how to live together in a healthy way
June 3, 2010 8:52 AM   Subscribe

lovers moving in together filter: looking for some practical tips.

my love and i are moving in together after 9 months of official loving due to want and practical considerations (long side story). we've been best friends for 3 years. i'm a city kid and have always walked/biked or public transportation.ed to work. she lives 15 minutes by car from the city, 5 minutes by car from a metro that takes 30 minutes to get into the city.

i am moving into a house that she has lived in for a number of years. she wants to redo the bedroom and start furniture/art from scratch together. we want to make a list of things that we do when we're not together (we currently have off nights, etc.) and make promises and a schedule to make sure that we continue to do them (being really intentional has actually worked well for us). to see friends independently, etc.

that's what we know.

i've never lived with a partner that i knew that i wanted to be with for as long as i could see looking forward. i've only made choices to live with people after i knew things were already going the wrong direction. i'm guessing many of you have done that before.

so i guess i am unsure of what to do/plan for/what tools or things that we can do as a couple to make living together strong and healthy. any advice would be greatly greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Cooking / eating meals together regularly.
posted by ghharr at 8:58 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Buy a comforter one size bigger than your mattress. Solves a good 50% of relationship problems right there. ;) (But seriously, do it. You'll thank me.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2010 [24 favorites]

The bigger the bed, the happier the relationship.
posted by meerkatty at 9:01 AM on June 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

Buy a comforter one size bigger than your mattress. Solves a good 50% of relationship problems right there. ;) (But seriously, do it. You'll thank me.)

Heck, buy your own separate comforters. Even better.
posted by nat at 9:05 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Never go to bed with an argument still festering. It's an old chestnut, but true nonetheless.

Oh, and mentally reappraise every 3 months whether you're taking your SO for granted. Or they you.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Never leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight. Be generous with the duvet. When you both come home from work, allow yourselves some decompression time. Make sure you both eat regular meals and remember the acronym HALT - hungry, angry, lonely, tired: if you are any of these, there will perhaps be a fight. Discuss your expectations. Figure out where you absolutely cannot compromise, or where you need to draw the line, and make sure that's okay with them. This applies to everything - how much alone time you need, what TV shows you both want to watch, whether or not she expects you to go to bed at the same time as her whenever possible, etc. Communicate. Then communicate more. Maintain space. Stick to the schedule you make for housecleaning, but forgive deviations from it. Do everything in goodf faith and always assume good faith on the part of your significant other.

If you really want the secret to cohabitation summed up in one sentence, it is this: Ask much of yourself and forgive much in others. Remember that, and you'll do all right.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:06 AM on June 3, 2010 [30 favorites]

Never go to bed with an argument still festering. It's an old chestnut, but true nonetheless

No, no, no, no, no. My partner and I have found repeatedly over the years that continuing to fight/discuss something difficult when we're both getting tireder and tireder is bad. Taking a break, getting a good night's sleep, and taking it up again when we're fresh has often resolved in a moment or two something that we could easily have kept hammering at, getting more and more emotional, for hours the night before.
posted by not that girl at 9:11 AM on June 3, 2010 [21 favorites]

16year relationship here....

Have to find that balance between intimacy and privacy, which is different for each couple and changes over time, but, I find having both is pretty important in our culture.

There are, of course, a lot of compromises that go into a successful LT relationship the important thing with this is to keep those as balanced as possible, which requires a decent amount of communications.

Also important is being able to let go of grudges and small things within a reasonable amount of time.

Make time to do and see new interesting things, shared experiences are vital to relationships.
posted by edgeways at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Discuss your expectations. Figure out where you absolutely cannot compromise, or where you need to draw the line, and make sure that's okay with them.

Yeah, this. Also important: Recognize that your SO is his/her own person, and as such has his/her own habits and customs and practices and preferences, and adhering to these things after the initial adjustment period of living together should be seen as a good sign, as an indication that your SO feels at home around you, rather than as a sign that you are being ignored or taken for granted.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

One of the things we've been most successful with was discussing which chores we absolutely loathed and if the other person was willing to take them on or not. An equitable division of labor. So I make the grocery list and menu for the week, and he cooks. I do laundry, he takes out the trash, etc.

Putting the other person before yourself is a general kindness. But something like asking "can I eat your leftover Chinese?" or "would you like the last Oreo?" can prevent little petty grudges.

