What conversations should we have before living in sin?
July 17, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Dear hive mind, please suggest items for a checklist of issues/expectations/questions to discuss with my significant other before we shack up next month! I was reading this question and saw that many people felt that they would never move in with a partner before discussing their finances with a certain level of detail. I would love to know what other rules of thumb people have about establishing a mutual understanding, financially, emotionally, housework-wise, etc. before cohabiting. Possibly relevant details inside.

I know generally that we’re supposed to talk about division of chores/expenses/private time but what particular questions on with level of detail have people found useful? My partner is more of a figure-it-out-as-we-go-along type of person and I'm a bit more of a planner.

Personal details if it makes a difference: We both see moving in together as an intermediate step towards getting married, when we would combine our finances. We will be making approximately equal incomes, with him earning a bit more. We both believe in an egalitarian distribution of housework and decision making power. We generally get along very easily. We are a mid-20s hetero couple, living in a large city, about to start our first jobs after professional school right after we move in together. With two big life changes (jobs+moving in together) coinciding, I'd love to try to make the transition as smooth as possible, without expecting that we can plan everything ahead of time.
posted by erstwhile ungulate to Human Relations (30 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Who gets the apartment if you break up, and are they able to pay for it alone (or is there room for a roommate)? Yes, it's an awkward conversation, but so much better to have it now, when you like each other, and never need to reference it again than to have to talk about it in the throes of an unexpected breakup.
posted by brainmouse at 10:41 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Who gets the apartment if you break up, and are they able to pay for it alone (or is there room for a roommate)?

If you're uncomfortable with this - and sure, you will be - I suggest looking at it this way: If you're confident that you know how to handle a breakup ("I'll move out, you'll be able to just-barely afford the place till you find a roommate,") you can be a lot more confident that the other person really is staying because they want to, and not just because they need to coast until they can afford to break-up-and-move-out.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:44 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

We both believe in an egalitarian distribution of housework

This is good, but man is my marriage great since we decided upon a strict division of tasks that we are each responsible for and then let go of the other person's stuff completely. (Him: trash, vacuuming & floors, bathrooms. Me: kitchen, laundry, food prep. Shared but mostly him: dishes.) Having it laid out very clearly and each of you understanding that there's no slacking off on the items you're responsible for will eliminate so, so many arguments and small resentments.
posted by something something at 10:45 AM on July 17, 2014 [32 favorites]

Decide how groceries are going to work. When I shacked up with my husband pre-marriage we set up a joint account in to which we both deposited an equal amount, and that was what we used for the groceries for the month. If we needed more money we would both contribute equal amounts to top it up. That worked well.

Decide whose name the bills are going to be in and how they are going to be paid. The way my husband and I do it is that most things are in his name (mostly because I moved in to his house), so I transfer my half of the bill amounts to him every month. I have an automatic transfer set up so that it is all dealt with. Again, works well.

Decide upon some sort of friend protocol in terms of them being over. If you want to have a girls night are you expecting him to leave for the night? Same if he wants to have a boys night. Decide how that is going to be handled, and how often would be reasonable.

Dishes are a relationship buster, if you ask me. Make sure you have CRYSTAL CLEAR rules about how often each of you does dishes. In my house my husband and I have a rule that it you "pop" the dishwasher (ie. open the first time after the clean cycle is done) then it is now yours to empty. It ends up being a bit of a game with us, with lots of "Ooooo! You popped it!" and "DAMMIT! I POPPED IT!". Makes dishes less painful.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:46 AM on July 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

How to handle the grocery bills since it's shared food... my now-husband and I try to just alternate rather than keep track.
Same goes for going out on dates - how to pay... if he's covered some major expense lately I tend to pay for a few outings in a row. Or I pay for tix, he pays for food.
And the co-mingling of furniture - obviously you will be doubling up on stuff, and likely can't store the extras.
posted by lizbunny at 10:47 AM on July 17, 2014

I'm kind of a "no way through but through" kind of a person (like your partner) - you don't know what is going to upset you, how you're going to like things etc. until the time comes. Especially if you've already been spending lots of time together and handle conflict well.

That being said, talk about finances (how to split the bills) and alone time (how to spend time apart but together).

The biggest part is that you both know that this rel is on the marriage track. So you might talk about how long to cohabit before marriage will be desired as well.

Talk about furniture. What stuff can't you stand and wouldn't mind if it got lost in the move.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:50 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

And if you're not already on top of this, expectations about keeping each other informed of plans and your whereabouts, etc. Like going out with the co-workers after work for drinks.
posted by lizbunny at 10:52 AM on July 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know generally that we’re supposed to talk about division of chores/expenses/private time but what particular questions on with level of detail have people found useful?

