5 Healthy Communication Habits I Wish I Adopted Before My Partner and I Moved In Together
I’ve been in a relationship with my partner for almost 18 months, and have lived with them for 14 of those months. Truthfully, moving in together — even after a period of time that many people would define as “soon” — has had a lot of upsides. We got an adorable cat, and we are proud of our healthy relationship. It took a while to get here, however: Prior to this relationship, my track record wasn’t the greatest, and I knew it. I didn’t handle relationships well at all, which means that when things started getting serious in my now-relationship, I was nervous — and that includes being nervous to move in together.
A 2014 study from the Council on Contemporary Families showed that simply moving in together doesn’t dictate a likelihood of breaking up so much as the age when you move in together does. According to the study, The Atlantic notes, there’s a solid 60 percent chance you’ll divorce if you get married or move in with someone at the age of 18. However, if you wait until 23 to get married or move in together, the divorce chances drop to 30 percent. And moving in together features a whole host of benefits, such as sharing the rent, halving the burden of chores, and of course, having someone to bond with and vent to at the end of a rough day.
Even so, taking the leap to live together full-time isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s a lot I wish I knew before moving in with my partner, and experts agree that couples who live together shouldn’t coast on proximity — they need to put in the work just as much as couples who live apart. “Mastering skills are especially critical for couples who are living together,” Angela Amias, a couples therapist and the co-founder of Alchemy of Love, tells Apartment Therapy. “Staying connected relies on mutual understanding, which is a result of knowing how to communicate with each other. But being connected also requires spending time together when you’re fully present with each other.”
Here are five habits I wish I knew about before my partner and I moved in together:
Communicate about things that bug you before they blow up.
You’ve heard it a million times and you’ll hear it again: The health of any relationship depends on how well each partner communicates. Every couple has their own way to communicate effectively with one another, and how you approach this can impact everything from letting your partner you’re annoyed that they forgot to take out the trash (again) to how you approach bigger-picture issues like finances and major life changes.
“I think the biggest habit to master is assertive communication, which means addressing issues in the moment in an effective way,” Parke Sterling, a licensed counselor and anxiety therapist, tells Apartment Therapy. “Not aggressively or passively, but right in the middle with assertiveness. When partners don’t do this, issues turn into resentments, which fester.”
And that, Sterling says, is a recipe for disaster. “Some things we can’t simply ‘get over,’ regardless of how much we try and talk ourselves into it,” he notes. While you won’t be able to avoid arguments 100 percent of the time, whether or not you live together, he recommends taking three key things into account before addressing any issue.
Is the issue worth bringing up? “Decide if this is something that will fester and turn into resentment or something that can really be let go of,” Sterling says. “Then you can decide whether you want to have a big argument later after the resentment re-surfaces or risk a potential small disagreement now by being assertive.” He adds that your partner might be much more open to the discussion than you anticipated, so you might avoid a disagreement entirely.
Is this the right time to have the conversation? Springing a conflict on someone right when they walk in the door after a long day at work is a recipe for disaster. “Talk about [what’s bugging you] when you are getting along, in a low-stress time,” Sterling says. Sunday morning coffee could be key for this.
How will you say what you need to say? “Focus on yourself and use ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I felt frustrated on Tuesday night because I was so tired the next day and I had a big day on Wednesday. What could we do differently next time?’ Sterling suggests.
Don’t be discouraged if you and your partner haven’t found the right way to communicate yet — this work takes time and healthy communication can come in many forms. “Communication in a relationship is one of the most crucial things. If things, good or bad, aren’t communicated in some form, then things will slowly build up into a mess that will be waiting to explode any minute,” says Liam Barnett, a dating expert and relationship coach. He also notes that we communicate in plenty of ways each day: “It can be a nice gesture, a slamming of the door, a red rose with a card written nicely,” he notes. It’s worth taking stock of all of these moves and more to understand the full scope of what you are — and aren’t — telling your partner.
Plan dates together — yes, even if you already have dinner together most nights.
