Cohabiting, house-sharing or (gulp) 'moving in with someone' can be a daunting experience. If you've never lived with anyone outside of your own family, getting to know the foibles and habits of someone new can lead to alienation, confusion and frustration. Of course, it can also encourage us to extend our comfort zone and develop a tolerance for others - after all, our new living-space partner might be feeling just the same way about us.
If this isn't your first time sharing a domicile, it could well be that you have to unlearn all the things you learned last time. The people in your new home might have strange new ways of sorting out bills or doling out household chores that might seem alien to you.
Sharing a house with friends is one thing. But actually moving in with someone you're emotionally involved with is another thing entirely, though most of the common sense tips still apply.
We start this entry with a little personal experience.
I have just begun living with my new husband (we got married, then lived together, which is old fashioned, but definitely interesting!). Over the past five or six months since we got wed these are the few items we have had rows about.
- Bills. Oh for heavens sake, get a joint bank account and pay them out of that! It is the best way! (We worked it out after three hours of yelling and 36 hours of sulking!)
- Cleaning. In an ideal world we would pay for someone to do this, but unfortunately this is impossible. This is still an area of contention as on the planet my husband comes from all the housework is done by women and men get to sit and watch the telly. I am slowly teaching him that on my side of the galaxy husbands had better get their backsides a-cleaning or else the fun in the bedroom stops for extended periods. He is getting the message with remarkable speed!
- Cooking. No trouble in our house as I love it and he hates it!
- Dishes. Ah, slightly more tension here. I like them done immediately and my hubby seems to think that if they sit and moulder for a few hours they will be easier to clean. Again, I am changing his opinion. Amazing how it can be changed when he is trying to wash a tin with baked-on, burnt-on lasagne!
It has to be said, if domestic chores pose a threat to your relationship, investing in a cleaner is not a bad idea. If you go with a reputable agency, you can often get cleaners for the same amount of money as one night out a week - a trifling sum if it means a greater chance of domestic bliss.
Bills, Bills, Bills
Nothing can ruin a relationship faster than arguing about money. So another wise move is to work out how you're going to divide up the bills from the very start and stick to whatever you agree. Split the bills down the middle, if you have to, or maybe work out the percentage each pays based on your wages.
I've always thought that the fairest way is that if one of you uses the phone/internet/etc more than the other, then they should pay that one, even if only so the other one can't moan. But generally, if you both pay the same percentage of your income over to communal living, then that's a bit fairer.
Sharing with your family and sharing with strangers are very different experiences. Your parents, siblings, husband and kids are family and you share your life with them and not just the place. You need to consider lots of intangible issues when you live with family which can be ignored while living with strangers. Love, caring, respect, feeling, understanding, trust and loyalty are some of the words which have different meanings in different settings.
When you live with husband/wife/partner, let love prevail [and] understanding will follow. Sacrifice the urge to argue over petty matters! Start caring! Be honest - loyalty is not far behind! Always discuss things and if you keep resolving issues by discussing them, there will be no problem. One more thing - do not be over possessive about each other.
It's often been noted that living with your partner is like living with the person you love the most and hate the most equally. If you live for a long time with someone, you can often predict what they are thinking and how they will behave in particular situations and this gives you time to prepare for the action.
If I compile a list of things I don't like about my husband, I can go on and on and if I start counting what I like about him, I can count on fingers. But what I dislike about him is insignificant has no value when I see his priceless qualities!
I've been married for four years now and I do see quite an improvement in my husband. I have changed myself as well. Best part is, the change is positive! So day by day it is getting better and better to live with him!
This can be a tricky one. It's no use expecting that things will turn out for the best without having discussed what that would look like in practice. If someone has really annoying habits that they can't or won't moderate, it's good to find out beforehand.
Setting up home implies emotional commitment. My advice is not to do it until you are absolutely certain that it's the right thing and again to discuss the fine details of who does what, when and to what standard, who pays for what and how arguments are settled.
It's a good idea to have a special time of the week set aside for problem-solving when things can be said without the need for defence or justification, eg 'when you do X, I feel Y', or 'I would like you to do X once a week' etc. Getting 'stuff' into the open is important, as it stops things festering. It might also be useful to discuss ahead of time what the process is if it doesn't work out. Then everyone knows where they stand.
I've found another useful tool is knowing when to agree to disagree, ie accepting that sometimes, no matter how reasonable and how long the discussion, the disagreement is not going to be resolved. Going round and round in circles every other month over the same argument is soul destroying...
All parties should feel that they're free to express opinions and say if things aren't going to their liking. If someone feels that they can't say what they feel should change, resentment sets in and then relationships break down. A bit of understanding is a very important thing.
