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August 1, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

My SO and I are giving cohabitation a lengthy and gradual trial period. What do I need to know?

My SO and I and gradually working toward living together. This will be a big change for me as it's my first time living with an SO. He is wonderfully patient and we've agreed that the transition can be as gradual as I want since I'm moving into his place. When we're both in town, I already sleep over there 3-4 times a week so while living together will be different, sharing domicile space isn't brand new. For a starting metric, right now I keep a toothbrush at his place.

This question has great general advice but I'm hoping for anecdota relevant to how gradual this will be.

What are you glad you found out/do you wish you found out in your early cohabitation days? Is there anything I should try out when I still have my house to retreat to (I don't even know what kinds of things those would be...)? How did you navigate having two houses as an adult- where to keep what, etc?
posted by thewestinggame to Human Relations (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
One of the best pieces of advice that started my cohabitation on the right foot was this: Pay close attention to sleep issues, and address them quickly and effectively.

The whole world seems shittier when you're sleeping badly, and that has a corrosive effect on your relationship, especially if the partner whose snoring is keeping you up doesn't seem interested in doing anything about it. Ask if there are issues; check every morning if there are. I've lived with my wife for four years now, and I still ask every day how she slept last night.

One obvious fix is to get a blanket one size larger than your bed. If you have a queen, get a king sized duvet; if you have a king, get two twins. Fighting over blankets can be a total non-issue.

If one partner is a light sleeper, custom earplugs are available from a local audiology clinic, and they're totally worth the money.
posted by fatbird at 4:46 PM on August 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

While you're still keeping two houses, how will you split costs? Will you each keep paying your own rent and utilities? If you get up to 6 days a week and most meals at his place, should you be paying some of his utilities? How about groceries? If you're going back to your place even occasionally you'll want to keep it stocked with basics like toilet paper and shampoo. Do you have housemates who'll expect you to continue to contribute your fair share of cleaning, regardless of how many days you're there? (If he has housemates I assume you're already talking to them).

Will you do laundry at his house, or carry dirty stuff home? Will you put your stuff in his dirty laundry basket for him to do, or do his laundry?

When you are moved in with him, how will you split costs? (Do either of you own? Will you split equity?).
posted by jacalata at 4:56 PM on August 1, 2012

As a piggyback to what fatbird said - think about getting 2 smaller blankets for the bed. Me and baniak sleep with separate blankets, and all is right with the world (because I am a blanket tornado and will steal ALL. THE. BLANKET. if we share).

Also be aware of how much mess each of you is willing to tolerate. Ours is pretty close, though I'm more likely to be the one to go ARGH I NEED TO CLEAN NOW.

Talk about how bills will be paid and who will buy groceries and toilet paper. We have a shared document where we can add things when we need them.

(We moved in together after dating 6 months due to life happenings, and started in a tiny apartment (that our friends called the Hobbit Hole) where we resided for 2 years. Things are still excellent now that we're above ground.)
posted by bibliogrrl at 5:02 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

The biggest problem that my girlfriend and I have had cohabitating in the pattern that you describe is that we adjusted at different paces.

We started dating 2 years ago tomorrow, she cohabitated with me for three months and then moved two hours away to Houston. I telecommute, but my house was and is under heavy renovation, so I got into a cycle where I would spend either one week in three or every other week at my place, and spend the balance at her place. She might come up on weekends to help during especially heavy construction projects that need more than one person.

Part of my personality is that I'm introverted almost to the point of being a hermit, and a grumpy one at that. I need a cave to live in for a decent part of the day and can go weeks without social interaction.

Part of her personality is that she's socially awkward, and instead of developing a network of friends, waited for me to come back. In hindsight for her, this was a mistake.

I got used to coming back to her place and it being no big deal REALLY FAST. She did not, and she would do what we eventually called "meep morp blorp" and basically try to velcro herself to me and then get upset when I didn't want to see her and wanted her out of my cave -- because I'm an antisocial hermetic.

It's taken a lot of communication (and counseling and almost one breakup) to get past that point. As with all things relationship-wise, communication eventually wins out over all challenges EXCEPT for your individual natures. You can't change on that, you can only compromise on it.
posted by SpecialK at 5:09 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you insist on having a task done a particular way, do it yourself instead of trying to control the other person with complaints and whining to do it your way. Otherwise, let the person do it their way. If they don't load the dishwasher exactly how you'd like (for instance), focus on the big picture: they're loading it and the dishes get clean. Be content with that.

