My boyfriend and I moved in together about 2 months ago. This move was inspired partly by the insane rent increases in New York City that made his one-bedroom apartment unaffordable on his own, and partly by our shared desire to take solid steps toward building a life together.
We had only been dating for around six months but we both felt ready. We agreed that we would likely get along better if we lived together. We each tend to shut down and become avoidant when feeling hurt by each other, which is far more difficult to accomplish when sharing a bathroom. We also both get insecure if we feel under-communication from each other. Throughout our first month of living together, we had only one set of keys, leaving us no choice other than to provide consistent updates of our whereabouts and greet each other at each arrival home, greatly reducing the chances of accidentally leaving each other on read.
For the most part, it’s been great. We spend much more unstructured time together, have reached new levels of intimacy, and are building mutual trust. Despite a few rough moments, including waking up to the realization that a dog he was dog-sitting had had diarrhea all over the apartment, I’m very happy with my choice.
Most people with whom I shared the news of cohabitation have been excited for me, also often offering unsolicited advice. Some very cliche but not unhelpful (“Be patient!” and “Keep open lines of communication!”),some fully eye roll inspiring (“His job is so demanding, you really shouldn’t ask him to do any housework” and “He needs space to be a man, don’t try to make the apartment girly”), and some very useful.
Of all of the pieces of advice I’ve received from friends, family, acquaintances, yoga class patrons, and one chatty Trader Joe’s cashier, I’ve compiled the top five. These wise advisories continue to help me work through the challenging aspects of fully merging my home life with that of another human.
1. It’s Okay to Mourn the Way Things Were
For the first week or so after moving in, I felt sadness and a sense of grief. I wasn’t expecting this, as I had been excited to move and had very few doubts in the weeks leading up to it. While I liked my previous living situation well enough and would have been content to stay there, I wasn’t emotionally stirred by moving out. I had been sharing a four-bedroom apartment with three girls, all of whom were great roommates but none of whom were my close friends. I only moved ten blocks away, and my most convenient Whole Foods, European Wax Center, and Target locations stayed the same. Basically, the changes and sacrifices made were minimal.
I admitted my feelings of sadness to one of my friends with a little bit of shame. Why should I be feeling sad when this is exactly what I wanted? I worried that this meant that I wasn’t as in love with my boyfriend as I’d thought, or that maybe I wasn’t ready for this step. My friend told me “It’s okay to mourn the way things were, even if you’re happy about a change.”
This immediately soothed me, and also struck me as something that isn’t openly discussed often enough. The realization of one dream also means the death of many other dreams. I hadn’t acknowledged this to myself, leading to the nasty cycle of feeling sad and then feeling guilty and sad about feeling sad.
Making the commitment to move in with my partner meant that many dreams I’ve had in the past, including spending a year teaching yoga at a resort in Morocco, and having sex with a professional athlete either probably or certainly won’t come true. I was also giving up other little things in the present- a doorman building with someone always there to receive packages, two decent-sized closets to myself (un-fucking-heard of in NYC), and my own space (even if it was just a bedroom).
None of this is to say that I would choose any abstract or immediate experience or convenience over my relationship and creating a life with my boyfriend. It only means that I can feel sad about losing what was and what might have been while being firm in and happy with my choice.
Giving myself space to feel sad for a little bit was exactly what I needed to let go of the past and focus on moving forward with the next phase of my relationship.
2. Pick Your Battles, but Do Pick Some
For chronic people-pleasers like me, voicing concerns and grievances to your partner can be as anxiety-inducing as getting on stage at a fully nude stand-up comedy open mic night. On top of that, like many women, I have always felt a desire to be a “cool girl” and avoid being viewed as a nagging girlfriend, harping about socks left on the floor, or too much time playing video games.
These personality factors set me up well to heed the advice to “Pick your battles”, meaning “Avoid turning every small issue you have with your partner into a thing.” The focus of these wise words is often on the restraint involved in letting some issues go rather than on addressing those “battles” deemed worthy of “picking”, which is equally important.
I knew from the beginning that moving into my partner’s space would take tolerance and humility. I couldn’t expect everything to be arranged to reflect my tastes or desires. Which I was fine with, with one pretty notable exception.
The first time I visited my boyfriend’s home, soon after we met, I was baffled and mildly appalled by one aspect of his home decor. He had patches of astroturf (the fake grass used on indoor soccer fields and children’s outdoor play areas) of various sizes throughout his apartment in place of rugs.
