Human particles in a (happy) box
July 12, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

When you moved to live with your partner, or your partner moved to live with you, what helped set the groundwork for a lasting, strong and wonderful relationship? What missteps would you try and avoid?

My fiancee moves to live with me today! (Yay!). I know number one in all the relationship advice is communicate, communicate communicate: we plan on doing this heartily.

What other pieces of advice, either practical, philosophical or whimsical would you offer for people living together. Links acceptable. This is a somewhat open ended and broad q, so, if possible, focus on the living together part. I've seen these qs 1,2: more advice please!
posted by lalochezia to Human Relations (29 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Allow each other to make small meaningless mistakes and not get bothered by them. If you prefer your loaf of bread on the counter and your fiancee prefers it in the freezer, if you find the loaf in the freezer or if your fiancee finds it out on the counter, it's okay to be slightly annoyed that it's not the way you want it but it's not okay to get resentful or take it personally and assume that they are trying to sabotage your quality of life. If it really becomes a problem (or if you really can't live with cold bread), buy two loaves.
posted by Stynxno at 9:41 AM on July 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Random thoughts from experience...

(1) Joint bank account, as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be your only bank account, but it sure helps turn "mine" and "yours" into "ours" sooner, and that's a big deal. Better to get the money stress out of the way early.

(2) I've usually split cooking vs. cleaning with anyone I've lived with, and it has worked well. Pick one. Doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule, but it helps avoid stress later, and it's nice to simply not have to worry about one or the other.

(If you're both cooks, find some other really broad responsibilities to split, so you don't have to make case-by-case decisions later, complete with all their petty cohabitation bickering.)
posted by rokusan at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2008

Oh, and Styxno reminds me... converse of tolerating the small things is to do a couple of very deliberate special nice things for each other.

You could have a conversation around What have you always wished someone would do for you? and that can lead to some great stress-relievers.

Whether it's coffee in bed in the morning, a foot rub at night, or that toast buttered exactly right, there are probably a couple of small things you could do for each other that might really cement how great it is to not live alone... and if you get over the shyness of asking for what you'd love, it'll also prevent later unhappiness.
posted by rokusan at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Make sure that both partners feel as though the place is theirs, not that it is yours and this other person just moved into your place for the time being. Sometimes the person moving in may be shy about asking for changes to elements of your living space, because he/she still perceives him/herself as a guest there. Explicitly asking whether there is anything he/she would like to add or change to your shared place is a good way to make sure both parties feel ownership and belonging.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:49 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't start something you may later regret. Like taking over all of the laundry because you think you do it best. It happened to me.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:54 AM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Have sex in every room -- make that place yours.

Especially if they are moving into your place -- it's not a new place you are moving into together -- allow them to make it theirs. Getting rid of furniture, clearing your junk out of the bathroom and kitchen, and so on, really helps make them not feel like they are camped out as a guest in your place.

Date nights! Living with someone, it can be easy to just take them for granted and dress like a schlub all the time and not put any effort in. Sure, you should put the effort in anyway, but regular date nights are a good reminder. You can go out or stay in, either way; the point is to do things together that build intimacy and make each other feel appreciated.

Finally, you know that old joke about how the two most important words in a relationship are "yes, dear"? Well, it's sort of true -- if you make a habit of giving in on small issues and not "winning" every argument, you can really set a nice tone. The other side of this is to remember that the other person's bad behavior (and there will be plenty) does not excuse your bad behavior. Don't keep score, don't punish them, don't be vindictive. It's about getting along, not being right.
posted by Forktine at 9:54 AM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I recommend that you both take this quiz. One grave misunderstanding we encountered was that I express love through physical affection, and he expresses it by doing things for me. Hugs and backrubs weren't that important to him. Picking up his drycleaning when he was working late made him feel loved.

In other words, love him in the way he wants to be loved, and tell him what makes you feel loved. Communication by itself isn't enough. Action is really what's required.

Also, give each other as much space as the other person needs. My fiance is an introvert and I had a hard time being in the same dwelling without actually being with him. He likes to game and watch TV by himself and it drove me nuts at first. I took it personally, but that's just the way he is and he would be the same way whether he lived alone or with the most beautiful woman in the world.
posted by desjardins at 10:03 AM on July 12, 2008 [11 favorites]

I remember finding lots of good advice in this thread.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:04 AM on July 12, 2008

No TV in the bedroom. The bed is for sex and sleeping only.
posted by stopgap at 10:35 AM on July 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

Always get out of bed with or before your partner.

