So you’re thinking about living with your significant other? Making the decision to live with your partner is a big step. What if you start to argue all the time? What if their habits that used to seem cute just annoy you after a while? What if you even break up? But… what if things are great? And you love them even more? Whatever eventually happens, this choice requires solid thought and communication with your partner before the big move. There are various studies out there that both support and critique the concept of unmarried couples living together–sadly, many of them are based on the concept that couples will eventually get married, another concept that is slowly changing. I have friends who have lived with almost every partner they’ve dated, I have ones who will consider making the move if they’re engaged, and still others not comfortable living with their partner until marriage. As someone who balances between these extremes, I have had my share of cohabitation disasters–but I think many of the problems we encountered came down to a lack of education about healthy relationship behaviors around living with partners successfully. My first experience was awkward; I was young, and my then boyfriend controlled me. I was unaware of what constituted as healthy, positive behavior in a relationship, especially as they apply to living with someone. It took many bumps along the way and a few relationships for me to learn not only how to be a good partner, but also a good roommate. Hopefully, the lessons I learned below will help if you consider cohabitating with your S.O.
1. Do It for the Right Reasons
The first time I attempted this cohabitation thing, my motivation was just getting out of my parent’s house. Sure, I cared for my partner, but living with him was less about “taking the next step” and more about my own freedom. The decision to move in together should be thoroughly discussed beforehand so that you and your partner are on the same page. It may seem like an easy and logical step when you’re already spending so much time together, but it’s more than just sharing space; it’s also sharing your time, your finances, your belongings, and your energy. If your main reason for living together is based on convenience (i.e. you seriously hate your current living sitch, your rent is too high, or you get lonely), then first consider other options (like getting your own place, switching jobs, or getting a pet). Make sure you’re moving in together because you’re absolutely ready to take your relationship to a new level of closeness–literally and figuratively.
2. Be Honest About Finances
Discuss your budget. Make sure you and your partner both feel comfortable with the amount you both plan to spend each month. If you feel like you can’t be open and honest with your partner, that’s a sign something might be off. Things do not magically work themselves out eventually. If you’re feeling a bit disorganized or confused about finding a happy medium, then it’s a good idea to sit down together and go over your monthly income, expenses, and how payment of rent, bills, even small things like toilet paper and paper towels, will be handled. This will help mitigate situations down the line if there’s a hiccup. Also, make a plan for what will happen if either of you loses your source of income and how you’ll support each other through that time. But being honest does not mean that you should hand over all financial control to one partner, nor does it give either of you the right to secretly check bank accounts or make controlling demands about how personal money is spent. Be truthful if one of you doesn’t have enough money to pay a bill when it is due. Discuss a solution to the problem and how to prevent it in the future. This does not give either of you permission to harshly judge one another about not having money. Finances can be a major player in ending relationships, but with the right communication, you can leave that awkwardness in the dust.
3. Set up Systems
Much like finances, keeping up your new space doesn’t magically work itself out either. Equality in a relationship is of utmost importance, and if you feel like you and your partner aren’t contributing equally, have a conversation about it. If you feel like you can’t discuss it for fear of being belittled or not taken seriously, then that could be a sign something isn’t quite right. Do not assume that one partner will handle all the responsibilities like laundry, paying bills, cooking, and dishes because this can build stress and resentment over time. (Seriously, trust me on this one.) Talk about who will handle certain chores and set up a system as soon as you move in together – maybe even before you get the keys to your new place. Keep your personal schedules in mind, as well as your personal preferences for cleanliness (because those can definitely vary).
Pro Tip: A little bit of daily cleaning may be less stressful than one day of trying to get everything done, but as long as you and your partner find what works for you, that’s what’s important. You can incorporate a “chore wheel” or post a cleaning schedule on the fridge if you need to view the tasks to get them done. The same goes for grocery shopping and cooking – deciding who goes to the store when and whose turn it is to make dinner ahead of time will save plenty of time and headspace.
4. Make it Home
Since you’ll be sharing your space together, bring your personalities into it! This step is much easier when you move into a new place together, but when one of you moves in with the other, it can be a little more difficult to add your own touches. When I first moved into my partner’s house, I was a little overwhelmed by its history. This was the house he grew up in as a child, so it had family photos and design elements that could stand an update. After a little time, I felt uncomfortable in the house because everywhere I looked I could only see him; nothing of myself. I eventually began to buy or place little pieces of myself in every room: books, dishes, statues, candles. These were all great ways for me to feel less like a visitor and more like a resident. We’re now at a point where we are renovating the entire home, so it is becoming a joint effort of making the space uniquely ours. No matter where you live, be willing to discuss changes (big or small) and be flexible, expecting a few compromises along the way. The space should feel like a home for all parties involved.
5. Stay in and Get out
I get it. The whole point of living together is to be around each other even more, so staying in can feel perfectly natural all the time. But don’t forget to give each other space and keep up with folks and hobbies outside your new home. You are still individuals with your own sets of interests, so continue to make room for that. Don’t leave your friends behind – schedule trips out or invite them over to check out your new digs. This may not be as easy if one of you relocated to be with the other; in my case, I left the city to live in a new town, but there are plenty of ways to create time for just you. It took some time for me find local friends to hang out with; so in the interim, I took the opportunity to get to know the stores, cafes and public places of my area a little bit more. You should also make a point to still have date nights–even if you have to plan them ahead of time. It’s easy to fall into the habit of staying at home to Netflix and chill, but change it up every now and then and continue to enrich your relationship with new experiences.
More than anything, discussing living together should be as important as discussing marriage (or any kind of commitment ceremony, should you choose it) or children. It is a big step in developing a closer relationship and should be an exciting journey for both of you! It requires an open mind and heart, and a whole lot of patience, as you navigate some of the finer details of your shared lives. Don’t worry if your daily life together doesn’t look like someone else’s; as long as you continue to respect and trust each other, then you’ll be laughing about doing the dishes instead of arguing.