I never want to steal anyone’s joy, especially that of the love of my life, but a few weeks after my move-in I was ready to lose it over the fake grass. He told me that it makes him feel like he’s on a soccer field and improves the experience of indoor soccer ball dribbling, in addition to combatting seasonal depression, which are both great things for him. Yet, every time I entered the living room and saw it, and every time I felt the plastic blades crunch under my bare feet, I felt a little bit more on edge. I tried to suppress my contempt toward this quirky home decor but grew only more angst-ridden. I pictured us on a Netflix reality show hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey, with me sobbing “It’s either me or the astroturf!!” as the rest of the cast looks on with a mix of shock and sympathy.
I finally gathered the nerve to calmly explain that I would never feel like this apartment was my home with the astroturf serving as the most remarkable part of the living space. He acknowledged that he had anticipated this and agreed to get rid of the turf.
This was one battle that I needed to pick for my inner peace and our harmonious living situation, even if it was only a matter of decor.
3. Know and Prepare for Your Triggers
I grew up with two males, my father and older brother, who were late more often than not. Relatedly, since I’ve started dating, men being late for any occasion has been a sort of deal-breaker for me. Even if I’m just waiting at home to start a movie together, I feel disregarded and unloved if my partner is late and isn’t communicative.
Throughout my relationship with my partner, I’ve noted and tried to prepare to manage my reaction to any lateness. Although he is generally more or less punctual, at the times when he isn’t I anticipate a strong internal reaction on my part. If I don’t take steps to mitigate this feeling, I know that it will lead to hours or even days of being distant and passive-aggressive, feeling quietly sad and angry but answering “no” every time he asks me if anything is wrong. This response would be damaging to both of us.
To prepare for this trigger, I rely on a series of tools to work through my feelings about it before any dialogue with my partner. I take deep breaths and ideally meditate, try to put myself in his position to remind myself that he’s most likely not intentionally late to upset me, and journal about it to release some of my feelings before expressing them verbally. I will still usually tell him that it bummed me out that he was late, and then give him space to share his viewpoint.
We all have these triggers ranging from the seemingly small, like a partner leaving near-empty coffee cups around the apartment to the larger, like feeling dismissed or belittled by a partner. These are all worthy of open discussion and transparency. Making a plan to mindfully address these triggers is an important step toward doing so.
4. Plan a Recurring Time to Discuss Logistical Matters and Concerns
Bringing up a grievance, tactical matter, or financial worry can easily be viewed as an attack or nag if the timing is off. In each relationship, both parties get sad, tired, and stressed, have difficult days, need time alone, and have myriad things to manage in their lives as individuals. Even for a partner who is generally even-keeled, returning home after a hard day at work to a forced discussion about how to lower the electricity bill can foster resentment.
Planning a weekly (or more or less often, depending on circumstances) meeting to discuss practical matters removes the anxiety of feeling out your partner’s mood and energy level before initiating a serious conversation. Of course, this approach won’t eliminate the need to address emergencies or imminent time-sensitive tasks and questions, and there is no guarantee that one or both partners won’t enter this pre-determined time in an exhausted or irascible state. However, allocating this time will reduce the chances of a partner feeling caught off guard often.
Additionally, knowing that a time dedicated to discussing practical or sensitive matters is coming can make it easier to pause before addressing something that makes you angry. Taking time to calm down and reflect before externalizing anger is known to help to share feelings in a more composed and effective manner.
5. Avoid Keeping Score in Your Head
Studies show that people generally think that they contribute more than they do and that their peers (partners, colleagues, teammates) contribute less than they do. This makes sense psychologically, as we are all more aware and reflective of what we personally do than what someone else does. For this reason, among many others, ruminating over how many times you have taken out the recycling vs. how many times your partner has is better to be avoided.
These small thoughts and resentments can build up to feeling like a martyr and quietly angry about your perceived carrying of the entire household while your partner is getting a free ride in a fancy car, or to lashing out and making exaggerated accusations. This also applies to larger matters- questions of who has sacrificed more, who has been more patient with the other, who gives more thoughtful gifts, and who takes better photos in portrait mode of the other to name a few.
If household work is unbalanced and has not been mutually agreed upon, that is certainly an important discussion to be had (see items #2 and #5). However, keeping feelings and annoyances to yourself and reinforcing them consistently is likely to lead to an exaggerated outburst or anger. If an issue with relationship dynamics is big enough to warrant bringing up, do so mindfully. If it isn’t big enough to merit a discussion, let it go.
Of course, the jury’s still out on whether my boyfriend and I will attain a sustainable harmonious living situation or not. However, these wise words have helped make our first few months as seamless and happy as I could have hoped.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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The post The Best Advice I’ve Received on Moving in With a Partner appeared first on The Good Men Project.