Love and Relationships

Make it or break it: Lessons you’ll learn from ‘living in’ with your romantic partner

Ysa Abad
Make it or break it: Lessons you’ll learn from ‘living in’ with your romantic partner
From talking about finances to having 'me' time, these lived-in couples share how they make their set-ups work

MANILA, Philippines – Moving in with your partner is definitely one of the biggest changes that could happen in your relationship. 

Despite the Philippines being a predominantly Catholic country, gone are the days when conservatives would vehemently condemn couples who live together before marriage. A Veritas Truth Survey, which was conducted from January 1 to 31, 2022, showed that 45% of the 1,200 Filipino Catholic respondents said that marriage was no longer a requirement for couples to live together. 

So, if you’ve been mulling over the idea of moving in together, but are still wary of what that change entails, we asked our Rappler readers to share their experiences and lessons learned just so you know what to consider and what to expect. 

Do it for the right reason

Couples move in together for varied reasons – some for financial convenience, while others see it as the “next big step” in their relationship. For those who’ve made the move, the motivation for moving in with your partner is a huge factor to consider. 

Camille, a 25-year-old project manager, recalled her first experience moving in with a romantic partner. At that time, both she and her then-boyfriend were fresh graduates at 21. “We just didn’t want to be apart,” she said. “We thought that the hardest part about moving in would be looking for an apartment that would be close to both of our offices. But we were wrong.” 

Four months in and they knew they had bit off more than they could chew. “First off, we weren’t financially prepared. And we realized that it’s not just about sharing space – we had to share time, resources, finances, energy, belongings, etc…. We had this rude awakening that hey, this whole set-up is too overwhelming for me right now. I think it was a huge factor in why we broke up.” 

Michelle, a 28-year-old shop owner, emphasized the need for making the deliberate decision to move in together. 

“Before my boyfriend and I decided to actually live together, we’ve already been constantly staying at each other’s respective places. During weekends, I often spend it at his condo. So we thought it wouldn’t complicate the process of easing into cohabitation. But the good thing is that we decided to really discuss it beforehand.”

She said that conversations like these were important, to make sure that she and her partner were on the same page, especially since it was something they’d been considering for awhile. 

“We’ve been talking about it for like two years before we actually made the move. At first, he suggested the idea because he just wants to move out from his parent’s place. But at that time, I wasn’t ready for it yet. That’s why he got a place of his own,” Michelle shared.  

Manage your expectations

They say that you won’t really, truly know someone until you get to live with them, and that’s the case for couples who move in together. 

“It’s not always going to be pretty,” Camille said. “When you’re done with the honeymoon stage, you’ll realize that there’s a lot of shit that no one talks about.” 

It’s easy to look past your partner’s weird quirks and annoying habits when you’re only with them periodically. But now that you’re seeing each other 24/7 and he still can’t even manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper or he always leaves the toilet seat up, it’s bound to get annoying. 

Set up a system and respect each other’s boundaries

Discussing who will be responsible for handling certain chores or how to design the shared space in a way that incorporates both people’s values and beliefs is also important for couples who move in together. 

Michelle said that for conversations like these, couples should keep their personal preferences and schedules in mind. “For us, splitting the chores in half didn’t make sense. We each had things that we preferred and hated, so we built our system from there. For example, he likes cooking and I like to wash the dishes. So we don’t really take turns with those chores.” 

For Jed, a 27-year-old engineer, and his partner Ryan, this was something that they learned the hard way. Jed shared, “Ryan assumed that just because I like organizing things then I would gladly be responsible with all the chores in our apartment. At first, it was okay. But it came to the point that I was busy with work, and he wasn’t really doing anything. It was frustrating for me, and the stress and resentment built up over time that I just had to call him out for it.” 

From then, they’ve been more considerate and open with each other in terms of maintaining their space. Jed shared that while your partner might cross a line or two, it’s important that you take note of their boundaries and respect them.

“Since I like to keep things organized, I have the tendency to go overboard,” Jed said. “So when Ryan said I can’t organize his work table because he needs to know where his documents are, that’s when I learned how to know which [spots] are off-limits and not.” 

Michelle, however, added that while these systems are important, couples should also be flexible in welcoming changes over time, as long as it’s something that the couples agree upon. 

Communication leads to compromise

The reality is, you’re going to disagree on some, if not most, things. What’s important is how you deal with these conflicts by accommodating both of your preferences. 

Kaye, a 26-year-old writer, shared that couples should be honest about what they’re frustrated about: “Don’t assume that your partner knows what’s bothering you.” 

She said she had to explain to her partner Gwen why she’s annoyed that she doesn’t throw the hairs that clogged their drain. In turn, Gwen bought a drain protector and now makes sure to throw the hairs away after she takes a bath. 

“It’s easy to make passive-aggressive comments when you’re frustrated, but that won’t address the issue and we’ll just argue about it all the time. Also, couples tend to forget that good communication isn’t just about talking, but it also requires them to actively listen, understand, and acknowledge,” she continued. 

