Is ‘Vat n Sit’ something you want to do? The pros and cons of cohabitation in 2023

Article compiled by Bonolo Sekudu and first published on News24 on the 16th of October 2023.
Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

  • Over the years, cohabitating has become normalised.
  • The 2022 Census report reveals that 7.8% of South Africans are living like husband and wife. 
  • Dating coach Leigh Joy Mansel-Pleydell shares the pros and cons to cohabitation.

In some cultures, “moving in together” calls for disciplinary meetings with the family’s elders. It is regarded as a decision that brings the family into disrepute.

For instance, as a Tswana girl, my uncles from the North West would be summoned to either give me a culture-related lecture or my partner would be asked about his “intentions”.

Over the years, many people have normalised cohabitating and it has become something that works for them. Like with any other relationship – marriage too – it doesn’t always end well. 

Relationship expert Paula Quinsee says people get married for personal reasons, such as religious beliefs but that doesn’t mean people have lost faith in the symbolism and constitution of marriage, but rather that more couples are preferring to take a different stance than those in previous generations.

Sharing things acquired while living in the house or a shared bank account or debt are among the things that makes the split uglier. 

In her article for The Conversation, relationship therapist and researcher Kristina S Brown recommended, on the basis of her research and clinical experience, that couples discuss the significance of sharing a home before they move in together.

“Doing so gives partners an opportunity to set realistic expectations, negotiate household roles and practise their communication.”

The other reality is there are couples who do not subscribe to the institution of marriage, despite the societal standard that society sets, as though marriage is the only ultimate sign of a commitment. 

The Census 2022 report revealed that in 2011, 9.2% of South Africans lived like husband and wife. In 2022, this number has decreased to 7.8%. 

Dating coach Leigh Joy Mansel-Pleydell says there are pros and cons to cohabitation.


1. Shared financial responsibilities

It becomes cheaper for both partners to live together when they share the financial costs of living, e.g. rent or a bond, food, household insurance, rates and taxes, electricity and water, holiday costs.

2. Shared familial responsibilities

When partners share responsibilities and work together to take care of the children, it releases the burden on one parent to do it on his or her own.

3. Testing the relationship

This helps ascertain if the relationship is a good match. Living together is being able to give an indication of whether your relationship is likely to last and whether you can put up with each other. 

4. A contract to protect assets

It is possible and a good idea to put a contract in place that protects each person’s assets in the event of a breakup.

Quinsee adds that allowing couples to see whether they can live together provides an opportunity to learn about each other’s likes, dislikes, habits, routines, and to work through any potential issues together.

Living together provides an emotional support system that one can lean into, she adds. You can be there for each other during good and challenging times, “resulting in a deeper emotional bond and connection”.

In a previous article, attorney and founder of Sister In Law SA, Tebello Motshwane, a cohabitation agreement is a written agreement between an unmarried couple who intend to live together indefinitely.

It formalises and regulates the obligations towards each other. For legal certainty and protection, it is advisable that each party has a will in place that will dictate what should happen to their assets in the event of death.

She advised that the agreement includes:

  • a description of the parties;
  • a declaration that signing the agreement does not mean that the parties will be considered spouses;
  • a declaration that sex will not be paid for;
  • financial disclosure;
  • joint property and expenses;
  • separately owned property; and
  • a clause providing for how assets will be distributed in the event the relationship comes to an end.


  1. The partnership does not have the same rights and duties as a marriage or a civil union.
  2. Emotional challenges create pressure in the relationship. Due to this commitment not being binding, the easier option to deal with challenges may be to leave.  
  3. Financial disputes could end in breakups. Many relationships even marriages have ended because of money challenges. When there are no clear distinctions about financial responsibilities, it puts strain on the relationship.
  4. It is easier to break off the relationship than get divorced so it is trickier for cohabiting couples to seek therapy.

Paula says the success of a relationship depends on the individuals involved, their expectations and how well they communicate.

“How they work together to overcome the challenges they will face in their relationship. Before couples consider moving in together, they need to have several open and honest discussions about their intentions, expectations, and future vision of the relationship.”

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