Before you set up home, it’s crucial to be comfortable making joint decisions about more than the fixtures and fittings. Safeguard your relationship by discussing these key issues with your other half. These questions address some of the biggest areas that all couples have to navigate throughout their lives together. Knowing how you both feel in advance can help protect your future.
1 How do we both feel about marriage? This may seem like an odd question to ask when you’re already talking about moving in together, but are you confident that you are both making the move for the same reasons? ‘Living together could mean different things to each partner,’ warns Dr Janet Reibstein, relationships psychologist and author of The Best Kept Secret: How Love Can Last For Ever (Bloomsbusry, £8.99). For some, it is a precursor to marriage. For others, it’s nothing more than an arrangement for the present, with little consequence for the future. ‘Make sure that what you’re committing to isn’t simply an “Elastoplast” move,’ says relationship coach Susan Quilliam. ‘If it’s a further commitment that frightens neither of you, great, but if you’re doing it because you’re not sure about the relationship, you may want to rethink.’
2 Who will pay the bills and who will do the chores? For many couples, the majority of disputes are caused by money or housework – two areas where we only really get to know how our partner operates when we’re living with them. ‘When you join together, whether it’s sharing a house or starting a family, what some therapists call “scripts” come to the fore,’ explains Reibstein. In general, our scripts, which define our general pattern of thoughts, feelings and responses, are created at an early age and heavily influenced by our family. ‘When you’re setting up your daily life together, these scripts – the way you have always assumed things to be – may well be challenged in ways you never thought about,’ says Reibstein. For every couple, the ‘right’ way to divide finances and labour will be different. The crucial thing is that whatever arrangement you come up with feels fair to both partners. ‘There isn’t a right or wrong, as long as you’re both happy with whatever deal you settle on,’ says Quilliam. ‘And it’s important to remember that if you do have issues with the way your partner handles money or housework, it doesn’t mean that you don’t or shouldn’t love them. In all likelihood, your issues may not be about your partner, but about your own expectations. Our attitudes are formed over a lifetime.’
3 Do we feel comfortable arguing? The way couples handle conflict is one of the most important influences on the health of their relationship. But, as with arrangements over work and money, there is no ‘right’ way to argue. Conflict is something many couples don’t consider until they’re sharing a living space. You may have had little disagreements or dramatic rows where you’ve enjoyed storming off, but ‘you won’t have had the same level of conflict opportunity,’ Quilliam muses. ‘And as we go through different life stages, our conflict style can shift.’ So things that may have seemed of little consequence before, such as your partner’s chronic lateness, might become the focal point for all your tension and irritation. ‘Living together is, among other things, a management issue,’ says Reibstein. ‘And there are usually themes that emerge in our arguments, which come up over and over again. Couples who accept that there will be conflict, who are able to tackle those themes creatively and constructively, are more likely to survive.’
4 How will we take our sex life to the next level? Most of us accept that our sex life will change as our relationship progresses. But many of us anticipate that it will decline and we spend a lot of time worrying about how to get our sex life back to the way it used to be. This can be wasted energy. ‘While sex thrives on mystery and unavailability,’ says Reibstein, ‘it can also thrive on getting to know each other very well.’ We often lament a lack of mystery, and don’t appreciate the opportunity we have to get to know our partner intimately, read their cues accurately and know what turns them on – and off. Living together may mean we need to invest more time and effort in creating opportunities for sex, rather than relying on the spontaneous eroticism of the early days. ‘The dirty weekend is a cliché, but even more than date nights, it will give you the chance to get away from the anchors of your home life,’ recommends Quilliam.
5 Where will I go to get time alone? ‘One of the biggest things that changes when you move in together is that you don’t have your own bolt-hole anymore,’ says Quilliam. That may sound obvious, but we often underestimate the value of having a space that is exclusively ours and time dedicated purely to ourselves. You may not miss it at first, swept up in the excitement of moving in together, but after a while you may start to yearn for space. ‘People often begin to feel guilty when this happens and query whether they really love their partner,’ says Quilliam. ‘It usually doesn’t mean that, but being able to go to a space that feels like it’s exclusively yours is crucial.’ If you’re lucky enough to have space at home to carve out a sanctuary for yourself, so much the better. Otherwise, ‘make sure you have time to do something outside the home such as a meditation class,’ suggests Quilliam. And remember that this is not a selfish desire. Spending some time apart will make your time together much happier.