Camille also pointed out that while compromising is important, knowing which matters to let go of is also vital in every relationship. “You’ll learn that not all fights should lead to full-blown shouting or all that dramatic flair, that keeping a score of who ‘wins’ in more arguments is not healthy, and that most conflicts won’t really matter in the long run.” 

Jed added that one of the biggest learning curves for couples living together is the shift from the “I” mentality to the “we” mentality. “I’ve been living alone before I moved in with him and it took me a while before it was ingrained in me that I had to consult him for any decision I make that concerns us,” he said. 

He recalled that they once had a fight because he brought friends over without asking Ryan’s opinion. “I realized that it’s no longer just about me and what I want so I need to be more considerate with how my decisions affect the both of us,” he said.

Kaye added that since fights are inevitable, it will teach you to check your attitude during disagreements. “When I realize mid-fight that I’m the one in the wrong, it’s either I’ll get defensive or stubborn. But over time, I learned how to not let my ego and pride get in the way. It wasn’t easy to be where we are right now – we had a history of letting small issues build up or like bringing up past arguments to make a point. But we both learned from that.” 

Don’t be afraid of money talks

Aside from sharing spaces, moving in together also entails sharing finances. Make sure that you and your partner are both comfortable in discussing your budget, as well as being accountable in your financial responsibilities. 

Michelle said that just like with household chores, they also found a more mindful way of keeping up with their finances. “Of course, the most ideal would be splitting everything into half and that’s what we usually practice. But, there was a time when my family had a rough patch and I wanted to pitch in on my family’s expenses. So my boyfriend and I had to discuss how it will affect our finances as a household, too. For several months, he was the one paying for our groceries instead of asking for my share. I’m thankful that he was okay with it,” she said. 

Jed also advised that keeping a financial tracker helped them monitor their expenses. “It helped us be more responsible when it comes to managing our finances, individually and collectively. Since we’re aware of where everything is going, or how we’re spending things, there’s less arguments about finances between us,” he said. 

Camille, however, pointed out that being honest and open about financial matters doesn’t necessarily mean that partners should start controlling how budgets are spent, or handing all the financial control to one partner, or policing each other’s spendings. 

“It’s still important that you should have freedom [with] your own money,” Camille said. “As long as you give your share, you’re allowed to spend on your hobbies, etc.” 

The importance of ‘me’ time

While the whole point of living together is to be around each other even more, don’t forget that it’s also important to respect each other’s personal space and alone time. After all, you’re still both individuals who have different needs and interests. 

“My rule when we were planning to move in together was that the place we’re gonna be staying at should have an extra bedroom,” Michelle shared. This extra room, she said, will be the place she’ll stay when she needs her time to be alone. 

“I am diagnosed with depression, and I have days where I just want to detach myself from everyone. And now that I no longer live alone, it’s still important for me to have space where I can be alone when I need to be,” she continued.

Michelle also emphasized that “me” times are also important during disagreements. “I always hear that you should not let a night pass by without making amends. But that’s now how my anger works. I need time to stew, and my partner understands that, sometimes, I do go to sleep angry. For us, reconciliation is not something we can force. If someone needs some time to process what happened, then we give it to them.” 

Elaine, a 25-year-old government employee, said that doing things together all the time is a common misconception for couples who live together. “Some friends often think that we’re this unit that can’t be separated. Like, she should always be present when I’m hanging out with my friends, or like she should also do what I’m interested in. But that’s not the case,” she said. 

“Doing something without my partner gives me interesting things that we could talk about. And it makes me not feel suffocated with our set-up since I know that I still have the freedom to do what I want,” she said.

… and ‘we’ time

As important as it is to have “me” time, couples should also make an effort to create “we” time. Before sharing a space, dinner dates are carefully thought of – you go through the process of setting up a date, dressing up, and meeting each other. But now that these activities have become part of your combined routines, they can start to feel transactional. 

“It doesn’t always have to be grand,” Jed said. “But we do find time to reconnect and just have an active conversation about what happened to our lives, etc. Because even though we’re already in the same space and you think that you already know what’s happening with your partner, you’d still be surprised when you talk to them.” 

Elaine agreed: “You have to find a way to keep the romance alive because honestly, daily routines can become boring.” 

But don’t forget: There is a way out

Making a relationship work is tedious, but it also takes great courage to admit when things are no longer working out. 

For Camille, she delayed breaking up with her boyfriend because of their set-up. “I was dreading the ‘I told you so’ and the ‘You shouldn’t have done that in the first place’ comments. But what others didn’t know is that we did try to work, and sadly, it just didn’t. And it was just unfair for the both of us if we continued living that way, just because we wanted to prove others wrong. Instead, I had to change my perspective and just be thankful that at least that experience made us realize that we’re not compatible, instead of finding out when we’re married and separating would be this huge, messy process.” 

Elaine also echoed the sentiment, emphasizing that there’s nothing wrong with realizing that the set-up doesn’t work for you. “That was one of my biggest worries when we first agreed to live together. Like, there’s huge pressure to make it work to the point that it was already burdensome for me. So I had to make peace with myself to just do my best in my relationship.” –