Grow, Smarter

How to Merge Lives with Your Significant Other Without Losing Your Own

Katherine Killeffer/Thrillist

You got past the “meet cute” without looking like a crazy person. You went out a few times and it was actually... fun? And now you’ve been serious for a while and you two are ready to take things to the next level by becoming insuff -- er, moving in together! Merging lives to go from “me” to “we” is a huge process, and it can often come at the expense of your own identity. With a little preparation and communication, though, you can be a happy union while still remaining two independent people. We talked with real couples and looked to experts for tips on what you can do to ensure you don’t lose yourself in a relationship.

Tear up the chore charts and contracts

Chore calendars were a game changer in college, sure. The moment when you looked at the chaos that was your dorm room and realized “Oh yeah, nobody is cleaning this up” was your first step towards adulthood. But you’re not in college anymore.

A 2012 study in Norway found that couples who try to split chores equally have an almost 50% higher divorce rate than other couples. The problem, as it turns out, isn’t gender equality -- it’s in treating your relationship like a contractual agreement. When you constantly judge who is “responsible” for each bit of mess, it causes more fights than the actual clutter.

Instead of taking the “50-50” approach and meticulously dividing tasks, experts recommend the “100-100” approach: everyone is responsible for every chore. Over time, you’ll naturally figure out which chores matter more to you. If you can’t deal with toothpaste in the sink, but your partner is obsessed with spotless floors, you’ll settle into a routine for who will do each task and when. But over-planning this process can lead to petty arguments. Luckily, unlike college, you won’t have to spend nearly as much time picking up red plastic cups.

You don’t need to see them ALL the time, you clingy weirdo

Most people assume that moving in together means spending every waking hour together, which is a great way to get really sick of each other, fast. Think about it this way: if you weren’t living together, you wouldn’t say to your partner, “I wanna watch you brush your teeth every night.” Right? Unless you’re a crazy dental hygiene enthusiast?

Don’t conflate moving in together with merging all your routines -- those are two separate steps in a relationship. If you saw them 4-5 times a week before moving in, start your cohabitation with that same schedule. But make sure to plan nights where you see other friends, stay late at work, and do whatever else you used to do. From there you can figure out how much or little you want to change your routines based on seeing this person first thing when you wake up.

Katherine Killeffer/Thrillist

Repeat after us: “Alone time is good, alone time is necessary”

Ok, so you’re sharing more of your life with your significant other, plus you’re making sure to see your friends. You should probably call your mom more often too. Are we forgetting anything? Oh yeah: YOU time.

Constant proximity to a partner is going to cost some of your solo pursuits the space they need. This isn’t implicitly a bad thing, but nobody is superhuman -- you need me time, even if it’s only to make the time together sweeter. And here’s the thing: it’s not only for that. As per psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, alone time can help you be more creative and energized, especially if you’re an introvert.

One solution is to lock your partner out of the apartment and then put on a pair of noise cancelling headphones. (It’s not a good solution, but it’s a solution.) Or -- and this is just a suggestion -- you could communicate with them about when you can both take some time apart and focus on your own activities. Your choice, but this way you’ll both be happier.

Do not, under any circumstances, merge your social media accounts

It’s 2017, so this is a dying trend, thankfully, but please don’t be that couple. Nobody wants your awkward invitation to like the official page of “Brad & Jessica 8 months in May” and you’ll wait a long time for followers of @BnJ4EvaEva’s stream of selfies blindly taken of you two smooching. That way leads to the final insufferability: bradandjessicaaresooooinlove@gmail.com, a shared email address guaranteed to never receive dinner invitations from other couples.

Microwaving mac & cheese together does NOT count as a date

By now, most people know that once you start living together, you need to actually leave your place and make plans. Unclogging the shower drain together or reheating burritos does not count.

Still, dating as a committed couple is different from the dinner-and-a-movie dates you might’ve gone on at the beginning. If you have jobs that accommodate it, see if you can meet them for lunch during the week. If going out is getting old, set up a romantic night together at home. You’ll have to step it up though: resist the urge to end up on the couch watching Netflix, per usual. Going out helps define the time you spend together, so you two can comfortably take time apart without feeling neglected.

