The Cohabitation Survival Guide
Have you ever heard the saying “You don’t buy the car without taking it for a test drive”? Most of the time, this age old adage is used in favor of premarital sex… An important topic for another day, no doubt.
In this moment, however, I’m applying it to living with a significant other—A journey I recently embarked upon. And let me tell you, if I didn’t believe in the car theory pre-cohabitation, I certainly do now.
Before you sign the paperwork and commit to parking that car in your driveway for the next 10 years or so, you need to know a few things. How does it run in cold weather? Will it leak oil all over your driveway? Is it the kind of car you could drive forever? Will it leave piles of dirty dishes in the sink? Okay, that last one didn’t quite fit the metaphor, but you see my point. You can’t commit to sharing a life with a person until you’ve shared a lease.
My boyfriend and I had been together for a little over a year when we decided to make the big move from our quaint college town to Los Angeles. For us, it didn’t feel like a huge relationship milestone; it was a lot more like a real estate merger than a romantic gesture. I was moving to LA for a job, and he was already working in the city and making the commute. It just made sense to split the rent, rather than put the relationship (and our bank accounts) through added strain. We were practically living together anyway; it wouldn’t be THAT different, right?
Friends, family members and strangers on the street (okay, they were people I sort of knew, but let’s not split hairs here) all cautioned me against making the move before we were ready.
“It’s harder than you think,” they warned me. And of course, they were right.
It’s a Big Difference
Despite what you may think, and what I thought, there is a major difference between “practically live together” and actually living together.
Cohabitation has a way of forcing you to make compromises, practice compassion and step up your communication. After all, passive aggressive behavior and curt text messages will only get you so far when you share a bathroom. You will learn how to talk things out, and how to overcome obstacles together. The first time your toilet overflows mid-use or your internet goes down for 10 days, you will find out what you two lovebirds are really made of.
So can your relationship survive the less glamorous side of sharing a space?
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the often confusing waters of cohabitation…
Before you and your soon-to-be live-in lover sign the lease and hire the moving truck, you need to have an open conversation about your expectations. Because on top of being live-in lovers, you are also fundamentally roommates.
This is the time to discuss important living preferences and establish ground rules. What kind of household do you want to have? Define both of your required levels of cleanliness & ideas for organization. Do you want to share everything, or keep some furniture and food items separate? These guidelines need to be laid out, understood and agreed upon before any paperwork is signed. Do not throw caution to the wind and lay down your deposit, only to realize later that you are shacking up with a hoarder.. Or even worse, a person that leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor. Be honest about your needs and your shortcomings so there are less unpleasant surprises to worry about later.
Learn How to Choose Your Battles
Speaking of surprises, there will be a ton of them so prepare yourself! When you live with your lover, new irritants and issues will pop up where they never did before. Things that you never thought would bother you will start to feel like overstuffed elephants crowding the corners, making your new living situation feel more like a minefield than a home.
Instead of blowing up over the wet load of laundry left in the dryer or crumbs in your comforter, learn to filter out the mild annoyances from the real problems and pick your battles. Focus on the big picture and address only the issues that you absolutely cannot tolerate, otherwise you will remain in a constant state of bickering. And when oversights turn into bad habits, find a mature way to discuss the issue without inciting an all-out screaming match.
Never Go to Bed Angry
Arguments will happen and when they do, you’ll realize how much you valued being able to escape to your respective home bases to cool off. Now that you’re cohabitating, there is nowhere else to run when things get heated. No 3rd party referee to remind you to retreat to your corners before someone says something below-the-belt.
Develop a system for dealing with conflicts, whether it be a safe word or a timeout corner, and know when it’s time to take a breather and gain a little perspective. I recommend designating your bed as a safe zone; make a promise that, no matter what, you will never go to bed angry. This way, all issues will have to be worked out before your heads hit their pillows.
Practice Compassion & Understanding Daily
One of the hardest trials that newly cohabitating couples face is a complete loss of privacy. Many partners can be together for a long time without revealing signs of weakness or showing their faults, preferring to keep the truly personal stuff locked away for private moments. All of this will change once you enter cohabitation. Your partner now gets a front seat to every bad day, every embarrassing body function, every stomach flu, and every temper tantrum that bubbles to the surface.. And vice versa.
Instead of balking at these revelations, show your partner compassion. Let go of the little things, actively appreciate the positive qualities in your partner and practice a little understanding. Trust me, these are the moments that will make you stronger as a couple, and show you what your relationship is really made of.
Keep It Hot
Before cohabitation, couples are able to retain an air of mystery. Well, not anymore. After the first time seeing a girlfriend in her mud mask, or listening to a boyfriend pee with the door open, you may find yourself missing the nights of feverish goodnight kisses and perfect date outfits.
Yes, living together means you have to work a little bit harder to keep the mystery and the romance alive. This doesn’t mean that your sex life can’t get hotter—in fact, you now have an unlimited amount of opportunities to sexually explore and grow as lovers. Take advantage of all the quality time to try something new, like watching porn together or investing in some under-the-bed restraints for those times you’re feeling naughty. If you put in the effort to keep things hot, you can have the good, the bad and the ugly all under one roof, yet still remain in domestic bliss.
As a side note, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, you should both work to keep your solo sex lives going strong. I don’t know if my boyfriend and I would have survived our first year of cohabitation had it not been for masturbation. Masturbation can really help take the edge off of a long day and allows us to reconnect with ourselves sexually. Couples need their me-time, too!
Abandon Unrealistic Expectations
Do not be fooled by popular sitcoms; Living with a significant other is a real challenge. There will be conflicts. You will have fights. There will be expensive appliances that break, and will cost a ridiculous amount of money (and blame) to replace. There will be balls of hair pulled from shower drains that will make you wonder if you’ll ever feel sexually aroused again (Don’t worry, you will. Eventually.)
The first step in adjusting to your new living arrangement is recognizing that cohabitation might not always be fun and it definitely won’t be perfect.
Accept cohabitation for what it is: A test. Every curveball that is thrown your way is simply a challenge to see how you handle life as a team. If a couple roadblocks have you at each other’s throats, you might not be compatible in the long run. On the other hand, if you are able to overcome obstacles and grow as a couple, it might be a good predictor of a successful future together.