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Living With Your SO: How to Make it Work

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So you and your significant other have been together for a while now, and you couldn’t be more perfect for each other. You’ve often talked about how awesome it would be to live together, and this fall, you’re finally doing it! Now, spending quality time as a couple is a piece of cake.

However, although you’ve put a lot of thought into this decision, you may start to run into problems you hadn’t anticipated, like arguing over the dirty dishes or dealing with your friends’ disapproval. Luckily, HC is here to help with advice from relationship experts and tips from other collegiettes who know exactly what you’re going through!

1. The problem: You never have time to yourself

When you live with your significant other, you already see him or her all the time at home. Add to that going out together on dates and hanging out with mutual friends, and you might find yourself craving alone time. But even if you’re perfectly happy spending that much time with your SO, your friends might complain that they never see you two separately anymore.

Noelani Nasser, a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, lived with her boyfriend this past summer. “When we first moved in together, we were so comfortable with each other that we didn't know how to do things on our own while the other was also in the apartment,” she says.

Learning how to balance the time you spend with and without your SO is a difficult process. “As in any relationship, it can be important to have some time to yourself,” says Lesli Doares, a marriage and relationship coach. “Given the intensity of college, this can be a challenge due the closed nature of the campus; your friends and activities can be more intertwined [than after college].”

How to handle it

As much as you love your partner, being together constantly can be overwhelming, “especially when you are young and starting to discover who you are,” says Neely Steinberg, a dating coach. “You should be sure to carve out both alone time and time to be with friends, try new activities or join clubs, etc. [sans your SO].”

If you’re worried about spending too much time away from your SO, just remember that balance is key. “There is no reason to worry about ‘neglecting’ your SO if the two of you are reasonable about how much time you spend apart and together,” Doares says. “Each of you may have your own ideas about how much time that is, but that is why productive communication skills are essential.”

If you and your SO realize that you’re spending too much time together for your relationship to stay healthy, try to put things in perspective. “My boyfriend and I talked it out,” Noelani says. “We realized that roommates, or people who live together, do things independently sometimes.” The couple did just that, and it worked out perfectly for them. “He is teaching himself how to play the guitar and keyboard while I'm at work during the week,” she says. “Also, we both just hang out in the apartment sometimes reading on our own or using our computers. So basically we are both at home, but not necessarily hanging out together.”

Not only will you benefit from taking this time for you, but so will your relationship. Make a point of doing your own thing from time to time so that you can come home and appreciate your partner all the more for it.

2. The problem: You can’t stand your partner’s annoying habits

So you and your SO are well past the honeymoon phase, and you think you know everything about each other – good and bad. But living with someone is a new experience that can bring out aspects of a person that you hadn’t necessarily noticed before, including annoying habits.

Heather Baldock, a senior at the University of Oregon, moved in with her boyfriend about a year ago, partly because splitting a studio apartment cost much less than living in her previous apartment. “Studio apartments are SO small, and you notice each other's flaws like crazy,” Heather says. “But even more so, you notice your own flaws.”

Even if your new living arrangement is working well for you, there are bound to be new arguments that arise, however trivial. “This is always a challenge for people sharing living quarters,” Doares says. “Add in the romantic component, and things can get sticky. Without a productive way of handling disagreements, the resentment and anger can spill over and undermine the health of the relationship.”

How to handle it

First of all, don’t freak out when you start noticing your SO’s flaws as well as your own. “Understand that every couple deals with this,” Steinberg says. “When you are thinking about [your SO’s] annoying habits or flaws, counter them with all the things that you love about [your SO] and are thankful for.”

When you live with someone so close to you, you have to be tolerant and levelheaded. “The most important advice I can give is to be willing to learn about yourself, your SO and how the relationship is and is not working,” Doares says.

But most of all, you should always communicate with your partner honestly and calmly. “It may be hard, it may be scary, it may be uncomfortable, but dealing with the issues straight on is the only way to reach resolution,” Doares says.

This method worked for Heather and her boyfriend. “We had to be very comfortable with each other,” she says. “If we had any arguments, we learned to address them upfront, which actually helped us work through a lot of issues. And after you both realize you're flawed, you learn how to cooperate and communicate effectively.”

If the housework is the main issue you’re facing, efficient communication is also key. “[Your SO] may have no idea that you care so much about not leaving dirty dishes in the sink,” Steinberg explains. “People aren't mind-readers! Once he knows about your requests and why they are important to you, you can come up together with ways to deal with the situation.”

If you both agree on a system for doing housework and stick to it, neither of you will get frustrated over chores anymore. Megan Johnson, a recent graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her fiancé managed to distribute their chores fairly among the two of them. “David actually cooks all of our dinners, which takes a while because sometimes he makes elaborate meals,” she explains. “I do the dishes and laundry. In the end, the work pretty much balances out.”

3. The problem: You’re losing your romantic spark

Both spending too much time together with your SO and bickering over the housework can cause your romance to suffer. You might find yourselves making fewer efforts to maintain your spark: going out less, taking less care of your appearance or having less sex, for instance.

