Cohabitation is a major step to take in your relationship and one that shouldn’t be taken casually. When you move in with your partner, there are a few things you need to keep in mind, in order to ensure that the experience is not a prickly one for either of you.
The global pandemic has been a relationship accelerator for many couples who—for financial, emotional, practical, and relational reasons—have fast-forwarded their plans and moved in together.
My clients Andrea and JoAnn fall into this category. They had been dating for almost two years when they decided to seek therapy. Their goal? Strengthen the foundation of their relationship and ready themselves for their next step: moving in together. However, COVID-19 had other plans for them, and they quickly shifted from spending a few nights a week at each other’s places to living together full-time.
Dish Towel Drama
As we logged on to our computers for our weekly couples therapy session, JoAnn managed a chuckle as she said, “Well, this week we fought about dish towels. Dish towels!” As it turns out, Andrea likes to hang them over the handle of the oven, and JoAnn cannot for the life of her figure out why she can’t just drape them over the sink “like a normal person.”
Despite their efforts to be planful about the transition—even enlisting the help of a therapist—they were hitting bumps in the road. We know that relationship conflict is inevitable, and we know that transitions tend to spike conflict.
But here’s the deal: What matters less is if you and your partner experience friction. What matters more is how you handle it.
How do you handle the smothered feeling that rises in you when you see the dishtowel in the “wrong” place? How do you respond when your partner makes a snarky comment at the end of a long day? How do you repair after tempers have flared?
I want to share three skills that will help you and your partner handle your cohabitation squabbles with grace and compassion. These skills will help you prevent tension from rising and help you address challenges when they arise. At the end of the post, you will find 10 questions for you and your partner to discuss together.
These questions are designed to help you create a nest together that feels safe and connected to both of you.
1. Let Yourself Be Seen.
I think the hardest thing about moving in together is that there’s nowhere to hide.
- You wake up feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world—your partner is there to see it.
- You receive negative feedback from your boss and you’re riding a shame spiral—your partner is there to see it.
- You decide to skip your workout and opt instead for an oversized scoop of ice cream—your partner is there to see it.
It can be incredibly uncomfortable to be seen in all of our imperfections. And however hard that was before the pandemic, it is even harder as we are living with immense stress and uncertainty. Plus, most of us are home most of the time, which gives your partner a front-row seat to your peccadilloes.
Your best and the bravest path is, to be honest, and direct when you are struggling. Your partner can see it anyway, so if you deflect or deny because you feel shame, your partner will end up feeling invalidated and confused.
Remind yourself that you don’t need to bring your A-game in order to be worthy of love. When you are able to accept your humanity and let your partner see you struggle, you end up deepening relational trust and intimacy (Johnson et. al., 2013).
Andrea and JoAnn had spent years priding themselves on being strong and independent women. The transition to co-habitation stirred deep vulnerability in each of them, and bickering about dishtowels was easier than talking about how hard it was to let themselves be seen.