March 24, 2023

Deciding you’re ready to move in with your significant other can be a huge step. Living together comes with many perks — like the possibility of splitting the rent with someone or impromptu date nights just because you’re both home — but also a couple of potential pitfalls.
Chief among them is the possibility of more serious conflicts as you and your partner figure out how to join your lives together, according to therapist Sheila Addison, PhD, LMFT. “A lot of what seems like surface-level conflicts — who should do what kinds of chores or how often we should have people over or whatever — that couples get really, really stuck on are because they turn out to be connected to deeper meanings,” she explains. Having a few open and honest conversations before you move in with your partner can help you navigate some of these challenges — Dr. Addison recommends getting started with these five topics.
Though it might seem like a silly question at first, Dr. Addison says asking your partner how they see their home can be a valuable exercise. For one person, home might be a peaceful refuge where they can unplug and enjoy their solitude; for another, home might be a fun-filled gathering place to host friends and family. Mismatched expectations about what you each want to create in a home could lead to tension down the line, Dr. Addison explains.
Dr. Addison says moving in together is also a great time to discuss the family dynamics and gender roles you saw modeled growing up. “Knowing what scripts or stories a potential partner that you’re moving in with is coming in with and also being clear with yourself” are key to setting expectations, she explains. Maybe you grew up with a mom who handled all the grocery shopping and cooking, while your dad mowed the lawn and took care of the yard work — do you see yourself following the same model or creating a different path? However you see the division of labor in your household, now is the time to get on the same page with your partner.
Dr. Addison also suggests spending some time talking about your families. “Even if you’re from the same background, no two families have the same culture,” she says. Do you have any family traditions you want to carry on in your own home? How do you see yourself spending the holidays — do you want to gather at your home, travel to see family, or spend time together as a couple? When it comes to family, Dr. Addison says there’s often no such thing as a 50-50 compromise. Instead, you’ll have to figure out how to navigate a way forward that works for both people in the long term — even if that means each person making sacrifices at different times.
Another key point to discuss before moving in together is how open you want to be with friends and family, Dr. Addison says. Take something as simple as knowing who to contact in an emergency: some people might be happy to tell their friends and family about every little issue they face, while others might want to keep those things private. This might also be a good time to talk about any larger boundaries you want to set about what you share outside of the relationship with friends or family.
Of course, living together also often means sharing expenses like rent, utilities, and other bills for the first time. Talking about your finances often isn’t a comfortable conversation — but it’s necessary, Dr. Addison says. “Whether they’re young folks or older folks, whether it’s a first relationship or you’ve even been married before and are now living with someone else, every time you come to the table for a new living-together arrangement, we’re so awkward about talking about money,” she explains.
It’s not just practical matters like how you’ll split the rent and how much you’d like to spend on a couch, either: money signifies different things to different people, Dr. Addison explains. One person might see saving money as the ultimate way to feel safe and secure, while the other might see money as something that should be spent to make life more enjoyable. For both people to feel fully comfortable with their financial situation as a couple, an open discussion about what you are and aren’t comfortable with is key.
If you’ve been dating someone for a while, you might think you have a pretty good idea of their daily routine already — but living together brings up even more questions. Ask your partner to describe a typical day, as well as what they need to feel healthy and happy. For example, do they need a certain amount of sleep each night? Do they take any daily medications? What eating habits keep them feeling their best?
Dr. Addison says this conversation is particularly important if either person has a mental health diagnosis or chronic health condition. Not only will it help you look after your partner, but it will also give you a better understanding of their “inner world” — a key way to strengthen your relationship. “A lot of these conversations create trust and intimacy,” Dr. Addison says.
Last but not least, Dr. Addison recommends discussing how you will handle conflict — because eventually, all relationships will have some tension. “It’s not that long, happy relationships don’t have conflict. It’s how they regulate it,” she says. Consider how you’ll know when the other person is getting too stressed out, frustrated, or worked up by a conversation, and what you’ll do to calm down so you can return to the discussion with a clear mind. Research shows that our brains just don’t function as well after prolonged conflict, Dr. Addison says: “We can’t regulate ourselves as effectively, and the best thing to do at that point is to pause and take a break and get regulated again.”
Dr. Addison also suggests that couples make a plan to check in regularly with one another, so small, under-the-radar issues won’t build up into blowout fights where “all of a sudden we’re flipping out because our partner put the wrong knife in the dishwasher.” Whether it’s once a day or once a week, check in with one another about how you’re feeling. Dr. Addison says some couples will send replies back and forth on an email chain, while others will leave a notebook around the house and write each other notes.
It can also be helpful to set some ground rules on when to get help, whether that’s from a trusted friend, a spiritual adviser, or a therapist. “Know what are the kinds of things that would start to get into the deal-breaker areas for one or both of you, and how you can catch it before we get there,” Dr. Addison explains. Putting these guardrails in place before you ever have an argument can set you up for a healthy relationship for months or years to come — well before you get into your first spat.


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