Set These 6 Boundaries Before You Move in Together for a Smooth Transition
Not to state the obvious, but boundary setting is a hallmark of any healthy relationship. But this practice becomes especially important once you make the decision to move in together. Cohabiting can bring up all kinds of discrepancies: one partner may need more alone time than another, or one may feel a little more comfortable leaving the bathroom door open while the other feels awkward about it. These disconnects are totally normal. By setting boundaries before you get comfortable in your new home, you can ensure that you’re respecting each other as roommates.
“Moving in together is sometimes the ultimate compatibility test for relationships and this adds more pressure than may have existed previously in the relationship,” explains Alyson Cohen, a New York City-based psychotherapist in private practice. “Boundaries are a solid way to make sure that both individuals are getting their needs met without someone overcompensating to make the other happy. Lack of boundaries in relationships can lead to resentment, anger, and even depression.”
Of course, everyone’s boundaries are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to setting these limits.
“Boundaries can be simple such as ‘don’t eat my leftovers’ or more complex like ‘when I’m really upset, I just need physical space to cool down,’” says David Helfand, PsyD, a licensed psychologist and owner of LifeWise. “It’s important to clearly set these boundaries when you first move in with a partner because transitions are the most common time for an argument, and a move is a big transition. Additionally, when a couple lives separately they have a built-in cool-down option. When they live together, it can feel difficult to get the privacy that one or both of them need.”
Not sure where to start? Experts say the following topics should probably be on the table as you and your new roomie start adjusting to sharing a space.
How to Handle the Bills
Deidre White, a licensed marriage and family therapist, highly recommends discussing how you’re both comfortable handling finances once you move in together. Talk about your expectations about how the rent/mortgage and bills will be paid — as well as how you’ll handle sharing the burden of paying for groceries and other household items.
White notes that you may want to agree upon a set amount to put toward shared expenses every month. You may also want to divvy up responsibilities for who handles the actual payments. If your partner wants to share a bank account and you’re not comfortable with that yet, this is the time to bring that up.
Conflicting Sleeping Schedules
It’s really not the end of the world if your partner is a night owl and you’re an early bird (or vice versa). However, Cohen says it’s crucial to respect each other’s sleeping habits.
Are you an early riser who likes to go to bed early? Then Cohen recommends discussing the volume of the television and electronic devices in the bedroom past a certain hour. Are you someone who likes to stay up later and start your workday in the afternoon? Then you might ask your partner to do their morning routine outside the bedroom so as to avoid waking you early in the morning.
Making plans with friends, family, or coworkers becomes a little more complicated once you live with your partner. There may be times you want to include them, and there may also be times when you just want to do your own thing — and that’s totally OK.
“You can go out together occasionally, but living together doesn’t mean that where one of you goes, the other follows — or that one person relies on the other for something to do in their free time,” says Suzannah Weiss, a sex/love coach and certified sex educator. “You are each in charge of your own social lives. This is important so that you each maintain your identity rather than completely melding into each other.”
Helfand also suggests discussing expectations around having guests over.
“Some couples are okay with spontaneous house guests, others want a heads up,” he explains.
Talking this over and agreeing on a policy together will help build trust and respect in the relationship, according to Helfand.
Some people — especially introverts — need more alone time than others to recharge. If that’s you, White says your partner needs to know that so they can respect your space. Be as specific as possible when you bring this up, too. Do you need an hour each night to just chill solo? Two hours? Would you prefer to have alone time to unwind right after you get home from the office, right before bed, or in the morning before you start your workday? The more your partner knows about what you need and when/how you need it, the greater the chances they can respect and honor that.
“Mention that having some space from each other occasionally is ultimately a way for you two to be closer,” adds Weiss.
Speaking of physical boundaries — Weiss says you may want to talk about bathroom habits. Some people like to have alone time while they’re showering or using the toilet, while others may have looser boundaries about those rituals. Knowing where each of you stands is crucial to avoid any potential awkwardness.
“All couples probably need to talk about sex more,” says Helfand. “Specifically, discuss what you like, when you like to have sex, places in the new home that are fun, places that are off-limits, and how you can politely refuse sex with your partner.” Rejecting sex can be very triggering to a partner, so it’s helpful to set expectations by letting them know situations where you might not be open to it, explains Helfand.
For example, you might say: “When I’m stressed, my libido drops off, but as soon as the stress passes I’m ready to jump you again!” or “I don’t really tend to have the energy for sex late at night right before we go to bed, so maybe we should make time for that in the morning or right after work.”
“Once couples begin living together, sexual dynamics may change,” adds White. “Each partner should be aware of what their expectations are when it comes to frequency, sexual comments, and touching.”
When you and your partner were living apart, you may have had very different ideas of what’s acceptable in terms of cleanliness or tidiness. Maybe one of you is a neat freak but doesn’t tend to vacuum or clean the counters very often. Maybe the other one likes to keep surfaces clean, but never makes the bed. This is why it’s crucial to discuss your expectations for housework.
“Express to your partner what type of home you are looking to keep and find a compromise on the happy medium,” says Cohen. “In addition, having a discussion of who is responsible for what around the house is another good boundary that will help prevent one partner from becoming the eternal housekeeper.”
In the beginning, it might help to have a chore chart so you’re clear on who’s handling which tasks, like taking out the trash, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, and doing dishes. Once you get comfortable with your roles and responsibilities, you may not need it anymore, but this makes expectations crystal clear as you get used to sharing a home.
Cohen advises having these discussions around boundaries before moving in together. Most important, though, is that you’re able to talk about these boundaries in a calm, judgment-free way, actively listening to each other and compromising whenever possible.
“When discussing these boundaries with your partner, I’d recommend emphasizing that you’d like to set them in order to make sure your relationship as cohabitants can be as smooth and conflict-free as possible,” says Weiss.
Helfand also recommends focusing on your feelings rather than the behavior when talking about certain boundaries.
“Saying ‘I need you to leave me alone when I’m upset’ is likely to make your partner defensive,” he explains. “What you really need is time to process what’s going on mentally and find your inner peace again. Your partner giving you space is just a method to accomplish the emotional state you desire. Focus on the emotion you want and then add how their behavior (or your own) can help you achieve it. This style of conversation often feels more intimate, is more likely to create empathy from your partner, and also generally helps you get what you want in the end.”
White suggests starting your statements with “I” so as to avoid putting your partner on the defensive — for example, “I’m not comfortable with,” “I feel it’s important that we,” or “I would really prefer if…”
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that boundaries are not really a one-and-done convo. This will likely be an ongoing discussion, as your and your partner’s boundaries can change and evolve over time along with your relationship, according to White.
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