Whether you move in with a partner before marriage, after marriage, or in lieu of marriage, moving in together is a big step in any relationship, romantic or not. Sharing your living space with someone who isn’t your child, parent, or sibling requires vulnerability, trust and compromise to make it work.
After you’ve been divorced or gone through a major split before, one of the perks is often getting back a living space that’s comfortable, safe, and all yours. So when it’s time to move in with someone new, you might struggle a little to adjust.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Here are some of the biggest lessons to master before you get those moving boxes piled up.
Learn to resolve conflict in a healthy way
For many, one of the things that leads up to divorce is conflict. Much of that conflict doesn’t get resolved in a healthy way — it’s handled with screaming, arguing, tears, and anger. And sometimes it never gets resolved at all.
So when you’re contemplating moving in with a new partner (or even in the beginning stages of a new relationship), understanding how to resolve conflict in a healthy way is important.
The key is in recognizing that even if you personally don’t have any unhealthy habits when it comes to conflict resolution, others might. And you need to know how to recognize those so you can gently call your partner out on them and work together to have healthy conflict that gets resolved.
It’s also a good idea to be open to counseling — even if there aren’t any problems yet. A counselor can help equip both of you with the tools you need to resolve conflict in healthy ways so that when problems do come up, you’re prepared.
Work out how you’ll share expenses
Money is often a source of conflict in relationships. So when you’re ready to move in together, it’s important to get ahead of it. Sit down and discuss how you’ll share the expenses.
Cover things like whether you’ll pool your money or have separate accounts, whether you’ll split expenses 50/50 or based on income, and whose names should go on which bills.
Don’t forget to bring up things like child support (whether it’s going out, coming in, or both), spousal support (again, in whichever direction(s) it flows), and any expenses that are specific to only one of you (such as a child’s medical bill or extracurricular activity).
While you may not think of absolutely every last possible financial issue, it’s important to cover as many as you can to avoid major conflict over money.
Talk about the past
Your previous marriage and theirs, if they have one (or more). Past roommates. A childhood growing up with parents and maybe siblings. All of these things have contributed, to varying degrees, to how you each live your lives and run your homes today. And while it’s tempting to try to ignore some or all of it because it’s a little (or a lot) unpleasant, it’s important to talk about all of it.
Understanding how each of you have lived in the past will help you both have a better understanding of habits and expectations you have today — which can make those things less frustrating or annoying when they’re totally different from your own.
Talk about what your marriages were like. Talk about how it’s been to live alone with your kids. Talk about how it was growing up as an only child or one of 23 siblings. These conversations will set the stage for each of you recognizing that the fact that one of you wants to wash dishes as soon as they’re dirtied and the other is happy to let them sit for days isn’t about bugging each other or being a control freak or lazy, but about the way you’ve lived in other times. With other people.
The past is a fact of your life. It influences today and the future. So talk about it.
Remember it isn’t all about you
If you’ve been living alone with just your kids for many years, you’ve probably settled into some routines and habits that are suited to single folks. In other words, routines and habits that might not be appreciated by your new roommate. And they probably have a few too that you won’t appreciate.
It’s important to remind yourself that when you’re moving in together, it’s not all about you anymore. You’re no longer the sole decisionmaker, provider, disciplinarian, cook, housecleaner, etc. It’s time for compromise.
The way you’ve always done things might not be the way you continue to do things. The way you envisioned living together would look might not be how it looks at all. Whether it’s how you’re raising your kids, the day you do laundry, or which side of the bed you sleep on, it’s not just up to you.
Be willing to hear your partner out and find compromises that allow you both to get some of what you want — or to get the things that are most important to you. Be honest and direct about what matters, or what doesn’t, so you and your partner can find those compromises more easily.
Be clear but flexible in your expectations
You told your partner the clothes hamper is in the laundry room, so why on earth do they keep leaving their clothes on the bathroom floor? And why do they never clean up after themselves when they’ve cooked dinner?
It’s important when moving in together to be clear about your expectations of a partner. Whether it’s telling them you want them to act as a parent to your kids (or not), that they need to do their own laundry, or you expect them to pay the Netflix bill because you didn’t even have Netflix before they moved in, clarity matters.
But in addition to clarity, you also need flexibility. You need to be willing to move the laundry hamper into the bathroom if that will get your partner to put their clothes in it. You might need to decide that even though you’ve always believed whoever cooks should clean up, it might be better to go with your partner’s idea that if one person cooks, the other should clean up.
Be willing to look for changes that will allow both of you to be happy without building resentment because an expectation is going unmet.
