Questions To Ask Your Partner and Yourself Before Living Together

The following post was originally written for this blog on 4/16/2010. It has been updated to be more relevant today, but it is mostly the same. If it’s new to you, then enjoy!

I’m an advice column and self-help article junkie. Before and after I moved in with my now-husband, I kept track of all the ways we were proactive in making sure living together was a positive experience for both of us. This blog post is the fruits of that labor. I hope this helps you as much as it helped us.

I’d recommend these questions be asked over the course of a few months, at least. That’s because you’ll probably have a full blown discussion with each question and be emotionally burnt out by the time you’ve hashed even one out, let alone the rest. Plus, you’ll probably be revisiting these questions more than once as you learn more about each other and yourself.

Things To Ask Your Partner

How do we handle the finances?

Someone has to pay the rent/mortgage! Make a list of every expense you’ll have: rent/mortgage, utilities, food, home maintenance, cars, pet care, etc.

Who will be responsible for paying the bills in full and on time?
Will you take turns paying for food?
If you’re short on money for your next car insurance payment, is your partner willing to help you out?
How will you keep track of the due dates together?

The answers may seem obvious to you, but your partner may presume something else entirely. Don’t complain that you’re the one doing all the food shopping if you never discussed who’s supposed to be in charge of it.

Do we merge our finances? Are there any liabilities that make you a risk to me?

One of you may be comfortable merging everything right away. The other may want separate bank accounts all the way to the grave.

What is the timeline of when/if you merge bank accounts, credit accounts, bills, etc.? After moving in? A few months later? After engagement? After marriage? After certain financial conditions are met by each person?

Know what you’re getting into with each other’s finances! (Remember this commercial?) My now-husband and I shared copies of each other’s credit reports. We know when certain things are going to drop off of it. I also know about the state of the mortgage that’s in his name. We made our merging decisions based on this information.

How will we handle personal space?

You WILL need personal space when you live together! Spending every moment together will drive you crazy. When you lived with your family, did you spend every moment with them? No, you were in your room by yourself, or in the living room watching TV by yourself… And this will happen with your partner.

An early issue with my now-husband and I was that we felt like we were neglecting each other if we went to stay in another room. However, needing space is completely natural and says nothing negative about your feelings for your partner. (Now, if your partner is never in sight when you’re home, and the only time you see him or her is to be told off or nagged—yeah, you have a problem. Completely different.)

This is the biggest difference between staying over your partner’s place for a week and living together. Don’t feel guilty about having your own little domain for solo activities.

How do we disagree, work it out, and move on?

You and your partner are separate people. You’re not living a symbiotic existence where you share all the same thoughts and feelings. You’re going to disagree. That’s okay—in fact, that’s more than okay, because that’s the path to growth.

But, it can get out of control if you don’t discuss boundaries and the rules of engagement.

Will you hash out your problems as soon as a disagreement occurs, or will you take time to let emotions cool to work it out?
When you need space after a disagreement, where will each of you go?
If one of you wants to keep at it, and the other wants space, which method takes precedence?
What type of words or phrases are not allowed?
Which actions are not allowed?

This type of stuff gets easier if you don’t sweat the small stuff. Pick and choose your battles. In the grand scheme of life, whether or not one of you remembers to change the toilet paper roll is just a blip. Letting go of the small things and compromising will create a harmonious place to live and make the larger disagreements easier to work on. If you have to make everything a battle where you must defeat your partner and be in the right, you may find yourself without a live-in partner really quick. Fight for each other, not against each other.

What are your priorities in life?

Before living together, partners tend to focus strongly on each other when snagging time together. However, what about when you’re living together and see each other every single day?

There are times where you may not be the #1 focus in your partner’s life at a given moment—and vice versa. It’s not that you guys aren’t important to each other; it’s just that there are times when one of you will have to take care of something that, in the long run, will benefit both of you. However, you HAVE to discuss these priorities, otherwise there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings.

Are there times where moving a career forward must take precedence? Or what about schooling? Family emergencies? Sickly parent?

Both of you must be aware that there are times where you will not be fully available to each other at the drop of a dime. It is not realistic to expect that from yourself or your partner. Stuff will come up. Set the expectations of what may come up and let your partner know how available you can be (physically and emotionally) during these circumstances. Respect each other’s limitations.

This isn’t an invitation to take each other for granted—if one of you is being too absent and not following what you both agreed to, then address it before resentment builds up. Work, school, and family are important, but make an effort to have time together. Check in with each other emotionally. How are you doing? Do you need anything? Where’s everything at with you? These are the types of situations where stress and emotions run high, so give each other feedback on where things are going. Living together is another step closer in going from “you and me” to “us.”

What are our daily schedules?

The one issue that may really sneak up on you is your sleep schedules. You may be tempted to stay up with your partner till the same time they go to sleep. If you have a 9-to-5 job and your partner stays up till 4am, this may not benefit your work life at all. (And you’re not going to be very good to live with if you keep getting fired from jobs for falling asleep at them.) Set your boundaries on your personal schedule, and respect your partner’s personal schedule.