Always be as neat or neater than your partner.
posted by yort at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Pick your battles. Be reasonable. Forgive genuinely.
posted by biscotti at 11:42 AM on July 12, 2008

When my boyfriend & I moved in together we were suddenly spending all of our time together, but it wasn't quality time. Turns out there's a big difference between driving across town to watch a movie on the couch and watching a movie on the couch when you're bored and living together. We stopped going out on dates because we were always with each other, and eventually we stopped focusing on each other, too. Simply being near each other doesn't strengthen the relationship, we learned. You need to actively work at focusing on the other one and making the relationship better, whether it be on a date night or simply by engaging the other person when you watch TV together. It won't just happen by holding his hand on the couch while you each do your own thing.

Related to that, the big thing my boyfriend & I just figured out recently, after a year of living together, is that having your own private space is good. When we moved in we were always together. Always saying whatever came to mind, asking the other one to check out this website or that youtube, or just poking the other one for attention. And I never got anything done. Ever. And then we'd have problems because I never had time to do anything fun because I was always behind on my homework (and then we never really spent quality time together, leading to the situation above). Each of you should have your own space (be it a room, a desk, or just a spot at the kitchen table) where you can get your stuff done and your SO knows to leave you alone.
posted by lilac girl at 11:49 AM on July 12, 2008 [12 favorites]

This is one of those clear instances of "if you ask, there is, and there will not be, a problem". You did the biggest prerequisite for moving in: you were engaged before the deed. Respect is so very important. Respect her, respect the place you are sharing, and you will be asked "how to..." in 50 years from now. Congratulations.
posted by Jurate at 12:01 PM on July 12, 2008

Congratulations! One of the best things that we did when we moved in together was pony up for some couples therapy. Though we weren't having any major problems, it was helpful to have a good, guided conversation about our new life together without any distractions. Probably the best investment in our relationship we could've made.
posted by cr_joe at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would actually counter the joint-bank-account advice, unless it's an account that is used solely for mutual expenses like rent or mortgage. As is wisely pointed out above, everyone needs their own space, mentally, physically, and financially. Come to an agreement that as long as the money is there to pay the mutual expenses that neither of you will freak about the other things each person does with their money.

Realize that there are going to be some mutual expenses you cannot see eye-to-eye on and maybe have a preemptive discussion about those times--when you need a new couch and while you'd be happy with something used off craigslist he cannot live without the $2000 couch from the modern furniture store, or you want to spend two weeks in Thailand on your vacation but he would be just as happy spending two weeks at his family's lakeside cabin.

Good luck!
posted by maxwelton at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2008

Honest, candid conversations about finances, cleanliness, and anything else that one or the other of you is particularly anal about.

My partner and I are both messy, but us moving in together was like taking our messyness to an exponent value- it got nuts. I was annoyed for a few months about feeling like the only one saying "Alright, we're going to have to clean up today! Let's clean up now!" and leading the clean up effort. We had a conversation about it and have devised a system that works for us- we have a lady come in once every two weeks. The money we pay for it is negligible compared to the sense of peace that I feel not having to be the "Let's clean up!" person. All it took was that conversation - not saying, "You need to help clean up more," but rather, "I feel uncomfortable being the person responsible for getting us to clean up our apartment. How can we resolve this?"

Finances is vital as well. Neither of us are too comfortable talking about money, but we sat down when we moved in together and determined what expenses we would share and in what fraction and how we would accomplish pooling the money for the monthly expenses. It was hard for both of us to do, but we felt a real sense of accomplishment after doing it and neither of us has felt weird about money and living together ever since.

Try to respect each other's space and have private spaces for each of you. As Kahlil Gibran famously said:

But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
posted by arnicae at 2:59 PM on July 12, 2008

mr. nax and I have lived together for 30 years. He is a sweet and loving neatnik. I am a screaming, temperamental, my-way-or-the-highway insane person. So best advice I can give-- remember that you love each other very much and that is it really really cool to watch your partner age with you.

Plus, what everyone upthread says.
posted by nax at 3:13 PM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think whoever moves in should get to change something immediately, just to feel like he/she is an equal. Each person needs someplace-- a chair, a desk, and office, or at least a shelf that is unconditionally his or her own territory, and then truly share the rest of the house.

My partner and I bounced between his place (he had no roommate) and then to my place (with roommates). We weren't comfortable until we had a place of our own. But I think if I'd had more than a closet to be mine, I would have felt better. As for roommates. That never works.

And relax. There will be tense moments and maybe even tears-- I remember being enraged with my partner used an empty drawer in MY desk-- but couples really do adapt to each other.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:27 PM on July 12, 2008

Letty Cottin Pogrebin said in one of her books that it's ok to go to bed mad if the issue hasn't quite been resolved...she and her husband turn away from each other in bed that night, then work it out over the next few days.
posted by brujita at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2008

Give your partner his or her own space. Pick your battles. Don't hold grudges. If you feel yourself becoming resentful, SPEAK UP. Set up a monthly budget to keep track of your finances. Divide up the chores - you do chores you don't mind doing, your partner does chores they don't mind doing, and both of you do chores you both hate. There will be growing pains, but remember that you're in this together. Don't forget to plan dates with each other, and on the flip side, don't be afraid to spend time apart.
posted by geeky at 4:12 PM on July 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the most important thing my husband and I learnt was to speak up early and often. If the other person has a little, niggling habit that drives you crazy, speak up about it before you actually do go crazy. Sure, it can feel like nitpicking or nagging - but it's a lot better than having someone blow their stack totally out of nowhere because it's just the last straw on a bad day.