Also discuss what is important to you but unimportant to the other. We keep our finances separate (which is a whole other AskMe) so knowing that I care about a land line (so I pay the phone bill) versus what cable package we have (him) then assigns responsibility. If the cable's out, he calls, if the phone's out that's on me.

Discuss beforehand if there are little traditions "always done it this way" things, and if they're open for negotiation. Which way you put the toilet paper on the roll might be a big deal, it might not. (For him yes, for me, meh.) You'll learn these as time goes on, but being able to just freaking talk about things openly is key to preventing a slow simmer of anger that then turns into a major blow out, seemingly about how much pulp is in your orange juice but turns into being about being able to communicate.

So at the heart of all of that, just talk to each other. Constantly. Be open and truthful and be friends first. Communication will get you through so much more than anything else will.
posted by librarianamy at 9:33 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Make sure that you do continue to see friends independently as you suggest, even if it will be harder for you now that you don't live in the city. (I assume that's the case based on your description). It's really easy to just stay home all the time especially when your best friend is right there. A year or two goes by and you find that you don't actually have any independent friends anymore. Ask me how I know.
posted by cabingirl at 9:34 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Agree with not that girl, but take it a step further. Don't even start an argument in the bedroom, let alone in bed. Keep that as a safe space to be loving and feel comfortable.

Take walks together on a regular basis. (Don't settle for driving or something else that will distract you.) You'll be in motion and in a neutral context, which is the best time to bring up any concerns that you want to tackle together. This also works for most difficult situations, not just with a partner.

Above all, you are a team. Since you're looking for living-together best practices as a couple, I think you're off to a good start.
posted by tantivy at 9:38 AM on June 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Before moving in together, discuss the following:

How you'll handle money stuff--rent, groceries, other shared expenses plus individual expenses. Do you have the right to be concerned with how the other runs their financial life? Will you have any joint accounts? Does she own the house? If so, you might want to draw up in writing an agreement about what you're paying, whether it's considered rent or not. Find out what tenant's laws might apply in your area. NOLO is a good resource for this.

How you'll handle chores. Who does inside chores? Who does outside chores? What chores do you hate and which ones do you not mind doing? Will you wash laundry together or separately? What are your individual expectations of cleanliness?

Sex. Living together can change the frequency and style with which you have sex. Be committed to talking it through.

Privacy. What are your privacy concerns? Will you share a computer? Is it ok to use the other's computer? Open each other's mail? Answer each other's calls? How much privacy do you want in the bathroom?

Fights. How do you want to resolve them? Do you want to never go to bed angry or take a break to sleep? There's no right answer here as long as you both agree.

What does this step mean to you? Is it a step towards a greater commitment, maybe marriage, or something you want to try out before you think about that? Be specific about this--it's really amazing the different expectations you might have and not even realize it.

Good luck! My fiance and I moved in together a year ago, and it has been the best experience of my life. He's objectively the best roommate I've ever had, and it's made our relationship really strong. I truly think that discussing all of the above before we lived together made the transition very easy.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:50 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's good that you're being intentional about continuing to do independent stuff when you move in together. May I add: you should make an effort to be intentional about how you spend (at least some) of your time together. When you live with someone, it's really easy to get into a rut where you just "hang out" when you're together. Since you don't really need to plan a date or make a decision about what you will be doing together (like you had to when you weren't living together) it's really really easy to just... stop planning anything.

This isn't a big deal until suddenly one or both of you wake up and think, "man, I'm totally bored in my relationship and don't really look forward to seeing anonymous anymore. I wonder if we should break up?"
posted by iminurmefi at 9:53 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, no, no, no, no. My partner and I have found repeatedly over the years that continuing to fight/discuss something difficult when we're both getting tireder and tireder is bad.

I think you're misunderstanding me here. The point is to stop arguing, not to keep arguing into the small hours like trade union officials until one side concedes, and to kiss and make up before going to bed.

Half the time you've forgotten what the argument was about and the rest of the time the issue is either unimportant or - as you say - you've got a different take on things by morning.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2010

nthing the "buy a comforter one size larger than the bed".

You don't need to have an equal division of chores; what you need is a feeling of parity in chores. My wife and basically split it down the middle as I clean, she cooks. We're not terribly strict about it, but we both feel like we're contributing about as much as the other person is, and that avoids fights and resentment. We also both constantly check whether that feeling of parity is still there, and are willing to err on the side of doing too much rather than too little.

