Moving in with your significant other is a happy milestone in a relationship, but it can also be a major source of stress.
That’s right. Even though it’s an exciting time, it can still be a difficult adjustment, often bringing a lot of tough issues to the surface. “While moving in together is a wonderfully exciting step in any couple’s love story, big changes can often get registered and experienced in the body as stressful, anxiety-provoking and possibly threatening. It is valid to feel both excited and anxious,” Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, MA, MMFT, PhD, tells TODAY.com.
As Joyce Marter, LCPC, author of "The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life," puts it, when you move in with your significant other, it’s completely normal to have some conflicting feelings of fear (“Are we going to get sick of each other?”) and loss (“Am I going to have enough time for myself?”). “That doesn’t mean it isn’t the right relationship or the right time, it just means you are human and having a normal response to a big life transition,” she says. Thus, it's important to honor the negative emotions just as much as the positive ones, as well as practice compassion for yourself and your partner during this transition.
To give you a framework to approach the "merging of the keys," we turned to relationship experts and psychologists for their top tips on moving in together. Our advice (and, well, theirs): Work your way down this checklist before you step foot in your new home sweet home.
Manage your expectations
A shift in perspective can do wonders. “Understanding that life transitions, even exciting ones, can bring on complex feelings is half the battle. Having a more realistic expectation for what may come helps us be kind to ourselves when we are feeling less than elated,” Marelys Padilla, LCSW, PMH-C, tells TODAY.com. “Allowing space for these difficult feelings rather than shoving them down, ignoring them, or trying to change them will help you metabolize them and get to a clearer understanding of the root of your concern.”
No matter how ready you feel, you and your partner will still experience a few hiccups in your new digs. “There is simply no way of knowing how you will both adjust to this new living situation and, no matter how much you have in common, living together requires a great deal of compromise," Nina Westbrook, LMFT, adds. "The couples who experience the most success are those who stay flexible, set and maintain healthy boundaries, and foster open communication."
A tip: Rather than thinking that everything has to be perfect at all times, shift your attitude by focusing on the joys of building a home together. That simple tweak can make a world of a difference when things don’t go perfectly (psst, they probably won't).
Discuss excitements and fears
"Life is full of dialectics, with two things being true at once. Couples that sustain long-term relationships often hold space for the messiness of life and communicate openly about all the wonderful and terrifying parts,” Yeghnazar Peck tells TODAY.com. “Expressing your exhilaration and your fears together is going to create some safety between you two and lessen the pressure to have this be a singular experience of joy and bliss.”
Be upfront and honest about your fears, so you can put a plan in place to overcome them — together. “Often in relationships, one person fears abandonment while the other fears suffocation," Yeghnazar Peck says. In this case, the former may feel "reassured by conversations about how they will handle new conflicts," and the latter may need "regular activities that each person is going to engage in individually.”
Continue being individuals
Speaking of activities, don't lose sight of yourself when you merge your life with someone else.
“Each person needs to commit to still being a full person with their own hobbies, friends, activities and routines," Yeghnazar Peck stresses. "The goal is to ensure that each person feels balanced and energized by the things they value."
Even if you love spending every waking second with your sweetheart, you still need to carve out time to be yourself, catch up with friends, exercise and practice hobbies that fill your cup. "Honoring these individual differences is not a threat to the relationship. It is a lifeline, allowing the relationship to be comprised of two resourced and nourished people who can be present and available to one another," she says.
Reflect by yourself
Padilla recommends carving out time each day — even just a few minutes —for some self-reflection.
“Getting acquainted with your internal world is not only highly beneficial for you and your relationships, it is a required first step towards understanding your needs,” she says. “Many people find journaling, meditation, or time outside useful for this, but really any activity which promotes a feeling of safety where you can reflect on how you’ve been feeling in a non-judgmental manner will do just fine!”
... and together
“Slowing down and taking the time to discuss healthy boundaries and the logistics behind this new living situation will make the transition much easier," Westbrook says.
To that point, Westbrook suggests an exercise where each partner creates a personal list of routines they prioritize in their everyday life, from morning rituals and TV-watching preferences to exercising and shower time. “This list can also include habits (both good and bad) that might impact your significant other now that you’re sharing everything from the coffee maker and air conditioning to the TV remote,” she adds. Once you're done, go over your lists together and discuss "how you plan to build a partnership that works for you both."
