Ready To Move In Together?
Cohabitation: An unromantic word for what should be a romantic move. Here's how to smooth the transition while steering around the inevitable bumps in the road.
y wife and I have been married and living together for more than seven years, and we know each other pretty well. It was a different story when we first moved in together, though. The person with whom we’d decided to spend our lives turned out to have a few strange habits that had gone unnoticed during courtship. I’m sure this is as nature intends: Would we move so eagerly toward marriage and cohabitation if we knew the whole gory truth about each other on the first date?
My wife was surprised to find out, for instance, that I can eat anything at any time of day. She
would go to the fridge when we were newlyweds to find that I’d already eaten that night’s dinner. She didn’t know living with me was a primeval fight for life, in which she’d be snatching scraps from my maw to survive.
|The highway of failed relationships is littered with uncapped toothpaste tubes.|
That’s living together, though. The highway of failed relationships is littered with uncapped toothpaste tubes, dirty dishes left in the sink, and toilet seats withering in their upright position; they’re the road signs of inconsiderateness. A little time preparing for cohabitation can save you and your future mate a lot of time spent angry.
To do: Talk about that to-do list
Katie Medicus, LCSW, has been counseling individuals and couples for seven years. It’s important, she says, to negotiate roles up front. “One of the biggies that can lead to resentment that people don’t talk about is a simple thing: housekeeping.”
Paul and Klaira McIntire have known each other for more than 12 years. They were friends for eight years, dated for three and a half, and have been married and living together for a year. Still, despite their history, sorting out the chores and the bill was an adjustment. “We’re both on top of getting those things done,” says Paul, “but we like to handle them at different times. Being the slightly impatient person I am, I had to get used to that.”
Watch and learn
Paying attention to your partner’s habits before you move in together can prevent unfortunate surprises. If you’re a neat freak but your partner is a slob, moving in together isn’t going to change that; instead, it’s going to exaggerate the differences.
Klaira didn’t wait until after the wedding to see what Paul would be like around the house. “I definitely thought a lot about what it would be like
to live together,” she says. “I paid particular attention to Paul’s perspective toward his living situations, including cleanliness and decorative style, or lack thereof.”
When it comes to helping her clients sort out the problems of day-to-day life with each other, Medicus relies on the classic: the pros-and-cons list. “I usually write it down with them,” she says. “A lot of us have a lot of stuff floating around in our heads, but to see it written down is a whole different thing.”
You may know that your partner is messy or loud, or likes to sleep until 2 p.m., but unless you sort out your feelings about his or her daily habits at home, you can’t be frank about your needs.
Paul was concerned about the freedom to play guitar whenever he wanted and to stay up as late as he wanted, for instance. “The thought wasn’t that she would restrict me from those things but that I would have to sacrifice them in order to meet in the middle.”
“When you leave the toilet seat up, it makes me feel…”
Little gestures make big statements when you’re sharing space. Putting away someone else’s dirty dishes may not be a hardship, but the
anger we can feel about that isn’t about the dishes, per se.
|Little gestures make big statements when you’re sharing space.|
“The typical ‘leaving the toilet seat up’ complaint is not about the toilet seat,” says Medicus. “It’s feeling like your wants and needs are not being heard.”
Discuss your willingness to change and make compromises before you load up the moving van. Be honest with yourself about what you can live with, and be honest with your partner. Ultimately, it’s our willingness to honor each other’s needs that make us good partners.
It’s all about the Benjamins
Having a partner who leaves the dishes in the sink can be infuriating, but having a partner who forgets to pay bills can be damaging in more ways than one. There’s nothing like the chest-tightening worry of money issues to bring out the claws in a relationship.
Establish up front whether the two of you will combine finances and who will be responsible for which bills. Not all married couples share accounts, and not all cohabitating couples keep them separate.
Whether you combine your finances or not, there are going to be compromises — and when it comes to money, they can be difficult.
“My biggest challenge has been in how we view spending, saving and fund allocation,” says Klaira. “It was definitely a challenge to relinquish some of the high level of control I had on spending and budgeting to then incorporate another perspective.”
Taking on another perspective is both the burden and beauty of sharing our lives and our homes with someone else. We learn from each other and enrich each other. I’ve adjusted, for instance, from a bachelor’s bearlike diet, in which I foraged and feasted at will, to a more refined and regular intake. On the flip side, my wife gets to enjoy some food from time to time, so it seems to be working out.
Seth Wharton is a writer who lives in New York City with his wife of seven years and their two cats. In addition to doling out invaluable relationship guidance, he writes fiction.