Lessons in Living Together
I'm by no means an expert on living with someone you're in a relationship with. Luke and I have only been living together for three and a half months after all. This is the first time either of us have lived with someone we're in a relationship with. We're rookies! Still, we've learned a few things in the last few months, so I figured I'd share.
o n e | Communication is Key | The biggest cliche right off the bat! But it's so incredibly true. Everyone knows that communication is key in any type of relationship, whether it's professional, platonic, or romantic. The thing is, this is a relationship that's both roommate-centric and relationship-centric and conversations need to be had for both arenas. You need to communicate expectations around who does the dishes and how to celebrate your next anniversary. (More to come on that.) We try to do a daily Check-In with each other over dinner. In that, you own your emotions because it's okay to feel what your feeling. It really gives us an opportunity to bring each other into our individual lives, talk about our days, and identify where our feelings are coming from.
t w o | Set Clear Expectations | Like I said, there are a few areas in which expectations need to be set. I think expectations really come down to having respect for the person you're in a relationship with and what his/her needs are. Luke and I have been working through a book called Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, so before we moved in together, we had already talked about how we would divide up household chores. I don't know that it's stopped any arguments that we would have otherwise had, but I do know that we don't argue about who's responsibility it was to take out the trash or why the laundry hasn't been done in days. I read an article once that had something to do with failing relationships and the guy said that the dishes ended up being the demise of his marriage. His wife expected dishes to be done straight away while he didn't mind if something soaked in the sink overnight. His realization was that ultimately he was disrespecting her and doing his relationship a disservice by choosing to ignore something that was important to her. Establishing a rule of thumb straight away will help minimize future problems. When I first moved, we set a rough schedule for our evenings like when we would eat dinner and when might be a sensible time to go to bed. That's not to say that we life on a strict schedule by any means, but instead of wondering every day what time we can have dinner, we only have to chat about it when it's the exception. We've also set up expectations about how we'll deal with conflict and, again, how to communicate our feelings. I'm especially not perfect at this, but it challenges me to break out of my passive aggressive habits and talk calmly (ideally) about anything that might be bothering me, regardless of how or if it relates to Luke or our relationship. And of course another big one is space. Luke worked from home a lot this summer and while it was great, we both still needed some to ourselves and we had to be clear about that and respect when the other needed space, even if it was different from when we personally needed space. You just have to ask for the space you need. Some people want a few quiet moments when they get home from work, while some people immediately want to catch up and engage with each other. It's all okay, it just needs to be respected.
t h r e e | Spend Quality Time Together | It's really easy to fall into a habit of flipping on Netflix in the evenings, watching TV through dinner, and spending the whole night on the couch, disengaged and probably on our phones. I know we're not the only ones who have fallen into that trap and I've read a few things about what some couples are doing to combat that toxic routine. Whether it's getting rid of the TV, limiting it to one or two episodes of your show per night, working out together, going for walks, whatever it is, it just has to work for you as a couple. For example, at this point, it's not likely that we're going to completely dump the TV or rid the house of Netflix. We certainly need to work on this aspect, but little things like having dinner at the table or playing a game in the evening gives us an opportunity to connect every day and engage with each other face-to-face. Luke also pointed out that we both try to make a point of doing little things for each other throughout the week. Things like having a cup of tea ready when Luke gets home from work or Luke bringing home fresh flowers from the grocery store. While those things aren't necessarily quality time spent, they're things that push us out of autopilot when we're just going through the motions. It give us a chance to show are appreciation for one another and reminds us hey, I really like this person and that's why I'm with him/her!
I know that living together before marriage isn't the best route for everyone to take. But I also know that having a one-size-fits-all approach to it doesn't work either. We're unique individuals in a unique relationship and, after lengthy conversations, we did what was best for us in our current situation. We did what's best for us and would encourage all couples to do the same. Whether that's moving in after the third date or moving in after your wedding. (Though logic says the former probably isn't your best option if you're aiming for relationship longevity.) Everyone has their own set of values and certainly will have their own thoughts on the topic, but it ultimately comes down to what two people decide to do.