6 lessons you learn when you move in with a significant other for the first time
Just two months after my partner and I moved in together, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic broke out, and our home of New York City not only issued a stay-at-home advisory but was also declared itself the epicenter of the virus. Suddenly, we were not just living together, we were living together 24/7 in classically cramped N.Y.C. quarters during an extremely stressful and anxiety-ridden time. Just as we were learning about how the other lives, adjusting to compromise, and tacking up our very last pictures on the walls, we were thrown into a crash course of cohabitation. And let me just say: Quarantine has taught us a lot.
Though I’d lived with other people (i.e. college roommates and siblings), moving in with my significant other was a totally different experience—one where I had to learn to be flexible out of love and acceptance for the other person. It’s a lot of fun, but it comes with its own set of challenges, too. And since moving in with a partner is usually a long-term commitment, it’s nice to know what you’re in for before diving in.
First things first: Make sure you’re on the same page about moving.
If you’re still in the “Should I move in with my partner?” phase, the very first thing you should do is to make sure you both want the same things from cohabitation.
“Typically a request from a partner to move in together symbolizes a significant level of commitment to the partner and the relationship,” explains Nicole Miller, MS, LPC, NCC, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and life transitions. “However, it is important to manage expectations by mutually discussing what the decision to move in together implies.”
For example, one partner may assume the decision to live together is the final step toward an even greater commitment such as engagement, while the other partner may be looking for long-term cohabitation without the intention of taking any further steps toward commitment.
“By reaching a mutual understanding on the front end, it decreases the likelihood of conflict over unmet expectations in the future,” Miller says.
According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the vast majority (66 percent) of married couples have lived together before they walk down the aisle. But while this might work for most couples, the choice is, ultimately, yours to make.
So before you take the leap to live together, make sure your steps are in sync. There is a bit of a learning curve ahead.
6 things you learn when you move in with a partner:
Ask any successful couple the key to their lasting relationship and they’ll likely have a one-word answer: compromise. Whether it’s choosing what style of couch to buy, whose turn it is to do the dishes, or whether the windows stay open or closed, learning to be flexible and find common ground is key. The reality is you’re going to disagree on some of these things.
“Practice flexibility by choosing your battles and learning to navigate the choices and quirks you can tolerate—while kindly addressing the behaviors or differences you have difficulty accepting,” says Miller.
Remember, being in a relationship is not about keeping score of who “wins” certain arguments or concedes to others. Sometimes, each of you is going to have to do both. All will not be lost over your differences in keeping the lights on or off or the thermostat at 65 versus 70 degrees. You will both learn to compromise.
When you live together, you’ll learn to talk it out much more often. Instead of letting the little things pile up (like your partner’s dirty towels on the floor after a shower), “you’ll learn to effectively communicate with your significant other to express your needs and feelings while also understanding what your partner needs in order to feel understood,” says Miller.
Since living in proximity is bound to breed some conflict, you’ll learn that not every issue needs to lead to a large-scale disagreement. In fact, most things can be solved before they come to a head by plainly and calmly talking about them right then and there.
Regardless of how you choose to handle your finances in the relationship (a joint bank account, 50/50 split, etc.), living with your partner means all cards are on the table when it comes to talking about money. No longer will the “grin and bear it” approach work when it comes to checking your balance. You’ll need to be upfront and accountable about how you’re paying bills, who is collecting rent, how groceries will be split, and more.
“Living together gives you and your partner a front-row seat to how each of you manages your finances, independently and collectively,” says Miller. “You may find it feels a bit uncomfortable to talk about finances and spending habits at first, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Part of living together is creating normalcy around discussing shared financial responsibilities.”
The good news is that certain expenses in your budget might go down once you move in together. For example, you may eat at home more often or no longer need to budget for transportation to go see each other.
4The importance of “me” time.
As excited as you may be to live with the person you love, you’ll soon realize that personal space and alone time is still important. After all, you’re both individuals with different likes, interests, and needs, so it’s okay if those don’t line up all of the time. With no more physical separation of your lives, you’ll need to consciously create that separation in a way that works for you both.
“Learn to pay attention to your need for personal space,” advises Miller. “If your partner values spending time together 24/7 but you need a bit more alone time, this is when you can tap into communication and conflict resolution skills to negotiate appropriate amounts of alone time that are agreeable to you both.”
5The importance of “we” time.
Just as it is important to carve out “me” time, moving in together means making an effort to create “we” time—time for the two of you to feel special and connected outside of the day-to-day minutiae. Before you share a space, date night happens by thoughtfully setting up plans to meet up, go out, or make dinner together. But when those activities become a part of your combined routines, they start to feel less romantic and more transactional.
That’s why Denna Babul, relationship expert and author of Love Strong, tells HelloGiggles that it’s crucial for couples to make sure they carve out designated romantic time. “Without the time to reconnect each week, couples tend to get into ruts and routines, believing their partnership can make it on cruise control. Everyone needs and wants to feel special, so make time for that,” she explains.
It can be as simple as lighting a few candles with dinner or trying out date night in a box. Just find something that reminds you both of why you decided to move in together in the first place.
6It’s no longer just about you.
Moving in with someone can bring up a lot of thoughts about your future. You become more cognizant of how you live and how you want to live down the line. But it’s no longer just about what you want, because now you’ll constantly have someone else to take into consideration.
“Perhaps one of the biggest learning curves when living together is adapting from an ‘I’ mentality to a ‘we’ mentality,” says Miller. “You begin to shift away from an individualistic mindset to a more collective mindset that includes your significant other when making decisions—because it no longer just impacts you but your partner as well.”
This is a natural progression and often happens over time as you become more used to living with someone you are dating. But slowly, just as you lay down rugs to make your space more of a home, you’ll also lay down the foundation for a lasting partnership. And, of course, you’ll have fun doing it.