Living with your partner is a fast way to find out if your relationship is going to make or break. But with long-term lease agreements, financial obligations and a whole lot of heartache on the line, it’s best to know if you and your partner are the right match before making the jump toward cohabitation. While it’s easy to focus on binge watching Netflix together without leaving the house, or how convenient it feels to cook for two, there are a lot more factors that come into play.
Whether you’re choosing who gets to pick tonight’s TV show, or ironing out last month’s electric bill, plenty of tricky situations arise once you’re cozied up in close quarters. In order to avoid a messy breakup, it’s best to find out as much as possible about your partner’s expectations in advance through honest communication. Jay Hurt, author of The 9 Tenets for a Successful Relationship, told Her Campus that, “Having a real conversation around expectations that both people are engaged in is paramount to making any type of relationship work, especially a committed living relationship.”
If you’re thinking about signing on the dotted line with your partner, be sure you’ve talked about a few big things first.
Ah, good old money. It’s a tricky subject and moving can definitely feel like a financial burden. You typically need good credit, decent savings and a stable job to find a place. The financial fun only continues once you move in with ongoing grocery, utility and household bills (and fighting over who’s paying for toilet paper is probably the least romantic thing ever).
Emily, a 25-year-old graduate student at Boston University, says that when deciding to move in with her long-term boyfriend she “wanted to make sure that [they] would both be able to afford living in a new space, potentially with increased rent and groceries.” She also says, “Changes in our finances were a big conversation that we had to make sure that we could both keep up our end of things.”
So, how do you get on the same page with your partner when it comes to money? Hurt says that “understanding their background, where they come from, how they think about money, how their parents thought about money and what they’re dealing with” are all important topics. You should be prepared to openly talk about debt, spending habits and income to get a complete financial picture of one another too.
When I moved in with my partner, I started the conversation by focusing on my own finances. I showed him copies of my bank and credit statements to give him an idea of my habits. I felt that focusing on myself was the best way to begin the discussion in an open, non-defensive way. After exploring my personal financial history he seemed to feel more comfortable sharing his information in turn.
Even though I discussed money from the get-go with my partner, we’ve hit a few financial roadblocks while living together. We started losing track of how much money we owed each other for bills and household items. I’d pay for one thing, he’d pay for another, and we’d feel unsure of the actual balance for months on end. As a solution, we decided to track all of our shared expenses on a spreadsheet and touch base every two weeks to discuss it. Putting a concrete system in place has helped us not sweat the small stuff and enjoy our time together.
2. Your living habits
Be real with yourself, are you organized or messy? Or do you fall somewhere in between? What about your partner? It’s crucial to think about how your living habits will affect your SO and vice versa. It might not seem like a big deal to leave one dish in the sink, but it could leave your partner ripping their hair out. Believe it or not, the small things like making the bed can add up quickly and cause extra stress you don’t need to deal with.
Hurt adds, “The small things are often the most important things. It’s literally paying attention to detail. How they address the small things is indicative of what will happen with the big things. When you do the small things well, the big things take shape. When you don’t do the small things well, the big things fall apart.”
Addressing living habits such as cleaning, organization and sleep schedules in advance is key to setting up a relaxing space for two. That way, if you have a few differences, you’re prepared to make compromises instead of resenting each other.
3. Boundaries and expectations
Establishing healthy boundaries is a necessity for any relationship, but it’s even more essential when you’re living together. Boundaries are the backbones of respect. In a relationship, boundary violations can range from everyday communication discrepancies (like not telling your partner when you’re coming home) to major trust issues (i.e. going through your SO’s phone). Even if it’s by accident, crossing each other’s boundaries sets the scene for hurt feelings and disagreements. On the flip side, respecting them lays the path to a happy and healthy partnership.
Overall relationship expectations should be considered along with boundaries. You should be aligned when it comes to lifestyle choices and what you want out of the relationship. For example, time spent together can be a huge change in your routine once you’re living together. When choosing to live with her boyfriend, Emily explains, “Making sure that we’re able to coordinate our work schedules and social schedules so that we’re actually getting to spend time together was extremely important.” Perhaps you need some uninterrupted alone time to gather your thoughts and decompress every day. Or maybe you’d like to plan date nights out once a week to keep the spark alive. Either way, it’s important to tell your SO about your expectations.
It can take some serious time to learn about your partner’s boundaries and expectations, and vice versa. If you find that your partner does something that doesn’t quite mesh with your way of life, it can be helpful to address it head-on in the moment so it doesn’t build up. In contrast, if you already feel tension about a pattern of behavior, consider sitting them down and expressing your needs. At the end of the day you both deserve to feel comfort, trust and safety in one another’s presence.
4. Long-term direction of the relationship
Maybe you’re not ready to hop on the marriage train just yet, but will you both be in the future? If so, are you waiting to hit a certain milestone, like a certain age or career goal? Do you see yourself having kids together? Where are your career paths taking you? Would you relocate to another city with them? All of these things may feel far off in the future, but they’re necessary conversations when choosing a life partner.
In order to succeed in a relationship, Hurt says, “It all goes back to values when we’re trying to find who the right person is for us because if our values align we can do anything. If they don’t align, it’s really challenging.”
Healthy relationships boil down to strong communication and aligned values. Having honest discussions about money, living habits, boundaries and expectations will help you determine if you’re the right fit for each other in the long-term. If these conversations seem scary, consider how incredibly beneficial they’ll be for your peace of mind. You can even take baby steps and choose to talk about one small topic at a time. If the relationship isn’t a long-term fit, it’s way easier to make an exit before having legal obligations together. On a more positive note, if you’re a great match you can move forward with confidence and focus on the fun stuff. Once you’re on the right path together you can sit back, relax, and thrive in your new space.