Deciding to cohabitate entails considerable stress, especially if you’ve lived solo for a significant amount of time. You’re used to your routine. Now you have another person to think about when you run to the store for milk or head out on the town with the guys.
Wondering how to move in smoothly with your loved one? Here’s what you should keep in mind to survive and thrive during the transition.
1. Identify Your Needs and Wants
It may sound cliché, but before you can genuinely love another, you have to love yourself first. I won’t pretend to supersede the expertise of psychologists. However, I will say that knowing yourself is critical before you cohabitate.
As someone who identifies as an incontrovertible introvert, I cherish my alone time. My SO is more outgoing. Before moving in together, I needed to make sure they understood how much personal time means to me. I may look like I’m merely kicking back reading a novel, but on the inside, I’m self-soothing. I get touchy if I don’t have “me” time.
Before you move forward, take an honest look in the mirror. What habits drive you crazy? If the sight of dishes with food bits on them in the sink makes you see red, you need to communicate that. It’s not fair to your partner when you explode and say, “Would it be that hard to rinse your plate and put it in the dishwasher?”
No, it wouldn’t be that hard. But it would be way easier if you had talked about it ahead of time.
2. Sort Your Stuff Together
Unless you plan on trying to cram two bedroom sets into one master suite, you have some decisions to make on what to do with your stuff. Maybe your SO has a dining room table while you use a card table with a plastic cloth on top. Maybe you need to host a hardcore yard sale or list items on Craigslist.
Whatever your situation, make it a joint effort. Also, take photos and measurements once you find your new space. Maybe you don’t want to part with your monster-sized entertainment center, but if it stands 9 feet tall and you have 8-foot ceilings, Houston, you have a problem.
3. Have the Financial Discussion Early
Money is one of the top perpetrators behind relationship problems. Since cohabitation entails merging your bills, at least somewhat, it’s critical to have the financial discussion early. For example, if you plan to buy a house together, you need to decide how much home you can afford with both your incomes.
You also need to make arrangements for how you’ll handle payments if one of you loses your job or falls ill. Renting requires even more of an emergency fund in a way. While you can miss a mortgage payment without necessarily landing on the street, some landlords are quick with late fees and eviction notices.
You’ll need to decide how to split the remaining expenses as well. If one of you has a significantly higher income, it makes sense for that individual to pay more. The same goes if one of you is burdened with excess debt while the other has little. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules — if you’re more comfortable going 50/50 with everything, that’s your prerogative.
4. Identify Problematic Habits
Be honest. You have some habits you’d rather keep private. Guess what? When you cohabitate, there’s no such thing as picking your nose anonymously — your partner will eventually catch you in the act. While some habits only raise eyebrows, scientists identified four practices that can annoy your partner the most:
• Chewing loudly: Some people do have a psychological trigger that makes them particularly acute to the sound of other people eating. I can relate. I’m a one-kernel-at-a-time popcorn snacker. My SO shovels massive handfuls in at one time. While I’ve learned to thank theaters for their darkness, I cringe every time I witness it.
• Bragging about yourself: Few people want to spend time with someone who’s self-obsessed. You want your SO to celebrate your accomplishments with you, but don’t toot your horn too loudly.
• Staring at your phone: Would you do the same if a boss or colleague was speaking with you? Show your partner the same respect by showing a little restraint during conversations and meals.
• Wasting money: Unless you’re Jeff Bezos, your SO probably won’t appreciate you raiding the joint savings account to buy a Porsche. Plus, while holiday car ads look enticing, they probably won’t feel grateful if that new ride tied in a bow comes with a $500 monthly bill.
5. Divvy up Household Chores
Guys, you might not want to hear this, but your job is not to “help” your partner. You’re both grown adults with an equal stake in and responsibility for the household chores. Pro tip: If your SO has to remind you to do the dishes, you’ve already failed.
Even when women are the breadwinners in a relationship, they still get the lioness’s share of the household chores. This dynamic isn’t fair, and it breeds resentment that can compromise your relationship.
Discuss which tasks each of you will tackle — and then do them before she has to prompt you to get to it. I can tell you from personal experience that this simple act alone will improve harmony between you.
6. Learn How to Disagree Peacefully
You stopped at the convenient store on the way home, and the clerk tossed the paper towels in a plastic sack before you could protest. When you arrive home, your SO goes on a Greta Thunberg-esque rant about your lack of environmental consciousness.
Everyone has disagreements from time to time. Learning to do so productively can keep your relationship from self-destructing once you cohabitate. Psychologists agree that contempt is the kiss of death in romantic love. It involves seeing your partner as beneath you, rather than as an equal.
If your SO does something that drives you up the wall, wait until you’re both calm and rational to discuss it.
7. Smooth Out Schedule Conflicts
Sometimes, schedule conflicts cause few problems when you live separately but create significant issues once you move in together. If you have to rise at 3 a.m. for work, and your partner sleeps lightly, your alarm could make it impossible for them to get back to sleep. Even if they could catch Zs in an active combat zone, it’s not polite to slam doors and stomp.
As with most things, communication remains critical. Establish a weekly check-in where you discuss your schedules from the upcoming week. That way, if you have a crucial presentation on Wednesday morning, they know not to stay up late playing Guitar Hero on Tuesday night.
8. Expect Changes in Intimacy
Maybe your standing Friday night date always included some intimate time between the sheets. Don’t expect the same scenario when you move in together. Some Fridays, you’ll both come home from cyclone-like weeks where you’re simply too tired to get frisky.
Problems arise when you start viewing cohabitation as a trial run for marriage — try to avoid this mindset. When you do, you psychologically set yourself up to fail. Extricating yourself from a five-year cohabitation is every bit as painful as a divorce, so treat living together like the milestone it is.
If you find you’re no longer getting your physical needs met, talk to your partner about how to encourage more togetherness. Exercise sensitivity. Chances are, you don’t feel too sparky when you’re stressed out at work or under the weather, either.
9. Start Assimilating Your Pets
If you and your partner both have pets, the two-legged creatures aren’t the only ones who will have an adjustment period. Your four-legged friends will need to get used to living together, too. They probably already know both of your scents, as well as those of their new housemates by association, but you’ll still need to give them time.
If you have dogs, arrange for them to meet in a neutral location, like a park. You can take them for mutual walks to let them acclimate to each other’s company. If you have feline friends, keep them in separate rooms at first and let them sniff each other through closed doors.
Always provide ample litter boxes — preferably one for each cat. It’s wise to bring the box from the old house to give them a sense of comfort.
10. Establish a Separate Personal Space
I’d probably lose my mind if I didn’t have my office to retreat to every day. Even if you’re the kind of couple who wears matching sweaters at holiday time, you need a place you can call yours.
If you’re sharing a studio apartment, you might only reserve a corner that you separate with a screen. If you can shut out the world by donning noise-canceling headphones while you practice yoga, you’re set.
11. Create a Ritual to Cement Your New Bond
After the heavy lifting of moving couches is over, take time to celebrate this new milestone together. It doesn’t matter if you throw a housewarming party complete with a caterer or merely split an inexpensive bottle of champagne in front of your new fireplace.
Perform a personalized ceremony to make your new space belong to you both.
Consider These 11 Tips as You Prepare
Keep these tips in mind as you plan your new life together. They might just save your sanity — and your relationship.