Another thing that may become an issue is eating times. If your partner comes home more than two hours after you do, are you expected to hold off on eating dinner until they get home? Does the person who gets home first make dinner, or do you wait until both of you are at home? Is breakfast together in the morning a must, or does one of you like the sleep in late?

You will be spending nearly every day together, so syncing your schedules and knowing what to expect from that is a must.

Things To Ask Yourself

How well do I live with other people? What are my weak points in this?

Okay, I think most of us probably think we’re fabulous to live with. I mean, we live with ourselves 24/7, so we should know, right? Okay, let’s put the ego aside now and take an honest look at ourselves.

You can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. Prevent fights by looking at what are the things you can do to make living together easier for both of you. Is your partner tidy, but you don’t care where you leave your old socks? Make the extra effort to get them to the hamper. Find these areas in your life that need work, and work on them before you move in. Hopefully you will have created better habits by the time you do live together.

Why do I want to live with my partner?

“Because I love them” is a good start, but if that’s all you have, don’t be surprised if things start getting difficult rapidly. “Because I’ll save money” is understandable, but you’re much better off getting a roommate than living with your partner in that instance. Don’t start off living together with either shaky foundation.

I am reminded of a great Q&A I attended with Stephen Colbert. In it, he talked about theories of group psychology (like those presented in Group Performance and Interaction by Craig D. Parks and Lawrence J. Sanna). He specifically referenced the theory that a group stays together until they have met their goal. Once it is met, the group will dissolve. In his personal example, him and a group of other actors in Chicago moved to NYC to start a theater troupe. Then, they formed a theater troupe. It quickly dissolved because they already completed their goal: forming the theater troupe. There was no larger goal to keep them unified, so they all moved on.

If your main goal in your relationship is to live together (or “get married,” or “have kids”), you may be setting yourself up for trouble. Really look at each other’s long term goals in life: Family, career, religion/spirituality, traveling, etc. Do they match? Can they match? If they can’t, well, this probably isn’t going to work in the long run. Someone will be miserable. However, if your goals can/do match, you both genuinely like each other as people (and not just love each other as romantic partners), and you want to provide for each other and take care of each other, you’re heading in the right direction.

Make the goal not be the activity, but the life after it. That’s what you’ll be living, after all.

Can I accept my partner’s flaws?

The answer better be “yes,” because otherwise you’re going to have a hell of time. Flaws are magnified when you live together. Address these issues, either with your partner and/or internally, before you live together. The idea of “unconditional love,” which is one that I do embrace, gets severely tested when you share one home.

This is because these issues are now part of your personal space. When you had your own place, you had that personal space to get away from such issues. Now, they’re a part of everyday life, and you can’t get away from them. You must find a way to either address these flaws with your partner or learn to live with them.

If you bring up your partner’s flaws with them, expect to receive some critiques as well. I would encourage both partners to welcome this, as long as it is brought up with strong, empathetic communication and not as an attack or as nagging. A relationship is at its best when it’s productive. Take the opportunity to grow as better people together.

What problems in the relationship am I already aware of?

Super important question. When you move in together, you will find that the intensity of these problems will either lessen or worsen. You will also wind up with new problems, so know what you’re already dealing with before jumping in.

As a personal example from the “lessen” side, I resented that I did most of the traveling to visit each other in our relationship. He resented he initiated nearly all of our phone conversations. (He has driving anxiety. I have phone anxiety.) However, these have become non-issues now that we live together. (In fact, nowadays, I do most of the driving when we travel together, and he handles nearly all of my phone calls for me. Win-win!)

On the other hand, I had always been bothered by my his strong, emotional outbursts about things that (in my mind) didn’t need such a strong reaction. Reading an article, watching the news, etc… Injustice sets him on fire. If you know anything about Myers-Briggs typology, I’m quite the logical T, while he’s a very strong F.

Once I moved in, this personality difference bothered me to the point where we had a number of arguments about it. It was one thing to deal with these moments when visiting him, but living with it was too intense for me. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t deal with it, which is what I should have done before moving in.

I regretted not addressing the issue beforehand, but we got it worked out. Yes, the T and the F found middle ground! It took many months, but it got to the point where I now know what his trigger points are, so I’m no longer taken aback, and while he still has strong, emotional moments, they now come out in a way that is more coherently structured, which is better for me. The magic of communication!

You will find that, more often than not, there exists a parallel: the good gets more set in stone, and the bad gets more set in stone (if not dealt with). You can’t escape your problems while you’re living together. So, work on your problems as soon as you can. Otherwise, the escalation could permanently damage both of you.

Once You Have Asked

Again, go over these issues more than once! People do change. You change. Communication is the most important part of a relationship. Living together requires lots of it.

What’s kind of cool is that after you make asking these questions and learning from them a habit, living the results becomes second nature. After a year, you may totally forget about how you used to bicker about what time to eat dinner together. It’s a totally new transition and learning experience.

Good luck, and have fun with your new stage in life!

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