To be honest, we did not parse out every detail of these things when we moved in together. Our only set rule was "don't be an asshole (or apologize when you are)". But I'll take a shot.

1. Housework; discuss what each of you hates to do, and hopefully the other one will not hate it and be willing to do it. I hate laundry, so husband does it; he hates dishes, so I do them. Aside from that, make a list of likely chores and how often they need doing, and negotiate who does what. Leave the list hanging somewhere so that you can remember. Hopefully you can both keep up your end and not fight about it. If you find that impossible, hire a cleaner to come in periodically.

2. Expenses; decide what is joint and what isn't. Set up accounts accordingly. Designate one of you the bill-payer of the joint account. (this can switch off periodically if needed).

3. Private time: do you really need to graph this out in a romantic relationship? All you should have to do is say, honey, I'd like to veg/go out alone tonight.

Otherwise, I'd say relax a little. The only way to find out if you like living together is to do it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:54 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pretty much what everyone else mentioned above...and then I would also like to add about work space as this has been a tiny issue for me since my SO and I both have day jobs and side jobs. We were originally going to share the 2nd bedroom as an office space which just didn't work for me. I ended up taking a small corner of the living room for myself and am so much happier for it. Make sure to be honest on that one.

Not sure if you've found a place to live yet, but make sure to be honest with each other about what are your deal-makers and breakers, and what you can compromise on.

Also, pets? Do you have already or do either of you want one? How OK is the other person with any current pets?

As far as groceries go, my SO and I just each buy stuff as we need it. We don't split things don't the middle or keep track. That arrangement may work for you or it may not, so that would be a good conversation to have.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 11:05 AM on July 17, 2014

You sound like you are both going into this as equals.

So, well, AWESOME.
posted by misspony at 11:06 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd say the main thing is to know what the end-game is. What do you both expect to happen in the future. Is this a step towards marriage or is it just roommates with benefits? If one of you thinks one thing and the other thinks something else, then it's going to be a problem down the road. If you can't ask, or you don't know, don't move in together.

For me, I wouldn't live with someone who wasn't thinking we were going to be married in X time-frame. Why? Why would I entangle my living space and my finances with someone with whom I wasn't committed in some way? (I'm also no big fan of regular roommates, pretty much for the same reason.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:12 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend & I used to grocery shop together but pay for our items separately before we moved in together, but then for a while after moving in together it was kind of like one of us was at the register with the loyalty card and the coupons, and the other was bagging the groceries, and the one at the register always ended up paying, and it was usually me, and I kind of resented him for that because I thought he was doing it on purpose to avoid buying the groceries (we also make about the same amount of money). So now we just alternate weeks. Groceries always cost about the same every week, and if it's his week to buy and he's going to bag the groceries, I just say, "Hey, I need your card," and that's that.
posted by jabes at 11:14 AM on July 17, 2014

Define "housework." Now define each of the words in your definition. Now define each of the words in those definitions, etc. etc. etc.

Seriously, be as granular as possible when you assign housework duties. "Clean the bathroom" isn't helpful, because the person who does it might have a radically different definition of "clean" and "bathroom" (okay, "the" is probably safe), including things like "How often?" and "Does the bathroom window count?" and "Is it clean if there are still smells of cleaning products?"
posted by Etrigan at 11:15 AM on July 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

What does intermediate step towards marriage mean? Be very clear about your expectations. It's not pleasant to realize that one of you is looking at it as a given and the other sees it as an option.

What happens if one or both of you loses your job?
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:21 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

- Splitting bills is a big and tough one with no perfect answer and you'll probably have to find your own way of doing it. My sister and her boyfriend buy their own respective groceries and I have seen a Post-It on their fridge that says "Scot owes Ginny $2.48 for chicken breast". My boyfriend and I just alternate buying across a broad groceries/Target runs/eating out "shared stuff" category. Either way the important thing is to decide what expenses are joint and which are not. It's also important to set shared expectations around them - does one of you like eating out more? Does one of you obsessively coupon-clip? Find a middle ground.

- Time and scheduling. Figure out what your needs are re: time you spend together and apart, or together-but-not-interacting. Figure out how you will negotiate and schedule shared time.

- Guests. Maybe both of you are fine with either one bringing home surprise guests and friends dropping by whenever but probably not; decide on comfortable house rules.

- Housework. It's easy for both people to feel like the work they are doing is "invisible" or that the arrangement is unfair. The best solution is to be very explicit and specific about division of labor so that one of you isn't making clean sheets and towels magically appear every week and the other one is keeping the yard magically weed-free and you're both getting mad about it.