I've lived with two SOs. I would not live with a third without a very clear talk beforehand about where each sees the relationship going. Be very clear about what you want: marriage, no marriage, kids, no kids. Seriously. Because if you aren't on the same page, the relationship will end and you will be out a home as well as a SO in the bargain.

Never move in with an SO simply because it's financially advantageous to live with someone. You can find other roommates who will fill the roommate role better, if you just want someone to split rent/bills with you.

Never give up anything you really value and is difficult/impossible to replace because the other party has a duplicate. Should the relationship end, it just adds insult to injury.

If you combine DVD collections, or other collections, put your name on the ones you own. It sounds super cold, but this is how I lost all my DVDs. He just took all of them. Remember, when you split, your stuff is going to be accessible to someone who may not be very happy with you or concerned with what is fair.

(Sorry I am raining on your 'let's live together!' parade.)
posted by griselda at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

Believe it or not, my first fight with my partner of 8+ years was over laundry. If you end up doing each others laundry at some point, hash that out beforehand.
posted by couchdive at 5:28 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Discussing your expectations for alone time (and deciding whether alone time means having the house to yourself or just the couch to yourself or something in between) is something I found useful and wish my partner and I had done sooner after we moved in together. We were so excited to be around each other we never discussed the fact that having the house to yourself is still delicious every once in awhile! We actually have set days that the other person gives the other a few hours of alone time.

Best advice I have ever been given: If a task needs to be done and it takes less than 5 minutes, don't wait for the other person to do it. I am the kind of person who won't change the toilet paper roll out of spite if I don't feel like it's "my turn", and following this advice probably keeps our relationship intact!
posted by thesocietyfor at 6:06 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't expect anything to be 50/50. You both have to be willing to go 100/100, willing to give (and not take) 100% of the time. Of course, you won't actually be giving 100% of the time, but keeping any kind of mental balance sheet is like a chip on your shoulder just waiting to get knocked off.
posted by the jam at 6:20 PM on August 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Someone on here said something I think is worth its weight in gold: just because your partner leaves a mess in the kitchen, it's not because s/he doesn't love you or is mad at you or disrespects you. S/he's just a slob.

In other words, take their irritating habits as personally as you would a completely platonic roommate's. That is to say, not personally at all.

I wish I could remember who posted that, but it was an excellent piece of advice.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:22 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you're dividing up household tasks, the best way to start is to make a list of the things you both hate to do. If a task is on both lists, you each do it half the time. Otherwise, you do each others' least favorite things.

Along these lines, an over-emphasis on fairness will poison your relationship. Instead, focus on both contributing in the same spirit. For example, my girlfriend and I struggled to divide up the housework because we were trying to split the straightening up and the scrubbing and cleaning down the middle. We realized eventually that I'm not very neat, and she gets grossed out by a dirty tub. So she does the straightening up, and I do all the scrubbing/cleaning stuff. There are times when it's not strictly fair, but we're both trying to contribute as much as we can.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:15 PM on August 1, 2012

Three bank accounts. One is yours, one is your SO's, one is the household's. You agree on a household budget -- and I mean everything that comes out of it (auto maintenance, for instance, can be a huge issue if you assume that it's "household" and your SO assumes it's "personal"; ditto gifts and vacations) -- and how much each of you puts in. It doesn't have to be 50/50. Be prepared to renegotiate after three months and six months and a year.
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ditto on the three bank accounts, and also might I suggest you move to a cash jar system? We have a budget spreadsheet we use where we basically have all the joint stuff broken down on one half, and then our personal cashflow on the other: we each pay for half of the joint stuff and then whatever is left from our pay, we keep. I want to move to a proportional system; he isn't quite ready for that because he has some debt he is paying off and until that is done, my proportional share will be higher than his and he can't handle that :) So once the core money is in, we take out some every pay period for entertainment, groceries, laundry, vacation fund etc. and then use the rest for rent and bills which all get paid from this joint account.