Also, before every contentious issue, large or small, take a moment to think how important it is to you that you get your way on that issue. A lot of avoidable conflict comes, not from feeling like an issue is important, but from feeling that it's important not to lose. If a quick gut check tells you that you don't really care how the dishwasher is loaded, then it's easy to say "we'll do it how you want it done." This isn't to say that you should minimize your feelings or not stand up for yourself; it's to say that you should always have a pretty clear idea about what's important to you and what's not. Charity in small things goes a long way towards domestic peace. Also, if your partner sees you doing this--calmly judging an issue's importance rather than just trying to get your own way on principle--it gives you a lot of credibility when you do say "no, this is important to me."
posted by fatbird at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

Figure out finances ahead of time. Having a plan that defines who pays for what will help prevent a large number of arguments/misunderstandings.
posted by tryniti at 9:59 AM on June 3, 2010

Also, go to excessive lengths to make sure that you both get a good night's sleep--listen to complaints of snoring, of blanket stealing, of sprawling and noise and temperature, and do whatever's possible to alleviate those complaints and ensure you both sleep well.

Sleep deprivation is a pervasive problem that makes everything worse, and can spawn other issues and fights just because you're tired and cranky and irritable. Being well-rested makes everything easier.
posted by fatbird at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This may or may not be an issue for you...

Realize that it is more important to have a happy relationship than to win every argument. That doesn't mean you have to roll over every time there is a disagreement. Just make sure that the goal is to come to a common understanding that works for both of you, not to convince her that you are right. This is true of little things like leaving towels on the floor and much bigger things as well.

Giving up the need to be right was very difficult in every other relationship I have had (prior to my husband), which was probably a good indicator that those weren't the right relationships...
posted by jshort at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2010

Say thank you. A lot. Offer praise and compliments. A lot.

You don't have to be overly flowery or effusive, but thank her for little things like refilling your wine glass or grabbing you a napkin or picking up your favorite treat from the grocery store. Tell her that the dinner she cooked is delicious, and you love the color that she picked for the dining room. And so on.

And thank her for doing her chores and household projects. I know, I know, we're all adults, these things are a given, and nobody deserves a medal or a monument for taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher, but my husband and I still exchange quick thank-yous and moments of appreciation for those things every single day, and I attribute much of our day-to-day marital happiness to it. It ensures that we never feel taken for granted by the other, and that both of our work in running our lives and the household is noticed and valued.
posted by anderjen at 10:06 AM on June 3, 2010 [14 favorites]

Talk about the things you care about, room by room (including the yard). Examples include the way dishes are put in the cupboards and dishwasher, how towels are folded, how to deal with dirty laundry, and how "clean" is clean.

If these aren't issues for either of you, then life is good. If there are any habits either of you haven't realized that you really like or would feel odd if handled differently, now you both know. I speak from experience, as a rather carefree fellow with a more orderly and structured wife.

Also, my wife and I seem to go against the trend of "get a larger bed" - we've had a full-sized bed for so long that trying out queen beds feels like there is too much space (and we have three cats that like to share the bed with us). But I agree that you should get a larger comforter, and maybe sheets that are wide enough for extra space, even if you both enjoy close proximity all the time.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2010

Being in an LTR is sort of like having a car that you love. The more miles, the more minor annoyances (noises, rattles, etc.) come to one's attention. You need to develop a knack to figure out what needs to get fixed now, what needs to get fixed later, and what can be lived with.

In other words, choose your battles, and you can keep this car on the road.
posted by Danf at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Very quickly after you move in, you will see sides of your love that you did not know existed. This is a good thing, and all part of her.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:11 AM on June 3, 2010

Make sure that you do continue to see friends independently as you suggest, even if it will be harder for you now that you don't live in the city. (I assume that's the case based on your description). It's really easy to just stay home all the time especially when your best friend is right there. A year or two goes by and you find that you don't actually have any independent friends anymore. Ask me how I know.
posted by cabingirl at 9:34 AM on June 3 [1 favorite +] [!]

This is golden advice. It is also really really important to keep up independant activities and friend hangouts because if you let it slide for a year then make an effort to hang out with your friends independantly again, your partner may get suspicious and think you are digging someone else. (happened to me)
posted by WeekendJen at 11:52 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do everything in good faith and always assume good faith on the part of your significant other.

