Dear Lifehacker, My boyfriend is going to be moving into my apartment soon. I've been living the single life for many years, and I don't have much experience sharing bank accounts, living space or things like that. What should we do to make living together easier? Sincerely, Merge Ahead
Dear Merge, First, congratulations on taking this step! If you're comfortable moving in with your partner, then you probably share a pretty good level of trust to begin with. However, no matter how well you think you know someone, chances are you'll learn quite a few new things when you're sharing space with your boyfriend day and night.
You should prepare for changes. Don't just let someone move in to your home and assume that everything will be the same as it always was. To some degree, you'll be sharing money, time, space and energy, so be prepared to allocate them accordingly.
Decide How You'll Share Money
It's going to be one of the most important assets you'll share and the one you'll fight with your boyfriend about more than anything. Decide ahead of time which model you'll use to divide up expenses.
Some couples choose to pool all their money in one big pot and pay for everything out of it. The advantage here is that you both know exactly how much money the household has and you can budget everything together. The disadvantage is that every purchase you make, from utilities to burritos, is shared information. It's important that if you plan to go this route, that both of you are OK with this level of openness.
If you don't want to share every expense, one common option is to set up a joint account into which you and your boyfriend can place funds to pay for shared expenses, such as utilities or rent. Each month, both of you transfer the amount each one owes into the account and pay it from this shared pot. Meanwhile, you both retain the remainder of your funds for personal expenses in separate accounts. For some, this can minimise a lot of frivolous fights.
If you prefer not to set up dedicated accounts, you can use a service like Splitwise to divide up expenses. The service keeps track of money owed regardless of your relationship (in other words, you can use it to track money your friends owe you as well as your boyfriend). Simply enter a bill, who paid it initially, and how you're dividing it up. The app keeps a running total of all expenses entered and shows you how much money you owe/are owed. It simplifies the "Who owes what?" question down to a single number, which can be settled either via money sent by PayPal or a cash payment that you record in the app.
Using services like this may be slightly more complicated in that you and your boyfriend each may have responsibility for paying different bills. However, if you're moving in at an early stage of your relationship, this method may have the smallest risk. Sharing accounts and combining money works for long-term relationships, but keep in mind those are bigger commitments than simply living together. Only you and your partner can decide what level of trust you're at and how much you want to share.
Give Each Other Space
You and your partner will also need to decide how to make space for each other. This doesn't just include sharing shelf space in the kitchen (although that's a good thing to plan for as well). You'll need to give each other space to be alone, work on projects, relax with a movie or do the single-person things they did before they moved in.
If you have the option, you might consider getting an extra bedroom to use as an office or a quiet space to get away. This isn't possible in all areas, but if you're browsing around for homes, it's something to consider if you can get extra space for little extra money. This can be particularly helpful if your boyfriend is an introvert.
The same principle applies to bathrooms. Some places have extended master baths that provide enough space for both of you, but chances are it won't if it's your first place. If you have two available, try letting whoever needs the most time or space in the bathroom have autonomy over the larger one. It may be tempting to keep the second one pristine for guests, but you could end up indulging superfluous stress five or six days a week just to impress company on one or two.
Another strategy for keeping the peace, particularly if you're low on physical space, is to embrace the concept of parallel play. To oversimplify and apply it entirely inappropriately to adults, the idea involves simply being in the same room as your partner, either performing the same activity (such as browsing online) or different casual activities without necessarily interacting directly.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but just because you're not talking with your partner doesn't mean you're not communicating. Becoming comfortable near your partner without necessarily participating in their current activity can help you both get that "me time" you need while still bonding.
Allocate and Share Your Time
You may not think of it in these terms, but your time needs budgeting just as much as your money does. When your significant other moves in, you'll probably need to adjust your schedule to accommodate your partner. By treating your time like a budget, you can adjust for the new "expenses" without spending more time than you have.
You can use shared Google calendars to keep track of each other's events. However, if you want something more comprehensive, apps like Cozi can allow you to keep up with schedules, grocery lists, and even dole out chore assignments. It's cross platform, so if you use an Android device and your boyfriend has an iPhone, you can still play nice (and congratulations on bridging the largest relationship rift since PC vs Mac).
Most importantly, be sure to set aside time to spend with your partner outside the house. It's easy to assume that because you can enjoy your boyfriend's company at home, that there's no need to go on dates anymore. This is a recipe for stagnation. Before you get settled into a routine, talk to your partner about establishing a recurring date night. Schedules may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but it's better to start off with healthy patterns than to wait until problems arise.
Distribute the Workload (Un)fairly
Everyone's relationship is different, but if there's one problem that nearly every couple will inevitably encounter, it's the belief that the other person isn't pulling his or her weight. In some (maybe even many) cases, this could be true. However, we humans also have a tendency to believe we're doing more work than we really are. This is a type of egocentric bias.
To put it simply, we have a tendency to remember the past in a way that makes us look most favourable. If you become frustrated with your partner, you may be more likely to remember all your favourable qualities more and all of his less. That is, assuming you're even aware of all the things your partner does in the first place (it's easy, when living together, for your partner to do nice things for you that you'll never be aware of).
To combat this, the 60/40 rule suggests both of you aim to put in 60 per cent of the effort in your relationship and only expect 40 per cent in return. This helps counteract our inherent perception biases. If you're putting in slightly more than your fair share from your perspective, and your partner does the same from his, you reduce the risk of an "I do all the work around here!" type argument.
Chore trackers, like the aforementioned Cozi or even a simple chore wheel, can also come in handy to help keep things fair and healthy for both parties. Creating an external system of chore assignments and to-dos helps to keep proper perspective.
When you move in with your significant other, you'll begin to share a lot of things that you haven't before. Your money, space, time and energy are all going to need to be re-budgeted. Make sure to have realistic conversations with your partner, use the tools available to you to set up boundaries you both can agree on, and keep those lines of communication open.
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