1,775 married Americans. COUNTRY Financial Security Index. (2013). Love is blind, even with dollar signs [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

[iv] One out of five (19%) said they didn’t talk about their financial situation until after marriage. Almost the same percentage (15%) of couples said they never discuss personal finances. From a survey written by TransUnion Interactive and conducted using Google Consumer Surveys, February 2013. Survey of 500 Americans that indicated “yes” when asked “Are you married?” Survey results have a 95 percent confidence level. TransUnion. (2013). TransUnion reveals nearly one in five couples does not talk about their finances until after marriage [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

[v] Zimmerman, K. J., & Roberts, C. W. (2012). The influence of a financial management course on couples’ relationship quality. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 23(2), 46–54.