Most things will be compromises. In general, compromises will fall closer to the position of the person with higher or more specific standards (I'd argue that more of the onus is on them to preserve that standard, too). Fortunately, you will alternate in that role - maybe you end up staying at home more often than you'd like because your partner wants to cut back on eating out (and handles the cooking), but then you also get to live in a neater space (because you clean more) than your parter would live in on their own.

You will eventually decide on all of this stuff (and much more) either way - by figuring it out up-front, or by trial-and-error, or both. Committing now to being flexible and generous is honestly the single biggest thing both of you can do to prepare.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:22 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to look at Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples. It includes some sample legal documents, but even if you never use them, it still brings up issues that are helpful to talk about.
posted by amarynth at 11:30 AM on July 17, 2014

Even distribution of housework sounds great in theory, but if his idea of cleaning the dishes it to leave them soaking for a few days and your idea of cleaning the bathroom is to swish the loo and not wipe a single surface you may have problems. Made sure you decide on a mutually agreeable level of cleanliness. I've had to let go my urge to have things neatly labeled & in their place at all times, he's learned to put his dishes in the dishwasher and if you wipe down counters. Know these levels before you move in.

As peachfuzz put it, go into this knowing you will both have to compromise on things. Also things will change over time, and as you both adjust to living with the other person, be aware any agreements made at the beginning may need to be renegotiated.

Both have a space that is your own, be it a desk, computer, cupboard or a whole room whatever works. That is your area, you can keep it however you like, it is private. If you can't give the person you are moving in with a level of privacy you don't trust them enough to entangle your lives with theirs.

Communicate, communicate, communicate if you are both at the stage where you are assuming that you know what the other person is thinking and can't ask them, or they can't ask you, you are not ready to move in together.
posted by wwax at 11:34 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read Unmarried to Each Other. Do what it says re: cohabitation contract.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:09 PM on July 17, 2014

The one thing I don't see in the thread that I wish I'd talked to my partner about before the big cohabitation leap is entertaining in your home. (I like having small gatherings pretty infrequently; partner loves big blowout parties.) It sounds like the two of you will be so busy with your new jobs that this might not be a concern for some time, but it's worth thinking about if either or both of you enjoys hosting parties of any kind.

Also, the private space suggestion wwax made is crucial. I am a slob, and it's so important to me to have a room where I can just make a mess and leave it that way without imposing on my partner's tidy space.
posted by torridly at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2014

Once you move in together, you parents & his parents (aka "the future in-laws") are going to be more involved. Discuss any "gotchas". Do any of them like to surprise you by dropping-in unscheduled? Do you like his parents? And vice versa? Discuss. Each set of parents is going to want to feel welcome in their child's home.
posted by apennington at 12:43 PM on July 17, 2014

And if you're not already on top of this, expectations about keeping each other informed of plans and your whereabouts, etc. Like going out with the co-workers after work for drinks.

Oh my god this!(!1!one). I didn't think about this, and ended up in a situation where she would go off and do things without saying anything, but when i did that it was "Where are you? I thought we were having dinner together/doing $THING tonight" that hadn't really been discussed. Much resentment, so wow.

There's also been several instances of me coming home from a long day of work on a 2000 degree day, hulking off my clothes and walking out in to the living room in my tighty whities... to her mom sitting on the couch watching tv. So yea, communication on people coming over unless it was already clearly established the other person wasn't going to be there.

I'll also add to this, if either of you don't work an normal 9-5, put up a calendar on the kitchen and mark off both of your work schedules. Also mark off any individual or shared plans that are already set in stone.

I really, really wish i had thought of the second one way earlier.

I'm also going to have to get behind the "Alone time space that isn't the bedroom" thing. I really wish we had gotten a shittier apartment that was larger, rather than getting the nicest apartment we could find or afford that's a bit cramped.

Also, it's better to divide the bills like "You pay the cable and power, i pay the water and gas" sort of thing rather than try and split them evenly. Do that at first, but once you figure out the average costs for that place it's way easier to just put separate bills on autopay on each of your accounts than deal with splitting it and transferring money and stuff every month.

Talk about your friends. Do either of you have one or two friends the other person doesn't really like for some reason? Why is that? How are you going to deal with them coming over? This can get really awkward really fast if the person they don't really like is some super long time friend of yours, or vice versa.
posted by emptythought at 12:54 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diane Rehms published a book a while back, Toward Commitment, that had list of questions in the appendix that couples should talk over that I really liked. You can get a preview of the appendix here.
posted by megancita at 12:56 PM on July 17, 2014

Decide ahead of time what "clean" means. Is a clean floor swiffered? Swept? Mopped? How often should the microwave be cleaned? Etc.