Remember it takes time to settle in
But don’t get in too big a rush to be flexible with those expectations. Remember that it takes time to settle into a new home, a new relationship status, and new expectations. When you’ve been doing something one way for a long time, you’re not going to change how it’s done overnight.
So cut each other some slack when you first move in together. Don’t assume that your partner’s failure to live up to an expectation means they will forever not live up to it. Instead, assume that they’re adjusting and are simply not used to it yet. Assume that they are doing the best they can and that, if you remind them gently, eventually they will do better.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should wait years for things to change. But one to three months isn’t too much to ask when you’re trying to mesh multiple lives and personalities into one home.
Learn to accept annoying habits
There are some habits your partner is going to have that are going to annoy the crap out of you and will never change. And the same is true for you. The best thing for your relationship is to accept that. Accept that you will both have some annoying habits that aren’t going to go away and learn to live with them.
Whether it’s snoring, talking too loudly on the phone, talking over movies, or something else, there are some habits that are just too ingrained to change. And that’s assuming we’re even aware of the habit and want to change it.
When you’re getting annoyed, try to put their habits on a scale. Which battle do you really want to fight? The one about them clipping their nails and leaving the clippings on the table? Or the one where they text during a movie? It’s unlikely that both are equally annoying, so choose your battles wisely.
And if there’s a habit that you really feel you can’t live with, you might have to consider why that is. Is it really the habit? Or is it more about your partner as a person?
Make sure the home is “ours”
The two of you might not be able to rent or buy a home that’s new to both of you. But even if you’re living in one or the other’s existing home, it’s important to make sure it’s our home, not my home or their home.
This means blending furniture, décor, dishes, and more. It means that rustic farmhouse or soothing coastal theme you’ve had going on might be interrupted by your partner’s NFL posters or you might have to let go of the couch you’ve had since college.
Like with anything else, you should be clear on things that are important to you. If you have a painting that doesn’t really go with the rest of the house but it’s sentimental to you because your grandmother painted it, say so. If you don’t want to use their bedframe because you know it was the same one they used when they were married before, speak up.
But don’t get in a rush to throw out things you don’t use. You can save them for when your kids move out or as a “just in case” so you aren’t starting over basically from scratch if the relationship doesn’t work out. And remember that you can always use some of it to decorate a man-cave or she-shed.
Make sure there’s plenty of “me” time and “we” time
Moving in with someone is basically saying “I like/love you so much I want to spend all my time with you.” And in the beginning, you might spend much of your time together because it’s new and exciting.
But having some me time is also important. To avoid losing your identity in a relationship or reaching a point where you’re annoyed by the mere sight of each other, you need time apart — and not just time at work, either.
So make sure you have some regular me time scheduled. Whether it’s consistently happening the same day of every week, or you just randomly schedule it, you need to make sure it’s a priority.
But even as you make sure you have plenty of me time, make sure you also schedule plenty of we time. Don’t allow spending time together as a couple to take a backburner. It’s easy to let that happen as you tell yourself that since you live together, you’ll always get enough time together.
Plan regular date nights and make it a point to find other ways to spend some quality time together. Don’t rely on Netflix on the couch to be your couple time.
Keep a shared calendar
One big sticking point many newly living together couples find is trying to stay on top of each other’s schedules. Planning a big dinner only to have your partner not get home until three hours later leads to disappointment and even resentment. Forgetting they planned a girls’ or guys’ night out when you were hoping to do something fun together can lead to an argument that doesn’t need to happen.
Keep a shared calendar. Whether it’s a big wall calendar that you keep in the kitchen or a Google calendar you both have access to, keep a shared calendar where you make note of things like an evening work meeting, a night out with friends, or an early morning doctor’s appointment. You don’t necessarily have to include every meeting during your work day or every lunch with friends during the work week.
But you do want to include anything that the other person might need to know about when planning meals, activities together, or even just wondering when you’ll be home tonight. By having this shared calendar where it’s easy to see when the other person won’t be home, you can avoid arguments, disappointment and resentment. You can also avoid that sometimes frustrating text chain where you try to find out what their schedule looks like.
Living together is a big leap post-divorce
When you’ve already gotten divorced or had a major breakup that required dividing the pots and pans, it’s a big leap to take the chance on living with someone again with or without being married. So it’s important to do the inner work, and do the work as a couple, to be sure you’re bringing your best selves to the relationship.
Whether you use this article as a checklist to try to cover as many bases as possible, or use it merely as a starting point, don’t hesitate to ask hard questions and dig deep into details. Living together is more than just sharing four walls and a roof. It’s sharing a life, creating a space where both of you should be able to feel comfortable and safe.
Make sure you’re ready so you can feel exactly that.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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