Moving in with your partner can be an exciting step in your relationship. Moving in is often a symbol of commitment, progression, and a celebration of connection. But, on the other hand, it can be a challenge that forces you to confront areas of your relationship that you never saw coming.
There are various reasons why partners decide to make the step to move in together:
- Each of you is ready for a more substantial commitment to the relationship.
- Practicality: Leases line up, and there is an opportunity for cheaper rent, less travel to see each other, one person’s home is more convenient for the other’s job or has more space
- Trial run: the couple wants to ensure living together is a positive experience before progressing the relationship even further
- One partner may have to move for a job, and the other partner joins them to avoid a long-distance relationship.
- Moving in represents the next step in their relationship after seriously committing but maybe before engagement.
If you look at the above reasons or reflect on something else that you came up with, what is the meaning behind it? You can put your reason or one of the reasons from above into one of two categories: convenience/logistics or commitment/love. As you move forward in this decision, it’s imperative that you and your partner have a solid understanding of why you are choosing to move in. Is it for the convenience of lower rent, or is it representative of something in your relationship?
Too often, partners think they are on the same page but aren’t even in the same book sometimes! You will probably be able to argue that the decision to move in with your partner could fit into both categories, but there is always one more important reason. For example, moving in with someone to take the next step in the relationship and hope that it could progress even further might lend itself to cheaper rent on a fancier apartment. If you are on the same page as your partner regarding why you are moving in together, it will help you stay solid and give you a good base as you go through this significant change together.
With each reason being different from the others, there is one thing in common with them all: it means change. Whether you are one to thrive with change or struggle to adjust, transitions in relationships require patience and communication. Let’s dive into some expected and maybe unexpected parts of moving in with your partner.
Shifts in the Relationship Dynamic
First and foremost, the most significant change you face is the dynamic of your relationship. The dynamics of your relationship are the patterns of interaction between partners. The main reason for a dynamic shift is seeing the ins and outs of your partner- you’re spending a lot more time together. Depending on each individual’s traits, it can be a big adjustment. Relative to how you interact, dynamics can either be healthy or unhealthy and evolve as you spend more time in each other’s physical space. Four areas make up relationship patterns: assertiveness, avoidance, self-confidence, and partner dominance.
A partner’s level of assertiveness in the relationship determines how openly they express themselves to their partner. Assertiveness examines whether a partner is more comfortable sharing what they need or want out of the connection while maintaining respect during the disclosure. For example, an assertive partner speaks up about what they are noticing in the relationship or a change they need from their partner. Although the assertive partner is sharing something about their own experience, they are cognizant that their partner(s) may also be having an experience with what they’re sharing and create space to process this.
Characterizing avoidant dynamics in a relationship is downplaying, disregarding, or running away from conflict and challenging discussions. Avoidance of conflict or confrontation happens for various reasons, one commonly being an attempt to keep the peace in a relationship. An example is if your partner shuts down a conversation about household responsibilities because they want to defuse the potential for a heated discussion. Another example might be that one partner feels better than the other. Here, the “better” partner will minimize the other’s experience.
The dynamic of self-confidence examines how much independence, positivity, and sense of self-worth a partner has for themselves. Feelings of love and respect for oneself can determine how much self-confidence is in the relationship from each partner. For example, a partner who exhibits high self-confidence in a relationship may have aspirations independent from their partner that they wish to achieve with their support.
Partner dominance in a relationship looks at which partner has more control. A characteristic of partner dominance is when a partner makes more decisions for the couple throughout the relationship than the other. For example, maybe one of you always chooses the restaurant or how much to spend on vacation.
Healthy dynamics are typically rooted in respect and equality, such as hearing what each partner says, remaining open to accountability for yourself in conflict, and expressing appreciation for your partner. Unhealthy dynamics resemble one-sided or unequal patterns of interaction, such as one partner having consistent control over the other. Meeting attempts to communicate with stonewalling or gaslighting is another example of an unhealthy dynamic.
As you spend more time around each other, you may notice that one or more of these domains are more robust than before. For example, perhaps there are more opportunities for difficult conversations, and you see your partner become uncomfortable talking about them. On the other hand, you may uncover an assertiveness about yourself as you desire to communicate openly about changes in the relationship. Each dynamic may be less apparent when you see your partner two or three times a week versus every day.
Experiencing a change in your dynamics, whether unfamiliar or magnified, can be unsettling. You may need to get to re-know your partner. A helpful way to prepare for this shift is to identify the dynamics you notice in your relationship with yourself and your partner. Identifying your interaction patterns can help you see when they might change. Patterns will also help you notice when it’s time for a discussion about what dynamics are healthy and which ones need improvement.