While you're at it, talk about who will cover certain expenses and handle certain chores the house since doing this can “help each partner manage their own expectations, while also understanding what their partner expects from them in this new stage of the relationship.”
Have the “money talk”
Or more accurately, several money talks. “Because financial conflict is one of the primary reasons couples seek counseling and file for divorce, you’ll want to focus on prevention and invest some time to learn how to talk with your partner about money,” Marter says.
Each couple handles finances differently, so it's important to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page. Here are the three guiding questions Marter says to tackle:
How are you going to organize your money?
“Some couples pool all their money, some create a joint account for joint expenses but maintain individual accounts for their own spending, and some live like roommates and simply divide up bills and expenses,” Marter says, stressing that there’s no right or wrong way as long as you and your partner are in agreement.
If you opt to share your assets, then Marter adds that "you can’t have secret debt or secret assets, otherwise you are committing financial infidelity." For the sake of transparency, make sure you both have access to your access and agree on a payment system. "If you are paying bills separately, you might consider having an agreement that if somebody is late paying their bill, they are responsible for the late fee, for example.”
What is your household budget?
Set a household budget when you start living together and review it on a monthly basis to make sure you're staying on track.
Shared expenses should be agreed upon from the outset. “Any personal expenses need to be separated out and also agreed upon as the individual’s responsibility. This can be challenging when there is an income disparity between partners or if one partner is more of a spender and one is more of a saver,” Marter says. Turn to a financial planner for help, if needed.
What are your financial boundaries?
Marter believes yo and your parter shouldn't shy away from conversations about your financial beliefs, needs and expectations. In other words, leave no monetary stone unturned.
“For example, early on, my husband and I agreed we would not make larger purchases (of over $500) without consulting one another because if one of us overspent, that impacted the financial health of the other,” Marter says. If there are any concerns about someone's spending habits, gambling tendencies or addictions, seek therapy and support programs like Debtors Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous.
Differentiate incidental and intentional time together
“Moving in together means lots more incidental time — passing each other in the hallway, sitting next to each other on the couch and brushing your teeth at the same time,” Yeghnazar Peck says. “This is not the same as quality time."
Incidental time doesn't fill your "relational and emotional bank" in the same way, which is why Yeghnazar Peck says it's important to intentionally schedule dates with one another.
Remember: You're only here because you put in the work in the first place — and that doesn't stop now. "It’s important not to mistake seeing the person more often as beneficial for your relationship and to continue making plans, being thoughtful about time together, making efforts to talk and connect without distraction, being intimate, and doing all the things you did before you moved in together,” she adds.
Move into a new space together
Start fresh, if possible.
"There can be imbalances in power and control if one partner moves into another partner’s existing space,” Marter says. “To the one moving in, it can feel like it is still their place and it can feel like the partner moving in is encroaching on the original homeowners space." Things are even more complicated if an ex previously lived — or stayed in — the space.
If moving into a new place is off the table, make an effort to redecorate, invest in some new furniture, and even light a smudge stick together to “cleanse” the space. There should also be a balance of items to reflect both the individual and the partnership. "This is an opportunity for collaboration, communication and compromise to develop your style as a couple," she says.
Though it’s about compromise above all, a good rule of thumb is one-third one partner’s stuff, one-third the other and one-third new items, though this may vary based on each person’s finances.
Map out household chores
“Just as it’s important to discuss the budget, it is critical to be proactive about conversations about division of labor," Marter says.
In addition to talking about the chores themselves, talk about when they will get done. “For instance, you could share that saving all of the housework for the weekend isn’t going to work for you, and suggest that you try dividing up the chores and tackling housework in small doses throughout the week instead,” Westbrook adds.
Get out of the house
That’s right, leave your home sweet home. “Don’t forget to invest time and energy into the other important relationships in your life. Do things outside of your home and continue to cultivate areas of your life that are yours and yours alone,” Westbrook says.
When you move in with someone — especially if you’re naturally a homebody — you may find yourself neglecting other relationships or not making the effort to see acquaintances as much as before. “Maintaining friendships and carving out personal time to do things without your partner not only encourages a healthy level of independence, but can also help alleviate any stress your new living situation may be causing."
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