Living Together: Spouses, Significant Others, New Loves
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2006
Having trouble living with your spouse or significant other? Are issues like household chores, finances, TV and phone time the "little" things that shouldn’t matter but seem to cause emotional meltdowns? Are you considering moving in with your new love but have some concerns about how to keep your personal space while joining to build a life together?
As a committed couple, you’re building a life together and learning how to navigate through everyday life. If you find you’re getting frustrated with his or her annoying habits, it DOES NOT have to mean you're not meant to be together. It may just indicate that you should review "Sharing 101" and apply basic negotiating skills to live in harmony for the long run.
Here are some of the most common potential problem areas couples have when living together:
1. Live on Common Ground - Whether you’re moving into an existing space previously occupied by only one of you or are looking for a new place, you should both feel comfortable wherever you choose to live. No one should be a guest in his or her home. This especially rings true when one or both of you move in with kids. If you are moving into his house with your 9 year old son who has the potential for bouncing balls inside and breaking windows, this could be a pressure cooker. Instead, it may be wise to think about moving to a different home or somehow negotiating play areas where anything goes (within reason). The windows might break in any case, but when you’re truly living in a space you both regard as common ground, you won’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells.
2. Choose Décor Together - We’ve all seen those ads for kitchen appliances when opposite partners and their tastes come together to make one fabulous culinary center. If you want a whole new Asian look with a meditation area while your love can’t wait to sink into his comfortably worn brown fuzzy couch with a clicker, compromise is key. When you select items in your home that make both of you happy, then it’s a win-win for all. Come on, you CAN have a fabulous place. There’s a whole world of colors and styles to choose from! It may be worth tossing old "stuff" that no longer has significance in your life BUT remember to respect what your partner values and must hold onto.
3. We All Need Our Personal Space - The term "living together" says it all. Keep expectations reasonable about how much YOU time you can have but realize that you don’t have to be glued together. Plan personal time when you’re all alone in your place or have lunch out with a friend when there’s too much togetherness. When you do need to be alone and your partner is there, a hug, kiss and "I love you" does wonders before you close the door and escape with a good book.
4. Plan Dates - "Now that we’re married or living together, we never go out and do fun and romantic things as we did when we lived apart." If this sounds like you, get back to the things you did when you were dating. A cozy dinner out, a day at the beach or weekend getaways are more important now so you don’t get into a rut.
5. Communicate, Listen and Learn - When quirky habits get to be big irritants, discussing them with your partner in a non-confrontational way as they arise can nip the problem in the bud. Remember to listen and learn how you can both be more considerate of one another. Try and let go of the "little" annoying habits that truly are little and focus on the real button pushers. We all know by now that you can’t change someone, so accept what you can and creatively problem solve together respecting each other’s differences. It is worth the investment and effort. You are creating the way you want to live together.
6. Use the Team Approach with Chores - Sticking to a structured routine with household chores can become mundane. If you usually do the dishes while he cooks, surprise him with a tasty dinner (even if it’s take out) for a nice change of pace. By pitching in and lending a hand even when it’s not your territory, you show your partner you value what he or she does to make the household run smoothly.
7. Discuss Money Before Crossing the Threshold - Honesty and awareness are important when dealing with money matters. Fess up to your partner if you’re a spender or, on the other hand, like to hoard your savings. And be aware of each other’s money habits. Decide who pays for what and how to handle living expenses, especially if incomes differ significantly. No one should have to sneak in with new purchases and say "Oh, this old thing" when you’re debuting a new outfit. A general budgeting plan with room for flexibility is a great idea as you begin your life together under one roof.