Experiencing Your Partner on a Deeper Level
Increasing your time together allows you to see a different side to your partner that you have never seen before. Chances are, before living together, you each had complete control over when you ran into your partner and how you saw each other. For instance, you might always be well dressed or have your emotions collected before you meet up with one another. There are sides of yourself that you let your partner see, and other sides you may leave for the comfort of your own home. When you move in together and share a personal space, you are now part of the comfort of each other’s home. Consider this, for example, when your partner has had a stressful day at work, you may witness how they react. Surprise is a normal emotion to feel by these never-before-seen aspects of your partner. Setting a boundary is also acceptable surrounding these new parts of them you’re seeing. Keeping with the above example, if your partner expresses their stress in hurtful ways toward you, you can set a boundary that you will walk away when your partner takes their stress out on you.
At times it may make you closer, bearing witness to such vulnerable parts of one another. Seeing your partner handle challenges, decompress into their most natural state, and even work through serious conflicts together can give you an appreciation of the other and add depth to your relationship. Other times it may feel overwhelming to adjust to the novel traits of your partner. Patience or awareness is a virtue in times like these. You must communicate how you feel in response to your partner’s experience. This communication is tricky as you do not want to take away from your partner’s experience, but you want to bring awareness to what you are going through.
One way of bringing awareness to your own experience while holding space for your partner’s experience is taking turns. For example, suppose each of you is feeling escalated; check in to see where the other is. On a scale from 1-10, ten feels out of control; if your partner is a seven and you’re a 3, try to hold space for your partner. Later, once your partner de-escalates, you can share how you were feeling: “Before when you were upset about your friend’s reaction, I became overwhelmed. I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to help you with your big feelings.” Conversations like these will go smoother if you’ve already identified communication types and what the other person needs during the compromise discussed above.
Familial Roles and Opportunity for Regression
The next topic for discussion is the concept of playing house in this new relationship stage. By playing house, I am referring to the roles of a “family” you may take on rather than simply being roommates. This concept is complex when you consider how different everyone’s family is and what their house was like growing up.
Your earliest experiences with caregivers and their relationship is the model set for your relationship. The roles your family had, reactions to challenges, and how they interacted with one another set the blueprints for what you refer to when challenges arise now. Either follow those models or do the exact opposite to avoid similar outcomes. For example, if your family was non-confrontational and provided a relatively peaceful environment to grow up in, this may be how you approach challenges now. On the other hand, if your partner grew up in a volatile environment, they may react accordingly.
Differences in reactions to conflict can cause a clash that can be uncomfortable to experience. Granted, you likely already know how your partner handles conflict. However, as mentioned earlier, the “family” roles you assume when moving in together may trigger regression into previous patterns from your families of origin. Regression can help either blend smoothly with one another or may require some work.
Working through moments of regression first includes being aware of how you grew up. Was your environment filled with love, communication, acceptance, fighting, shutting down, placating, or avoidance? What was your role in the environment? Additionally, if you find yourself triggered by your partner in this familial environment, think of how you can communicate it to them in a way they are receptive to, as they may also be triggered. Regression is a widespread, normal phenomenon when replicating family environments or roles. It’s also common if you are exposed to family more frequently. Therefore, have some self-compassion and compassion for your partner if it’s catching you off guard to see old patterns arise.
Fantasy vs. Reality
Moving in together is a relationship milestone that is exciting for some and produces anxiety, fear, or other unpleasant emotions in others. Based on your experiences in your own house growing up, look at some fantasies that may arise when you prepare to move in with your partner. What are some expectations you set for yourself and them before you move in that may be confirmed or disappointing?
For example, you may expect your partner to be their fully present self when you each get home from work. You could imagine cooking dinner together while bouncing daily frustrations off one another to connect and empathize. However, you notice in reality that your partner comes home and shuts the door to the bedroom for an hour to decompress by themselves. Does this interaction align with the expectations you had about time after work? A timeline of further relationship milestones is another fantasy to consider when playing house. Does moving in together mean that an engagement is next for you? Perhaps your partner views living together as the end goal of the relationship, and suddenly your dream of settling in the suburbs is questioned.
How does this reality interfere with your fantasies about “playing house” with your partner? Sometimes the expectations or dreams we create about moving in with someone can influence how we experience the adjustment. Forcing these fantasies upon the other partner may cause both of you frustration, confusion, and alienation. Take time to evaluate whether your relationship goals line up for each of you. While doing so, try to identify and possibly reset your expectations to provide relief between what you thought living together would be like and what it is. Just because you each have different visions of living together doesn’t mean you won’t find your groove. Frequently, individuals in a relationship bring their respective fantasies and expectations from previous experiences and need some time to figure out what works for the couple.
