August 17, 2018

Making the Move: Considering Cohabitation (Part 2)

movingboxesSo you have decided to do it:  live together. That’s what my client Karen and her boyfriend, Jared, decided too. Last week I wrote about things to think about when making the decision. This week we’ll look at a few things to think about—both big and small—when you are planning the big move.

Practical considerations:
There are a number of day-to-day matters to figure out so you can live in harmony with the person you love. Unfortunately, true love is not enough to smooth out all the potential bumps. It takes planning and work and motivation. Here are just a few things to ponder before you move in:

Where? Do you want to move into your place or your partner’s, or shop around together for something new? It’s a nice idea to start over in a new place you both choose together, but that may not be feasible. Maybe one of you has a fabulous home you both love. Karen had been sharing an apartment with her sister, while Jared had a gorgeous, but tiny, studio apartment. They decided to hunt together and found a place that excited them both. Be sure you and your partner are totally on board with the plan before you implement it.
Money. Who pays for what? Are you both signing the lease? Doing so is a good idea as it commits each of you to the outcome. But another thing to consider is income disparity. Karen is a CPA and works for a huge chain of nursing homes. Jared is a third grade teacher. They decided that splitting 50-50 would be unfair to Jared as he makes less than Karen. So they split the bills 60-40, according to their incomes. They are both comfortable with that. The main message here is: decide ahead of time who pays what.
♥ Equality. Who is going to do the cooking? Who cleans the bathroom? In addition to figuring out your comfort levels in terms of clutter, dirty dishes, or unmade beds, you will need to decide who does what. Try to avoid gender stereotypes or resentment can easily build. Karen loves yardwork and when she and Jared found a little house to rent she is the one who wanted to push the mower around their third of an acre yard. Neither of them likes cooking much so they figured out a way to share the chore so it was more fun. There are no rules – do what feels right… and fair.
♥ Cohabitation agreement. Living together may or may not save both of you money, but in general, living expenses for two together are cheaper than for two apart. You might want to consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement that spells out the financial and legal parameters, including what would happen if things don’t work out. Couples over 60 in particular often make the decision to live together for financial reasons—e.g. pensions, benefits, estate planning. Such an agreement is certainly not required or even necessary but may well put minds at ease.

Emotional considerations:
You will need time to find the rhythm of your newly partnered lives. Be patient as you do so. There are several things to think about. Here are a few:

Personal time. Extroverts get energy around people. An extrovert will often go out, see friends, and his or her partner is not always enough to fill an extrovert’s need for face time. Introverts need alone time—they refuel differently than extroverts. Consider your needs and those of your partner and realize that your partner’s choices that are based on personal needs and styles do not reflect upon you. Karen felt a lot better when she learned not to take it personally when Jared would go into the guest room and sit at his desk for hours with the door closed. (For more info about extroverts and introverts you can check out these two blogs:  6 Good Reasons to Date an Extrovert and 6 Good Reasons to Date an Introvert).
♥ Personal space. It’s true that introverts often need to close the door to really get that sense of “space” they need, but you may not have the room in your home for everyone to have a personal office or den. But everyone—introverts and extroverts alike—need somewhere to call their own, even if it is a desk in the corner of the bedroom or a bookshelf in the living room. Jared and Karen had to share a desk but had their own two drawer filing cabinets. Karen also had a drawer in the kitchen that was all her own for the “stuff” she needed to have “handy.” Jared said, “Whatever works.” Basic rule of thumb: respect one another’s’ needs for privacy and space.
♥ Individuality. Even though you are madly in love, you want and need to maintain your own identity in the relationship. True love does not require that you become absorbed by the other. If you start watching the TV shows your partner likes and give up your own, or stop eating the foods you prefer, or going to bed when it feels right—just to accommodate your partner—you’ll lose yourself in increments and begin to feel resentful. Living together does require compromise and accommodation, but not complete self-annihilation!
♥ Habits. The more you’ve lived, the more you have “your way” of doing things. When two people move in together those special ways of doing things can become like lighter fluid on a smoldering grill. Do not take it personally if your partner has a different way of folding a towel or loading a dishwasher. Respect one another’s routines, but also have a conversation. Jared cared a lot more than Karen did about how to organize the kitchen cabinets, so she said, “Have at it,” and adjusted to his layout. If one of you doesn’t care that much, and the other does, is it worth a fight? If something is earth-shattering for you both—like how to make the bed (speaking from personal experience)—you may have to talk through it. Sounds silly, maybe, but it’s not.
♥ Being considerate. You live with someone now. Your partner may have different sleeping habits or eating routines. If your early morning music fest on the bluetooth speaker is going to wake up your partner who has different rhythms, you may have to switch to headphones or have a quieter morning routine. (Again: don’t take it personally.) Karen hated eating a big meal in the evening and Jared had always been a meat-and-potato-dinner-at-six kind of guy. They had to figure it out.
♥ Dealing with family & friends. Are you used to having your family drop by at any hour of the day or night? This might not sit well with your more private partner who wants to make plans well in advance. Figuring out what works for each of you in terms of the household rules and rhythms will make for smooth sailing (pretty much).
Expectations. You thought about this before you decided to move in, but keeping track of how you both feel about the relationship and where it’s going is always important. I suggested to Karen and Jared that they check in with each other on the first of the month about how it is going and whether their expectations are being met. You can ask, “Are you comfortable living with me so far?” or you can say, “I need more cuddling,” or even, “I need you to put your socks in the hamper.”

In the past, cohabitation received unfavorable press. The establishment claimed that cohabitation before marriage resulted in a high divorce rate. There may have been some truth to that. When plans and expectations are unclear, relationship inertia often results, which can be deadly. But times have changed, and recent studies suggest that two thirds of Americans will live with a partner and that half of all marriages will emerge from cohabitation. The numbers of single people (it is now estimated that over 50% of Americans are single) are based on marriage statistics—many of those “singles” may, in fact, be cohabiting with a committed partner.

Relationships are beautiful and joyful but they also require work and dedication, whether you are living together, engaged, or married. Check in regularly with yourself and your partner to make sure things are working for both of you. And just…love each other and yourself. Be kind. Have fun. And don’t take things personally! You’ll be fine.


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