(SOPHIE MAYANNE)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, many of us saw moving in together as a big(ish) milestone in a relationship.

It was one that required deliberation, a working out of logistics, and a great amount of communicating with a partner about whether it was ‘the right time’. But then lockdown happened, and the relationship timeline loads of couples had mentally subscribed went to shit.

The government urged people in relationships to decide: move in together right now or be prepared not to see each other (read: shag) for the foreseeable.

This ultimatum caused many people to either orchestrate a speedy lockdown breakup or fast track to the moving in together step of coupledom, forcing them into cohabiting much quicker than they originally intended to. This new phenomenon has been coined ‘turbo relationships’ by relationship therapists and experts. While it might sound like living together just a few weeks or months into dating something could only end one way (in tears), it turns out that’s not strictly true.

In fact, therapists say the majority of people in turbo relationships are actually experiencing really positive outcomes from shacking up quickly. And this has been backed up by a new report from eharmony and Relate, which found over a third of people newly living with a partner believe the past two months feel equivalent to two years of commitment. More than half (59%) of new couples feel more committed to their partner than ever, and 58% now know they want to be with their partner forever.

Turbocharged relationships

“Quite often when you’re starting a new relationship, the brain and the body become preoccupied,” says Peter Saddington, a counsellor working for Relate. “There’s that infatuation, the real thrill of being in a new relationship. But it’s normally watered down by the fact that you’re seeing friends, or you’ve got to go to work and can’t see each other all day every day. Whereas actually, now you’re not only infatuated or really intent on the other person, but you’re with them 24/7.”

“The time together has been totally priceless”

So how come these couples are thriving under such intense and – sorry, I’m going to say it – unprecedented circumstances? Peter explains, “It’s been a really positive experience because they’ve reached milestones like getting to know the other person’s interests and developing their sexual relationship to quite a sophisticated level. They’ve reached the stage where they talk endlessly to each other, probably about rubbish but also their past experiences, family, etc.”

Sara*, 26, had been planning to move in with her partner, but the pandemic pushed them to do it early. “The best bit has been really becoming a ‘we’. One hiccup we did have earlier on while we were together all the time was that we weren’t actually spending any time together, we were just doing our own thing. This definitely caused some friction. We’re now making an effort to have that valuable time, eat meals together, go for walks and picnics, so that there still is that date feel, even though we’re together all the time.”

After being with her partner for seven weeks, Amy, 39, decided to have him move into her home. They met in January and got engaged five weeks later, so while moving in together was on the cards, they’d planned to make the step later in the summer.

“It’s been really lovely,” she says. “There have definitely been bits where we have both felt low or have struggled, but we’ve helped each other through it and got into a nice routine. It’s a good testament to the dynamic in our pairing.” As well as getting to know each other “super fast”, Amy says she’s most enjoyed “weekends where there is no pressure to see anyone or do anything and we can just be.” She adds, “That is totally priceless.”

The future of turbo relationships

But what about the future? Does this extreme and intense bonding mean couples are more likely to stay together further down the line? Or have they just fast-tracked to the breakup phase?

Obviously, this is a situation relationship therapists haven’t seen before, and they’re learning as they go. But Peter has a theory. “My hunch is that they’ve got very solid foundations and there’ll be more strength in their relationship to manage difficult times. I think for many of them, they’ll be less likely to break up in the future.”

“It’s ultimately been a positive test with some high-pressured situations”

And even when ‘normal life’, whatever that may look like, resumes, Peter says turbo couples will be inclined to look back on this time very fondly. “As the fantasy period they’ve had starts moving into normal life, you’re both going to be doing things again. But because they’ve had a time that was really good and special, they’re likely to privilege that.”

One of the most common issues he sees in the counselling room is that couples don’t have enough time for each other. “You actually need time to build your relationship. So if you’ve had that during lockdown thought, ‘this is the best thing since sliced bread’, then actually you’re going to privilege that and choose to spend time with your partner instead of seeing friends every weekend, or doing the jobs you thought you had to do.”

Sara is most excited to make plans together with her partner and their friends, both individually and separately, now lockdown is easing. “We’re adapting to life together as a long-term couple,” she says. “While this has been stressful at time, it’s ultimately been a positive test with some high-pressured situations (and being stuck in a very confined environment) so we’d both feel confident to continue. I’m not sure what the long-term plan is exactly yet but I’m excited to see.”

Lillie says she is really pleased she moved in early with her partner, and that the future looks bright for their relationship. “There’s also talks of a dog… and potentially moving a little bit out of London. We’re both waiting to see what our respective companies working situations will be as lockdown begins to ease.”

And for Amy, who is looking forward to being able to go and do stuff and “come back with tales from the outside world”, the future of her turbo relationship remains bright. “We officially moved all of his stuff in last week and handed his keys back to his landlady. And the wedding is planned for next year! I am 100 per cent glad we made the decision to move in together. He’s the best person I’ve ever met (and he’s REALLY good at DIY).”