Generosity and Space
One Researcher suggested that the best way to live with a partner is to always be more generous than you have to be. Whether it's with cleaning duties, bills, cooking, whatever. Do more than you think you need to. If both parties do this, then it makes for a very loving relationship and resentment and pettiness become foreign.
Space is the other thing. Just because you live together (in a relationship) doesn't mean you've become one person. You're still individuals and as such will need varying degrees of 'solo' time to experience what it's like being without your partner in a social environment. Otherwise you lose touch with what people like about you (and what they don't for that matter) and your identity as an individual. This invariably ends in a loss of self-esteem which becomes destructive to the relationship.
My theory is that if you think you have a good relationship worth sustaining you need to work at it. Everyone benefits if everyone attempts to sustain high standards. If both people in a relationship aren't working to keep it going, then it will get into a vicious circle of everyone doing less than they need to, taking advantage of each other, and it will fall apart acrimoniously. In these circumstances, don't become the person working harder than you think you ought to sustain the relationship - this is a sucker's job. Discuss, give an ultimatum, and if necessary, abandon ship.
When we moved in together, I agreed to cook if he did all the washing up. A fine and equitable division of labour.
Then he bought a dishwasher... now I want a cook!
The Toilet Seat
Okay, the biggie. It's not bills, it's not adultery, it's not washing up, it's the toilet seat. That great no-no that men just don't seem to understand and women seem to think is the worst crime ever ('it's not that you left the seat up, it's that you lie about it...'). Here are just a few of the comments on this thorny issue:
...It's not worth arguing about. Leaving the toilet seat up is a perfectly male practice, and it will never change. Get used to it...
... No, all parties should agree to lower both seat and lid. That's what the lid is for. Alternatively, plumb a urinal into your bathroom, like you'd find in a pub. Then there's no argument ... the seat stays down...
... If you need the seat up, put it up. If you need it down, put it down. Can't say as it ever bothered me, apart from in the middle of the night if I assumed the seat was down and it wasn't. But I always used to wonder why blokes didn't get annoyed that we women left the seat down all the time...
I'm not so sure about the lid. I seem to recall that the toilet is less hygienic with the lid down...
Hold on a second - what's this?
When you flush the toilet, the water rushing in has to displace a certain amount of air. If the lid is up then this air (with its payload of water droplets) rises gently above the bowl then falls back. If the lid is down then this air is forced out as a high-speed horizontal jet across the room.
Wow! Science and everything! Who said you don't get value for money around here?
Talk, Talk, Talk...
Whether it is moving in with your potential life-partner, or sharing a flat for convenience and/or economical reasons, it is always very important to verbalise a lot. If you have some previous experience, probably a good thing to summarise some of it into common 'rules' that you both agree on.
And try to have a critical look at your own expectations. When basic hygiene standards are met (not having too much toxic mould growing out of the sink, the shower and the laundry basket), and other safety measures well secured, is it really that important that the socks be folded inside out, the milk stored with the label facing forward, or whether the toilet seat is up or down? Try and turn this into an introspective game about everyone's (including your own) psychological profile and futile habits.
Your Own Space
Going from independence to cohabitation is a difficult task, but allowing space for the other person and getting it from them is probably the key issue. For whatever reason, sometimes we all need 'alone time' or just uninterrupted work or play time - to read a book without being bothered, to watch a television programme without having the channel changed, to be on the computer at ungodly hours. All of these things can't be scheduled, but they need to be. A separate room for all these things is the answer with another television, a comfortable chair, another computer. It may sound expensive but if you both independently had these things there should be room for them somewhere. Even the bedroom can suffice, but a second bedroom is ideal, especially if one of you snores!
The Golden Rule for living with a loved one, therefore, is always try to see the positive side of the person. Other 'rules' you might want to adopt include:
Always end an argument with a laugh.
Make your expectations very clear (and be willing to revise your expectations).
Agree to disagree on a few things.
Just be yourself.
Be nice to your partner's relatives.
Eat together. If eating is a 'team event' then not only is it more sociable, but it's easier if you can dispense with a lot of arguments about the associated jobs and ownership and storage of food.
Finally, it's a nasty thing to do, but people's mums are great tools in getting them to clean up/pay up under dire circumstances. If you can befriend the in-laws, half the battle is won.
Which All Means...
Several practical, common-sensical suggestions there, but many of them boil down to one simple thing - mutual respect. After a while doing something in their presence, take a quick glance around to see if there's anything that might offend/irritate your partner, or indeed anything that might actually please them in some way. Basic observance will help you on the way to being a considerate, loving partner.