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Embrace your TRULY trashy TV taste

Speaking of Netflix -- make sure you have your TV shows figured out. Obviously neither of you are going to miss Game of Thrones, but maybe you like The Bachelor and she needs to stay up to date on Shark Tank (smart girl). Having dumb TV shows that the other person hates is an easy way to give them a little room -- and their own identity, complete with inside jokes on the Shark Tank fan forums. Plot out your must-see shows that won’t survive a week of water cooler spoilers, and agree to DVR the rest for scheduled viewing. Or wait till it hits the streaming sites a few months later. You may just find you watch less TV, and watch TV together more...

Katherine Killeffer/Thrillist

Learn when and how to ask for space

After living together for some time, you’ll inevitably have moments of friction. The key is not to bottle up these frustrations, and instead learn how to ask for personal space, time apart, or whatever else you need.

Duh, communication is important. Everyone knows that. What you might not know is that sometimes rumination is more important. You don’t need to always talk about everything if you can meditate on it for yourself. Sometimes you just need to cool down on (or warm up to) a point of contention.

Dr. Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Michigan, found during a 25-year study of married couples that 29% of spouses reported not having enough privacy or time for themselves. The solution is to ASK.

The way to ask for space is hugely important, though. Walking into the living room and dropping an “I need space!” is a sure-fire way to trigger a panic attack. Experts instead advise you to be specific: say things like “I need some alone time this weekend.” Explain why you need the solo time, so that they’re not left guessing.

And then, perhaps most importantly: enjoy it. Spending that time feeling guilty is counterproductive.

Be honest about their friends

So maybe their friend Dave from high school comes over and puts his shoes on the couch and spouts off wild political hot takes. You’re not Dave’s biggest fan, and that’s ok! Chances are, you probably have a couple friends who rub your significant other the wrong way, too. Better to be tastefully honest (non-judgemental) about their friends and work around that.

The first step is admitting you have an issue. First, talk with your partner about their friend and tell them how you feel, non-judgmentally. Focus on your own perspective, and be empathetic to their responsibilities as a friend. Be clear that you can tolerate them without making them feel uncomfortable. In an interview for CNN, behavioral scientist Christine Hartman explained it’s best not to antagonize their friend, since, “To insult a partner's friends is to insult your partner.”

Instead, try to understand why they like this person. If you can stomach it, make an effort to get on this person’s good side, and be patient about building a positive relationship with them. Who knows? Maybe the issue was your personality quirks and not Dave’s “Let’s abolish the government and become anarcho-primitivists” platform.

If all that fails, Hartman says, better to just use the opportunity to get some time apart from your partner: “Go out with your friends. Have a great time! And tell everyone I said hi.” See? Killing two birds with one stone.

He doesn’t need to like yoga, you don’t need to like kneading dough

Being in a couple means getting into really weird hobbies together, like brewing craft beer in your home or speaking a private language that creeps out your friends. But while you both might get really into canning beets, it’s healthy to have some hobbies that the other person isn’t into.

If you were into #yogaSaturdays when you two first started dating, he might just have to accept that he won’t see you till after brunch. Find out what hobbies work well to share with each other, and which ones you can do separately. Just like when asking for space, you might have to be honest about what you’d prefer to keep to yourself -- if your boyfriend doesn’t know the difference between a full house and a flush, maybe shoehorning him into your weekly poker game isn’t the best idea, either financially or romantically.

The nuclear option: have separate beds/rooms

Sometimes a little fission is the answer to your con-fusion. Other couples might give you a strange look when you bring up separate beds, but this can be hugely helpful for couples on different schedules. One of the couples interviewed for this piece even mentioned they had separate rooms, saying “Most people we tell think it’s weird, but it’s been so healthy for us to each have our own space.”

Physical space can allow for things like maintaining different levels of clutter, playing your own music, or just having somewhere to go that’s only yours. Sure, you might catch some judgement from other couples, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on: having the blankets all to yourself. The only judgments you need to worry about are your own, and if you realize you hate it, you can always combine beds -- it’ll be just like moving in together, all over again. Relive the excitement!