You have to work hard at relationships, and part of that is planning your date nights. From going out for a picnic to even going to a late-night movie, planning a date shows that you both will take time for each other. You can even set parameters such as no work talk if you want to. The point is to use the day — or even just a few hours — to enjoy each other’s company.
It’s also okay to set aside how many times you want to have sex that week (and here is where those respectful and supportive communication skills are especially key). People have busy lives, and like dates, it’s fine to set aside time for sex. “We schedule everything in life that is a priority. Sex should be something that is planned so you can anticipate it, prepare for it physically, mentally, and emotionally, and be mindful of how to get in the right headspace to have a good experience with your partner,” licensed psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Shannon Chavez tells Apartment Therapy.
My partner and I both have school and work, so our schedules get complicated. After a while, we found ourselves not having sex, and that didn’t sit right with either of us. By planning how often we want to have sex, we make sure we’re communicating and letting the other person know our relationship is a priority.
Of course, this advice comes with plenty of caveats: Just because you planned to have sex on a given night does not mean either of you are obligated to do so. It’s important that both partners engage in enthusiastic consent, and that each respects the other’s needs at times when it’s just not happening. It can be totally healthy to express that you need a rain-check, too — and it’s important that the other person doesn’t resent the other or approach that moment as something to “cash in on” later.
Try one hour of “no technology” every night.
No matter how hard it may seem, having one hour without technology at some point of your day may help you focus on the other person — how often have you each been scrolling your own devices while being in the same room, and not actually enjoying each other’s company? And honestly, I wish I followed this tip sooner, as it may have helped me avoid so many fights.
“By removing technology from the equation, you can be fully present during your time together,” relationship scientist and coach Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., tells Apartment Therapy “This can be challenging at first, but research has shown that divided attention due to technology and social media use can negatively impact relationship satisfaction.”
My partner pitched the “no-technology-for-an-hour” rule to me when he noticed we were almost always on our laptops. Ever since we switched to the one-hour rule, we’ve felt closer. The rule has also increased our likelihood to check in with one another at the end of the day — sure, in the past we told each other about our days, but now we really take time to process together.
Try each other’s hobbies.
A lot of couples try new hobbies together, but consider trying each other’s hobbies first. You may despise the idea of wanting to learn to skateboard, and they may hate the idea of wanting to knit. But showing an interest in what the other person is doing, even if it’s a quiet time in another corner of your home, shows an interest in who they are as people — and this can help them feel seen and supported.
My current partner loves playing the popular card game, Magic: The Gathering. At first glance, I wanted nothing to do with that — until I tried playing, and it turns out that I loved it. Trying each other’s hobbies first gets a better handle on who you are as people and how you handle struggles.
Trying each other’s hobbies and interests for your own enjoyment is “a great way to show affection towards one another and it might also lead to some new and fun experiences,” Megan Harrison, a relationship therapist and the owner of Couples Candy, says. “Sharing hobbies helps to break down a wall and will allow you to gain deeper insights into each other’s passions as well as learning to compromise for each other.”
Don’t confuse stability with boredom.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been suspicious that things are “too quiet” or going “too well.” Being constantly afraid that the other shoe is about to drop is exhausting, and, well, you know what they say about self-fulfilling prophecies. Just because things are lowkey in your relationship, doesn’t mean that your relationship is stale. As Tennesha Wood, a dating coach, matchmaker, and founder of The Broom List tells Apartment Therapy, a stable relationship is one built off of trust, and sometimes just because there are down periods doesn’t mean you’re not growing together.
“Drama and toxicity can often be confused with excitement and passion when you’re used to the drama of a partner who has an insecure attachment style and is constantly bringing you on a rollercoaster of emotions,” she warns. “The daily routines with a secure partner can feel mundane because many things are predictable.” Instead of picking fights or slipping back into old ways, Wood suggests using a moment of potential boredom as a way to branch out and level up together. “Consider changing routines and being more spontaneous by suggesting new activities,” she says.