Be prepared to adjust possibly every month though. He just had a car repair he had to do, so we added a floater category and he's been using it to pay himself back for the car repair. We also decided to subdivide entertainment recently because we were using it all for restaurants and then when we wanted to see a movie, didn't have any left. What is great about the jars though is that you don't have to micromanage every receipt and log every transaction. You take out the jar money and that's it. If there is money in the jar, you are clear to go spend it, and if the jar is empty, you have to use your personal money or not spend.

One thing I found really different about living with him versus just being with him: people have different energies sometimes, and you see all sides of it when you live with them. In my case, he has a chronic illness which can affect his mood and energy level sometimes, and I didn't see it as much when we just dated (even when we went on vacation together) because when it was a date, he had his 'game face' on and would hide it better. Now that we leave together, and it's him coming home to his home where he can relax and be himself and not have to wear a game face, I get him at his worst too :) It can be frustrating when he tells me we can't go out because he's tired, and then a friend of his calls and he goes into 'game face' mode and lights up while he's talking to them (and then hangs up the phone and is back to Mr. Grouch!)

There is also a different expectation on bigger stuff, now that we are living together. For instance, he dislikes spending time with my parents and that was fine when we were just dating, but now that we are living together, it's not so easy to get away with that. He doesn't have to come every time I see them, but he has to come *some* of the time, and we've had a few fights about that. He didn't understand the grief I was getting from them about how he never came, and it took some conversations with his own family and some of his friends for him to come around a little and accept periodic contact with them as one of those things you just do for people you live with in a committed relationship.

Also, nobody likes a nag---pick your battles! In my case, I asked him once to please wipe the crumbs off the counter when he was done making toast, and he did it for awhile then stopped. I asked him one more time, and he did it for awhile and then stopped. I didn't ask him again. It's such a small chore that it's easier for me to just do it myself than it is to make this a big fight issue. I'm sure there are things where he does the same with me!
posted by JoannaC at 5:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Basic stuff: Things that are important to you that the other person doesn't have, make sure you have at their house. In addition to a toothbrush, I kept a second set of makeup, a second hair dryer and second curling iron, as well as a full set of work clothes (underwear, bra, skirt, blouse, shoes) at my boyfriend's place. He kept a cast iron frying pan and blender and a full set of work clothes at my place.

Unpleasant surprises: talk about your individual takes on things like having guests over and acceptable hours for taking phone calls. I hate having people at my house when I haven't had a chance to tidy, and late night phone calls. My boyfriend had no problem with these things. We had to work that stuff out early on.
posted by thrasher at 8:45 AM on August 2, 2012

I agree with what was said above both about sleeping and about blankets. Mr. Getawaysticks is always hot, and I'm always cold, so I have a couple of twin size blankets just on my side of the bed. We got our first place together very quickly after we started dating, but I couldn't move in fully for a couple months, so it worked well as far as gradually getting my things moved over.
posted by getawaysticks at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2012

Griselda is 100% correct. I had completely different expectations about moving in with my last SO than she did. She was using it to coax me into marriage which I wasn't ready for. We should have spoken about this BEFORE moving in together. We never talked about it, and I remember at 3 months thinking it was so easy to live together. 2 months later we broke up. Please have the talk before you do this.

Another thing to know is that people will need space, and that's okay. I needed downtime for an hour or two a day, but after that, I was okay. Also assigning chores would be good. We had a few tiffs about doing the dishes/trash, etc. Just be very forward about it, and it won't be awkward. I'm glad that it sounds like you're not signing any lease with your SO, but if you are, consider, even if you don't think it'll happen, what the worst case senario is if you break up.

This is a bigger deal that it can seem at the time. Trust me, I've gone through a high at the beginning to breaking up at the end. I never saw it coming.
posted by neveroddoreven at 2:42 PM on August 2, 2012

The one major thing that I have learned from living with a significant other is to really think before you act on a feeling or an impulse and to CONSTANTLY try to put yourself in the other persons shoes when a conflict arises. Also, it's a good thing to always think, should you find yourself annoyed by something, "Is this *really* important enough to create friction over?"

It's important to give your SO space when he needs it. I have found that the majority of guys need some space to feel comfortable. If you put your own need for company aside at a time when you think he might really be enjoying whatever it is he's doing at the moment alone, they will really appreciate it and usually it will lead to more affectionate together-time later.
posted by bzzt at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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