While we’re on the topic of playing house, we must consider each partner’s responsibilities for household care. You’d be surprised how many obstacles arise from situations involving chores. Before moving in with your partner, you’re likely coming from your childhood house, living with roommates, or living alone where you have established a routine. Each environment has different expectations for chores. Therefore, being flexible can be helpful. It is also common for chores to be representative of something else going on in the relationship. You may have a less complicated day if you have upfront expectations of who does what. Less complication leaves more room for connection.
In your childhood house, maybe members were assigned roles such as taking out the trash or cleaning up after dinner. If you lived with roommates, chances are everyone cleaned up after themselves and divided communal chores each week. Living on your own, you probably did all the tasks yourself. Or none of them… to each their own. Either way, establishing duties is vital to prioritize when you first move in. You don’t necessarily have to do everything 50/50; perhaps one partner likes to cook more than the other. The other partner can assume responsibility for cleaning after dinner. Or both of you can cook, and both of you can clean. What’s most important is having the conversation, so no one feels burdened with all the chores. Conquering chores as an issue may look like creating a chore wheel or creating lists together each week and delineating tasks for each partner. It would be helpful to have each partner pick one chore they prefer over another, but at the end of the day, chores need to get done.
Thinking about household tasks on a trial-and-error basis for the first couple of months you are living together may be helpful. For example, you may think taking out the garbage is your jam, but then you realize your partner’s schedule works better for garbage night. Or, you may have volunteered to do something that at the time felt equal but now feels burdensome. Discuss this with your partner and stay open to compromise. Prioritize teamwork and play to your strengths!
Decisions are a massive part of being in a relationship with someone. You adopt more responsibility to be considerate of your partner on top of what you want. As you combine your living space, this could mean making decisions as a unit. Some decisions may seem more significant than others. For instance, going away for a trip now requires more communication with your partner for what they can expect while you’re gone—making plans now requires consideration for your partner’s schedule and may include both of you rather than one-on-one time with others. Even decorating your home may require you to agree on what styles you like or how to compromise if your tastes are different. However, what to eat for dinner may feel minor compared to travel or decor. Learning how to consider others’ preferences when sharing a space, especially if this is your first time living with a partner, can be stressful.
You may find it challenging to hold space for your partner’s needs daily. Additionally, it can be laborious to identify things you have little wiggle room on versus less critical things, and you’re willing to let go of them. Below is a list of helpful tips and tricks to make your decision-making process more manageable. At the end of the day, it is okay not to be able to hold space for your partner all of the time. However, you need to be aware when that is happening to at least clue your partner in that you have minimal space for them, and you need to make decisions based on your own needs, not both of your needs.
- Explore with yourself the things that are important to you versus the things that might be more important to your partner
- Where are you willing to compromise?
- During a compromise, what do you need?
- Loving communication
- Ownership of both partner’s needs
- Minimal blaming/pointing fingers/projecting.
- How do you make decisions? Does it take you a while to research, or are you more of a split-second decision-maker? How does your partner make decisions? What does this look like in practice between the two of you?
- What happens if you make a decision that you do not like or makes you uncomfortable?
- What does your communication look like when you are making a joint decision?
Time Spent Together
With the increase in exposure to one another, you experience firsthand how your partner spends their time. Each of you has different schedules for going about your day. When living under the same roof, you and your partner may find that you have much more time to hang out than you’re used to.
Making the distinction between the quality time that is intentional and regular time that is a product of living in the same home can be helpful moving forward. If you’re spending your time apart, it may even feel like something is wrong. Rest assured that this feeling is normal, and part of adjusting to the newfound time you have with your partner. A simple way to tackle this is to communicate with your partner and identify each person’s expectations.
Alone Time vs. Time Together
Depending on your personality and attachment type, the new lack of privacy in some areas can feel suffocating. On the other hand, if you’re one to thrive on constant time with others, this can be an added plus. Additionally, this may alter the autonomy you feel in your relationship. A solution to this adjustment could be learning what each partner is comfortable sharing. Depending on your attachment style, moving in together can sometimes feel like sacrificing your independence and, at other times, celebrating your bond. If you require some alone time, make that known initially. If you want alone time with friends rather than doing events together all the time, schedule some events for both of you and others to do independently.
Remember that your needs may change or depend on what is going on in your life and relationship. For instance, if you’re stressed at work, you may need extra time with your partner to unwind, vent, and relax. Or, you may be an internal processor, so when something big happens, you need more alone time than usual. Also, as your lives become more entwined, you may become more comfortable with time together or feel safer taking extra alone time in the relationship. So continue to check in with yourself and your partner about your needs for spending your time.