In my experience, this is vital. Living together with a real person means, in addition to all the delightful stuff, a lot of potential for thoughtlessness and irritation. If you take those irritations with the assumption that they're just human flaws in an otherwise lovable partner, you can address them without taking them as indications of taking you for granted/ selfishness/etc. Similarly, you can hear helpful reminders of your own flaws as what they are, not efforts to control/ demean you, etc.

Also, with my ex, we had a mutual distaste for cleaning and a different idea of what "clean" meant. Under the circumstances, hiring a cleaning service twice a month was the best money I ever spent.
posted by Clambone at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Read this thread, a previous attempt from 2008 at answering a very similar question.
posted by matildaben at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2010

Be willing to renegotiate. Something that seems wonderful and easy in month #1 might seem like a burden in month #6.
posted by hworth at 3:41 PM on June 3, 2010

nthing anderjen's comment: one of the nicest things my husband does is not just thanking me for little things I do, but every day, sometimes more than once, he'll stop and say something like, "I'm so lucky to have you; you cook me dinner and rub my back and make me laugh" and whatever else I might have just done to inspire the comment. I do the same thing for him. It's really sweet because it's more than just an in-the-moment thank you; he'll stop whatever he's doing for a moment and he always remembers a couple other things on top of whatever I've just done. It makes me feel valued and appreciated, so sometimes even when I don't feel like cooking or doing chores it's easier to do them knowing that it will make him happy.

Speaking of which, nthing the "parity of chores" thing. My husband works and I'm unemployed and we don't have children, so it would be unfair to him if we split chores down the middle. Instead, I do all the cooking and chores except take out the trash and recycling. It's also my responsibility to stay on top of errands, grocery lists, and anything you'd put on a calendar, so he doesn't have to keep track of anything. I also have to plan our leisure time, which can be anything as simple as managing our Netflix queue or figuring out something new for us to do that weekend, or figuring out vacation stuff; that works out well for us because he genuinely likes the stuff I pick for us to do, but this sort of thing just varies from couple to couple. We split money responsibility about equally: he does the actual bill-paying but I work out whatever we need to save for; he feels the money is "ours" instead of his and is very generous with it and consults me about things, but I feel the money is slightly more "his" and he's responsible with money so I don't worry if he buys something frivolous here and there. Dealing with money is really dependent on both your attitudes and level of responsibility with money; if my husband wasn't responsible with money, or if I felt more entitled to it, for example, our system wouldn't work so well and we'd have to change it. And that would be okay.

The point is, you just have to strike a balance you're both comfortable with; we can suggest lots of systems or tricks but ultimately it's going to depend on how you both feel. Honestly I feel like I have a pretty sweet deal with my husband (my friends have jokingly called me a "courtesan") but he LOVES his job so he doesn't feel resentful of me for being able to stay at home -- not to mention if he hated his job I would feel awful about not working, too. Earlier in our relationship I made more money than him for a while, so I would take us nice places and pay for everything because I was comfortable doing that. Some people would feel used or something, but on both our parts gratitude has gone a long way. Both of these arrangements we've had might look or feel extremely unbalanced to someone on the outside, but we honestly never gave them much thought; we've always sort of unconsciously pooled our resources to do as many things together as possible. Other couples like more space or independence and that's just as workable with different systems. Things like that make a difference so what works for one couple won't work for another, and what works right now might not work later down the line when your circumstances change. Just always discuss what you feel is fair and try to be generous toward each other.
posted by Nattie at 6:30 PM on June 3, 2010

See my q here....
posted by lalochezia at 10:14 PM on June 3, 2010


You will fight, probably over stupid stuff like where you should put dishes while they're drying or whether or not windows should be open or closed. You might actually fight over this stuff repeatedly! For months or maybe for forever! As long as it stays a relatively small portion of your interactions, you will be fine. And every once in a while, remember that it's funny.

I would tell you how my partner and I make it work but our flaws are our flaws, our strategies are our strategies. I do have the good feeling that will love the hell out of each other and kiss each other and make it work in your own idiosyncratic couple way. You try to have that confidence too, okay? Push through the harder times knowing that it will work.

Oh and high standards from the beginning are the way to go--you can always relax later on, so insist that she rinse the sink out after she brushes her teeth if you know it will bug you. You don't want to be flipping out about it 4 months from now.

Also, purchase a dishwasher if you fight about dishes. Even a small one is sooooo worth it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:19 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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