Also I think that the easiset thing is dividing responsibilities (both cleaning and otherwise) rather than switching off. Sometimes this falls naturally (everyone has things they like/dislike, are good/bad at) and sometimes they have to be assigned. In my house, he does the fixing, hanging, etc. because he is good with tools. I am on top of dog care because I know more about vet stuff. Then again, sometimes we have to quid-pro-quo icky tasks, like "I'll do this if you do that," because nobody is as mature as they seem.
posted by radioamy at 1:08 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You say you make roughly the same amounts now, but what if that changes in the future? Will you still go 50-50, or will you each contribute a percentage of your income? Suze Orman advocates the latter (as do I) but not everyone agrees.
posted by radioamy at 1:09 PM on July 17, 2014

Like Ruthless Bunny, the big discussion I would have here is: "So, when are we getting married?" I would advise having a clear timeframe around this next step. "Someday" isn't enough and will lead to strife when one of your "somedays" comes so much sooner than the other's.

Also, schedules. Are you expected to do everything together? Do you hang out every night? Twice a week? Weekends? Do you expect to both be home and doing things with one another after work? Who gets the shower first in the morning?

Food. What does dinner look like? Do you always eat together, or do you have plans to eat together only once or twice a week? Is your food shared or separate? My boyfriend Eats All The Things, for example, while I cry if my ice cream that I was saving is just gone, so if we ever lived together food would be separate.

Space. Oh, space!! Not bedroom space. A room for each of you if you can swing it. I lived with an ex and I had my Own Room and he had his Office and it was great to go hang out in my room and sew and read and just blomp around solo. It's often called a "man cave" but women need their own space too! This might sound extravagant but I think it's healthy and necessary to have your own space.

I now, after multiple living-together arrangements that were "leading to marriage" but did not, would not move in with someone without being engaged. YMClearlyV but really really consider what "we plan to get married someday" actually and practically means. Like, why someday? What goals must be met before you take that step?

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 6:12 PM on July 17, 2014

Since he's the type that likes to figure it out later, you might agree to a scheduled "roommate meeting" once a week-ish so you can have a safe space to talk about any issues that have come up. One topic at every meeting could be: do we need this meeting more or less frequently in the future?
posted by CathyG at 6:56 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something Something is spot on about the chores. To add to that, we found that once we got our groove figured out that chatting about the division of chores every few months to be beneficial. For example, when Mr. Sadtomato started a new job, he went from working at home to going to an office every day. It threw our chore mojo way out of whack and we had to sit down and figure out how to fairly redistribute things.
posted by sadtomato at 9:41 PM on July 17, 2014

Sleeping arrangements. No, seriously. Does one of you snore? Is one of you an early bird? Night owl? Light sleeper? Deep sleeper? Talk/walk in your sleep? All of these things can be tolerable when everyone knows they can get a few nights of solo sleep a week if they need it, but living together magnifies any little co-sleeping irritations by 1 million percent (approximate). I am an extremely light sleeper who gets up at 5am, husbandfriend is a snorer who hates being woken up early. That was something we just recently managed to navigate without wanting to kill each other (a larger bed, ear plugs, and compromising on how many alarms go off in the mornings, and the occasional night in the guest room). Sleep is serious business and lack of it can put you at each other's throats. If one of you needs a few nights on the couch/guest bed just to get in that restorative goodness, discuss that.
posted by picklesthezombie at 6:40 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

We both believe in an egalitarian distribution of housework

Be cautious of the difference between equal and fair. Honestly, we're rarely 50/50, but we try to at least be fair. That said, I've found that even though my husband intends to be more active in the cleaning department than his father was, he still sometimes slides backwards into unconscious learned habits. You do not want to be having a conversation at 11PM on a Wednesday night, holding up a bottle of Windex and saying, "Please tell me where on this bottle it says you need to have a vagina to work it! I do not see the word "vagina" on this bottle anywhere!".

Not that that's ever happened in our house. Maybe. At least not more than once.

The other big one for us was food and meals. I like a lot more foods than he does. We finally just settled on making our own meals for the most part, although we usually eat together.
posted by RogueTech at 9:07 PM on July 18, 2014

Look up pre-marital courses that churches and even state govt run, see what workbook they use. I know you're not getting married, but those courses are all about how to survive and thrive living together. Good stuff.
posted by Neekee at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2014

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