Quality time looks different to everyone. An important question to ask your partner is their version of quality time. Identify what is yours. Quality time may look like watching TV together, having physical intimacy, going out to dinner, or having deep conversations. It’s helpful to be on similar pages about how you define quality time to ensure both partners feel connected to each other. For example, one partner may enjoy watching sports together in silence, while the other may feel like the lack of conversation feels distant. Delineating how you experience that time will help you get one step closer to satisfying each person in the relationship.
Alternatively, regular time might be considered as alone time or engaging in activities apart from one another, albeit under the same roof. Alone time can look like running errands, hanging out in separate rooms, or being in the same room doing different tasks (i.e., one partner reads a book while the other scrolls on their phone). Differing definitions of quality time require different expectations and conversations.
As mentioned above, the reason to communicate is that one partner may view watching sports together as regular time instead and feel like they want extra time to connect in a way that’s meaningful to them. Both quality time and regular time are okay and even necessary. Again, it’s helpful to understand others’ perceptions of what quality versus regular time entails to ensure that both of you are meeting each other’s needs.
After discussing these various topics, boundaries are something to consider implementing into your relationship after moving in together. Boundaries are commonly misconstrued as ways to keep another individual at a distance. In reality, boundaries help us stay balanced and present in our relationships. By considering boundaries in this way, each partner can be their best self in the relationship without feeling overwhelmed or pressured to do something they don’t want to or can’t do. By considering boundaries in this way, you can meet each other’s needs with acceptance and love rather than resistance.
Implementing boundaries in this new stage of a relationship may look like this:
- You are sharing your expectations with your partner about what privacy you need in your new shared space.
- When I talk to my friends or family on the phone, sometimes I want privacy, so I’ll take a walk while on those calls. Other times, I’ll want you to be involved with the conversation and ask you to join.
- I will not hide anything from you in our home. My closet, drawers, cell phone – whatever you can think of – will be open for you to access.
- We are setting aside specific times for alone time versus together time and sticking to those schedules.
- When I come home from work, I need time to unwind. I’ll go into a different room than you for about 20 minutes.
- I want to set time aside to work out alone; this usually takes 45-60 minutes.
- I need at least 5 minutes of quality connection time with you in the evening when we do not interact with technology, and we have conversations that don’t involve the logistics of the household.
- communicating your comfort level with sharing different aspects of your life or maintaining autonomy
- I want you to get to know my friends; therefore, I will invite you to most events.
- I will check in with you when I leave work.
- When I’m at work, I won’t be texting you unless it’s an emergency.
Consider boundaries as ground rules for living together, and if crossed, a discussion needs to take place to understand better what each partner needs from the other. For example, one partner may require alone time to decompress after work, and the other may desire quality time as soon as they get home. How does a discussion of boundaries surrounding this issue look for each of you?
Another common obstacle for newly moved-in couples is delineating who pays for what. A few options exist for figuring this out but ultimately depends on your comfort level. Finances can be tricky when our income ties to feelings of self-worth. Do you find that when your partner can spend more on a night out, you feel left out? Perhaps their ability to pay more creates feelings of inferiority or jealousy in you. These feelings can also bleed into assigning finances.
It’s common to compare incomes with your partner and wonder what is justified when splitting the bills. Depending on the differences in income, couples may divide bills by a percentage of differences in salary. For example, if one partner makes 120K a year and the other partner makes 75K, there is a 37% difference in salary. An option would be to have the partner who earns more pay 37% more in communal spendings such as groceries, rent, or utilities.
An alternative option for splitting finances is splitting them 50/50. Splitting is common for couples with similar incomes or who prefer to be in equal fields rather than equitably. How each partner likes to spend their money is an important consideration though. Perhaps one partner chooses to save on groceries to spend more money on dinner or concerts, whereas the other wants to spend their paycheck on materials such as clothing.
Handling finances is all about preference, but warrants a conversation about what each partner wants and coming to an agreement before buying things such as furniture or household goods. Regular check-ins every few months are also appropriate to ensure both partners are still on the same page about finances and spending. Budgets change as circumstances change, and flexibility in these ground rules is helpful.
All in all, taking the step in your relationship to move in together is an exciting experience. Moving in together challenges you as an individual and a couple and, as a result, provides much growth. The biggest takeaway from this article is that change can be expected and may require much adjustment for everyone involved. An important thing you can do for your relationship is to keep communication open, have check-ins to allow both partners to evaluate their needs, and be true to yourself.
If you are thinking about moving in with your partner but want to ensure you’re crossing all your T’s and dotting all your I’s, a therapist can help you. For more guidance on navigating moving in with your partner or if you’re looking for support, please reach out to one of our trained therapists at The Better You Institute. Call us at 267-495-4951.