Living together with your partner isn’t as easy as test driving a car, no matter how many times this metaphor is tossed around. Although living together before marriage—or, increasingly, in lieu of marriage—is more common now than ever before, that doesn’t mean it’s easier.
Living together is a huge step, largely because most couples see this as a ride-or-die decision. After all, it’s pretty easy to “take a break” or be more fluid with your relationship when you have your very distinct, different places to retreat to. When you live together, you instantly entangle yourselves in each other’s lives. It’s not so simple to break up, but of course, you don’t want to stay together just because it’s convenient.
Deciding to live together requires some deep discussions, but these will be a little different for every couple. For instance, if there are pets involved, there will need to be discussions about how to introduce them to one another (there are veterinary-approved best practices for this) or your separate rules and ideas on how pets should behave in the house.
Can they sleep on the bed with you? Are you worried that your partner won’t be as diligent about keeping your indoor-only cat, well, indoors? Pets are just one variable that might not be relevant to every situation but is certainly demanding of a discussion for those with fur babies.
Starting the Living Together Discussion
There’s no doubt that you’ll talk about living together with your partner before it happens—but are you having the right discussions? Living together can be a blast at times, but it’s not like a friends-with-benefits relationship turned into a roommates-with-benefits relationship (or at least it shouldn’t be!).
Couples like talking about the fun parts of living together and fantasizing (together and separately) about what it will be like. However, those aren’t the parts you need to discuss and dwell on. Enjoy the good parts as they come, but take time before you sign a lease to really dig into the nitty gritty.
When you have this discussion, try to do so in neutral territory and well before you start looking for potential new homes. This might be while taking a walk or a drive and at a time when neither of you are distracted. You don’t need to make a formal announcement about “the talk” but you do need to be certain you’re both taking it seriously.
Get it in Writing
A lot of people shy away from having any sort of living together contract with someone they actually know—whether it’s a friend or a romantic partner. However, this can save you a lot of trouble, and potentially money, down the road. Discussing how you plan to approach living together is one thing, but memories can get foggy. Writing down a contract that includes details like how much each person pays (rent, utilities, etc.), who is the actual person paying each bill and how transfer of funds will be happening and any details on how the deposits will be split.
Finances are a relatively easy task to discuss, albeit one of the more important ones. Discussions get interesting when you start talking about basic everyday practices like how dishes and other household chores will be handled.
Do you actually need to put in writing who will take out the trash or clean the litter box? In many cases, yes, and in the best-case scenario, it simply wouldn’t hurt. One of the quickest ways to build resentment is by feeling like your partner isn’t carrying their weight and that they’re taking you for granted.
Fix Problems Before the Move
Some couples find that these discussions lead to a realization that they aren’t seemingly compatible in their values or lifestyle. That’s when discord occurs, but that doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be together (or live together!). What it does mean is that it might be time to find a mediator.
Any couple serious enough to be thinking about living together can benefit from couple’s counseling. Just like any other issue (such as your physical health), preventing problems before they arise is the best approach. One way to do this with your relationship is by working with a therapist who can help you each identify the kind of partner you are, the kind you’d like to be, communication strategies, and how to approach living together in a healthy way.
So, now that you have a written contract and are on the road to a better relationship with the help of a counselor, what’s next? Remember that this contract should always be open to change, just like your relationship.
What you decide before moving in together might radically shift once you’re actually in a home with your partner. Maybe you’ll realize that one of you really doesn’t mind doing the laundry while another person somewhat enjoys weeding or vacuuming. There will be instances where you find natural compliments to your partner that you didn’t realize prior to living together, and you can change your contract to reflect this.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It’s often said that the habits and quirks you find “cute” when you first start dating are ultimately what will drive you mad. Living together can quickly speed up this fact, and once you’re under the same roof, you’ll probably discover some habits of your partner that drive you batty.
Repressing it won’t necessarily help. What does help is talking about it. As children, it’s our parents’ job to teach us re-regulation skills but that’s something that’s a continued practice throughout our life. Talking to your partner and asking them (kindly) to adjust their habit if possible is one option. If that isn’t feasible, you’ll need to explore other options to re-regulate yourself when those “quirks” pop up.
In the end, talking to your partner is the key throughout your relationship. However, “talking” can mean many things since everyone has different communication styles. Getting things in writing helps cement them and gives you something to go back to. Also remember that in an era where multitasking is king, it’s easy to think you talked to your partner when you actually talked to them—while they tuned out.
Framing important conversations in a way that lets your partner know all attention is required is the first step in any critical talk. It’s the first step in living together in peace and harmony, but it also needs to be included throughout every important conversation even after the big move.