“Unresolved issues around chores and other household duties often play out in the level and frequency of intimacy,” Doares says. “Living together can result in taking the other person for granted and not seeing them as a romantic partner.”

Sam Elder, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, moved in with his boyfriend last fall. “We kept talking about how wonderful seeing each other all the time would be,” Sam says, “Quickly, I realized that things started to come between us; we always fought about splitting different bills, contributing to the household and the lack of intimacy that we so dreadfully missed.”

How to handle it

This problem is a part of any healthy long-term relationship, and isn’t something you should worry about too much. “The key here is to recognize that when you live with someone, it definitely changes the nature of the relationship,” Steinberg says. “It’s important not to see that as a bad thing – it’s the nature of going from romantic love to companionate love.”

And if the problems you and your SO has been having are sexual, keep in mind that “for a couple, especially a couple who lives together and has been together for a while, sex can't always be mind-blowing and like a scene from a Hollywood rom-com,” Steinberg says. “But certainly you can find ways to also make it fun and spontaneous.”

Whatever the intimacy issue you are dealing with, the solution is always to “be open and talk about your fears,” Steinberg advises. “Getting it off your chest with your partner is important, otherwise you can harbor resentment, which may lead to an explosion over something tiny and insignificant.”

But although your intimacy might evolve negatively in some ways, “perhaps you also will find new ways that your intimacy deepens,” Steinberg says. And we wish you nothing less!

4. The problem: Your friends and family criticize your lifestyle

You made the decision to move in with your SO, and you’re happy and confident with it. Way to go! Unfortunately, chances are not everyone in your life will be supportive of that. Heather says she and her boyfriend faced a lot of resistance when they decided to move in together. Although her family continues to hint at marriage, most of the criticism actually came from Heather’s friends. “Some told me it would be a huge mistake and ruin our relationship,” she says.

How to handle it

If you’re comfortable with your choice, there’s no reason to be affected by others’ criticism. But that’s often easier said than done, especially when the criticism comes from the people closest to you: your friends and family. You should prepare yourself to hear their concerns and keep in mind that they only want what’s best for you, even if it comes out the wrong way.

“Many couples may get feedback about getting too serious too soon and missing out on the college experience,” Doares says. “There may also be judgment about the morality of this choice.”

Try your best not to get offended or angry. Instead, Steinberg advises you sit down with your parents or friends. “Tell them that they need to trust your decisions as an adult, that it's important for them to support you, that you didn't come to the decision lightly and that you're adult enough to deal with the consequences,” she says.

5. The problem: You’re breaking up before the end of your lease

Judging by the experiences of the students we talked to, living with your SO in college can work out incredibly well. But realistically, you should keep in mind the possibility of you two breaking up before the end of your lease. And unfortunately, “this may be delayed past a natural due date because you are living together,” Doares says.

That’s what happened to Sam and his ex-boyfriend. “I was the only one to sign the lease,” Sam says. “After a pretty messy breakup this spring, we had to decide which of us could afford to stay there by ourselves. My ex chose to stay, while I moved in with a few of my friends. This resulted in numerous arguments and ridiculous situations; he once refused to give me bill money because I had a pair of his shorts that he wanted!”

For Doares, this difficult situation adds extra strain to an already painful breakup. “This is a real problem for you both from a financial and emotional perspective,” she says. “If you both signed the lease, there will be a financial cost to breaking it. If only one of you is on the lease, the other will have to find a new place to live.” And both of these options are far from ideal.

How to handle it

Thankfully, there are measures you can take to avoid breaking up. “Talk, talk, talk to each other when fears, worries or frustrations arise,” Steinberg says. “Say, ‘I feel hurt and confused when you do X, Y or Z’ instead of, ‘you do this and you do that.’ Be humble – recognize that you have faults and flaws, too. Remind yourself of why you fell in love with him or her in the first place.”

But if you do end up breaking up, how well you deal with this tough situation is ultimately up to you. “You'll definitely have to talk calmly and rationally about who stays and who goes and what to do about the remaining rent,” Steinberg says.

In order to prevent a situation like Sam’s, “it is a good idea to have both people's names on the lease so that if you do break up, you're both responsible for the remaining rent,” Steinberg says. This could make the circumstances that much better.

If your ex refuses to pay his or her remaining share of the rent, you might consider involving your landlord or getting legal help. “It depends what it’s worth to you,” Steinberg says. “If you have the time, energy and money, you could certainly get into a legal battle. If your partner can’t pay, you could ask that he or she find a replacement. ... It’s definitely a sticky situation.”

Moving in with your significant other is a big step to take, but you knew that already! Although you’re likely to come across some rough patches, working through them appropriately will only strengthen your relationship.

For Megan, “it is really important to move in with your significant other if you are in a serious relationship and if there is any possibility that you could be marrying them someday,” she says. “If living together doesn't work out, then how is a marriage going to?”

Heather has a slightly different opinion. “I've had friends who have cohabited before, and there's no right or wrong answer,” she says. “Every relationship is different, and cohabitation isn't for everyone! However, for us it really worked. You have to be mature and mindful.”

Good luck, collegiettes; we wish you all the best!


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