Written By: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Moving-in with a partner is a huge step and transition in any relationship. Whether you have been dating for many years, you are already engaged, or if you have only been together for a matter of months, moving-in with your partner can be exciting, stressful, and eye-opening. While many couples report that moving-in together was a positive experience overall, many also discuss the additional stressors that were added onto the relationship once they moved-in together. When living separately, couples can worry less about finances, budgeting, cleanliness, and other domestic duties. Each individual is coming into the relationship with different values and ideas about how to handle these issues as well as other expectations about the relationship. There are two necessary steps in cohabitation: discussing and setting expectations before moving-in together and compromising.
Before moving-in together, it is important to discuss some of the “hard stuff”, such as finances, expectations regarding sex, how to ask for alone time, and domestic duties, such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and so forth. While these can be re-negotiated throughout the relationship, it is important to begin these conversations before signing a lease or putting a down-payment on a home. Some of these topics may not have been issues before when you saw each other 3-4 nights a week, since you each had built in time for yourselves, paid your lease and utilities elsewhere, and took care of your own homes.
The best way to begin talking about expectations is to set aside time when you are both available, write out a list of topics, such as “money, sex, cleaning, cooking, personal space”, and go through each one. Each of you can discuss how you have been operating before, either living alone or with roommates, and whether or not you want to continue that method. For example, if when living with roommates you had a chore chart for cleaning, and that was an easy way to make sure everyone did their part, then that could be recommended. It is important to discuss what each of your budgets are for rent (or a mortgage) as well as how much money you want to be spending on cable/ internet, groceries, and so forth. One person may want to spend more money on groceries if they cook more or bring their lunches to work every day, when another may be less inclined to spend as much on groceries because they get free meals through work or they don’t enjoy cooking. It is important to discuss not only your budget, but also your priorities when it comes to spending money. Does one of you think it’s worth it to hire a cleaning person to come twice a month when the other would rather spend that money on a more expensive cable package? Are you a saver or a spender? Talking about money can be difficult for many couples, but it is important to open the dialogue before taking the step to live together.
Another topic to approach before cohabitating is expectations regarding cleanliness and other domestic duties. You do not necessarily need to have a chore chart figured out before the move, but it is necessary to discuss how much each of you values and prioritizes having a clean home and how duties will be delegated or compromised on. One partner may hate doing dishes but does not mind doing laundry. One partner may find cooking soothing and therapeutic while the other one wouldn’t mind getting take-out every night. It may be helpful to discuss how things were done in your home growing up and whether or not your parents shared domestic duties, or one of them took most of the duties on. Discussing your home growing up can then lead to a dialogue about what you liked or didn’t like about your parents’ style of splitting tasks. The most important thing is to keep the dialogue open and honest. Avoiding these topics does not mean avoiding an argument.
Other topics that should be touched on are sex and personal space. When discussing sex, you do not need to say a number of times a week you want to have it; it is important to discuss it in terms of what it means to you in the relationship. For example, one partner may see it as their favorite way of expressing love and intimacy while the other partner may not put as much meaning or value in it. In the same way one may value sex more than the other, one may value personal or alone time more than the other. Depending on where you fall on the introvert / extrovert scale, or how stressful your job is, each of you may require different amounts of time by yourself. Respecting each other’s alone time and personal space is important not only for the individual asking for it, but also for the relationship. Taking time for yourself for your own relaxation and self-care is very healthy for the relationship.
Discussing these topics before moving-in together does not promise that it will never come up or be an issue again. However, it can be preventative for future disagreements, and it also teaches your partner what your priorities and values are in the relationship. Reflecting on these topics ahead of time plants the seed in the relationship that tough topics can be discussed and navigated when both partners are open and curious.
If you are interested in discussing cohabitation with your partner in therapy, reach out to Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with a therapist.