YMMV, of course. Worksforme.
posted by ysabet at 5:17 PM on July 12, 2008

I strongly recommend that you each have a portion of the apartment that is your private space. My fiance and I actually have separate bedrooms (though we sleep together many nights, in one room or the other) and being able to close a door is a very good thing. If you can't have separate rooms or offices, at least have your own corner where you know your stuff isn't going to be moved or rifled through. Autonomy is important!
Oh, and we have our own bathrooms too. If there is any possible way you can do that, do. It makes getting ready in the mornings soooo much better.
posted by smoakes at 5:32 PM on July 12, 2008

When you need to talk about some kind of problem that IS a bad habit on his/her part, bring up a specific instance instead of immediately pointing to a pattern, and say how it affects you. I'm sure you already know that saying, "You always do this bad thing" or "You never do this good thing" is going to lead to hurt feelings and anger; it's also best to avoid, "You have a tendency to..." Example: "I felt embarrassed yesterday when you talked over me when we were with our friends" even if he/she interrupts you all the freaking time in social situations.
posted by wryly at 7:19 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the advice to talk about money. You don't necessarily need to agree, but if you disagree about saving, spending, etc., you need to set limits.

Regarding practical money matters: My wife and I have two joint checking accounts. Both of us are signatories on each, but we each take primary responsibility for managing one, and we have an automatic savings plan that transfers money from each into an online savings account. That way we don't have to check with the other about bouncing checks, but each of us can access both accounts when necessary. (We both work, and each has direct deposit for the account they manage, so there are no fees to deal with.)

You should also talk to a lawyer about drawing up wills once you're married. (I'm presuming that you mean fiancée in the traditional sense, or that you live in Massachusetts or California.)

Beyond finances: acknowledge that your way of doing things is not the only one, or even the better one. Identify nagging sources of discontent early and discuss them. If you prefer to cook and your fiancée prefers to clean, divide chores that way; don't aim for a spurious equality that leaves no one satisfied. But try to make sure that you're contributing 55-60% of the work required to keep the household going. (Your fiancée should also contribute 55-60%; my wife and I sometimes argue about who should clean up the kitchen after dinner, each offering to do it for the other.)

And if you get irritated or have a fight: think about everything positive your partner has brought you, and whether that trumps the source of irritation or conflict. It may not; I agree with Carolyn Hax that some relationships are unhealthy and need to end. But give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

And have fun! Don't expect gloomy advice from Mefites to be necessary. Resort to it as needed. Rokusan has great advice: each of you should ask what the other would find pleasing, and do it. Even better if you can anticipate it without having to ask, but better to ask than to do nothing.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:20 PM on July 12, 2008

No nitpicking ever, never, ever. Seriously ever.
This took me a couple of failed relationships to realize--but a relationship doesn't suddenly make everything about your partner your business. My husband went through this phase where he slurped his coffee and it drove me nuts. But how he chooses to drink his coffee is none of my business, so I would leave the room quietly if it really bothered me. Six months later, he just stopped. He gives me the same grace. Life is long and we're in it for the long haul.
If things become large enough to be actual issues then you can deal with them. We sincerely believe that this is one of the key components of our marriage that has made it last while watching others fall apart around us.
posted by Toto_tot at 10:17 PM on July 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Four years ago last month, I arrived at Mr. F's place, under serious duress, with the clothes on my back, my laptop, and a five-dollar bill in my pocket. We lived in 120 square feet for the first year and a half-- one really small bedroom in a larger house, with three other housemates. These days, we have about 400 square feet in a studio apartment, we have enough material necessities to go around, and we're stereotypically disgusting newlyweds as of last month.

This implies that we did something right? But I can't for the life of me categorize what it was, aside from an insanely stubborn drive to make everything work, so I can only wish you the sort of raging success we've been having. Good luck!
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make the bed every day.

No exceptions.
posted by atayah at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2008

Regularly cook for each other (and even better, cook together) and always turn off the TV when you eat.
posted by mairuzu at 5:44 AM on July 14, 2008

When you're cooking 'together', ensure that one person is 'in charge' and the other one is 'helping'. Doesn't matter if it's the same person 'in charge' or if you take turns or whatever, but it causes friction if both people think they're in the driving seat. (This might just be the case with me and my parter).

Get a pet, if you can and you're both the type of person who would like one.
posted by primer_dimer at 5:03 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

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