When the shelter-in-place guidelines dropped, you might have panicked.
You and your sweetie just transitioned from “are we dating or not?” to “in a relationship,” and you simply couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing them for the duration of the pandemic.
Turns out, they felt the same way. So you decided impulsively, why not move in together? Just temporarily, of course. After all, it’s a global crisis and you’ll probably both benefit from the support.
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Sudden cohabitation might work out perfectly — that can certainly happen. But the transition might be a little rocky, too.
It’s completely normal to have some awkward or challenging moments before you get the hang of cohabitation.
These tips can help you navigate living together for the first time and build trust and stronger bonds, instead of straining a bond that’s (in all honesty) probably still slightly fragile.
Before moving in together, you have a home base to rest and recoup from any conflicts or tensions.
When living with someone, you have to create guidelines around making space for each other and working through conflict before it simmers to boiling.
In an ordinary scenario, you’d typically get clear expectations around things like finances, privacy and personal space, shared responsibilities, and so on before deciding to combine households.
But in a decision motivated by coronavirus urgency, this probably wasn’t the case.
It’s absolutely necessary to have an open conversation about expectations and establish clear boundaries, even if you’ve already set up house in one place. Having this conversation late is better than not having it at all.
Some communication tips:
- Pick a time that works for you both. Avoid talking when tired, preoccupied, or overly stressed.
- Think about what you want to say before going into the conversation. You might, for example, list the points most important to you or any concerns you have.
- Make sure you both have equal time to share your own thoughts and ask questions.
- When it’s their turn to talk, actively listen and ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand.
One important issue to talk through is how you’ll manage household responsibilities.
Chances are good one of you still pays rent somewhere else. It wouldn’t be fair to expect that person to pay a second set of rent.
Specific circumstances may vary, of course — you might have offered to let them live with you after they lost their job, and they may not have any income at all right now.
But if you’re both still working, whoever comes to stay should contribute to food costs and usage-based utilities. You might decide on a fair flat rate or work it out based on your receipts.
If it’s your house and you don’t need financial assistance, you may not want to take money from them, especially if they have limited income.
This can make for an unstable dynamic, so it’s wise to have a conversation about preventing feelings of confusion or obligation.
Groceries and cooking
Who does which chore?
If one of you hates cooking and doesn’t mind shopping, this problem has an easy solution. But you can also take things in turns, if neither chore appeals (or knock them out together).
Venturing into public can trigger uneasiness and anxiety right now, and some days might feel particularly tough. But there’s no way around going out occasionally, unless you can get everything delivered.
Practicing empathy and validating each other’s concerns can help cement the sense of being in this together.
Cleanliness and chores
Most people have a unique routine for household tasks.
If you’re living in their house, respect their rules — like not wearing shoes inside or putting the toilet lid down so their pet doesn’t drink from it.
You might feel a little displaced if it’s not your house, but put yourself in their shoes.
If they were staying with you, you’d want them to be comfortable, of course, but you’d also want to have any reasonable household needs respected.
Their routine might take some getting used to — maybe you never do dishes immediately after dinner, or prefer to do your laundry when you run out of clothes instead of every few days.
But try to honor their habits as much as possible. If it’s your house, try to help them feel comfortable.
They might worry about doing something wrong or irritating you, just as you’re worrying about trying to make sure everything is perfect for them.
Here’s one way of looking at things: If you want the relationship to last, getting on the same page right away can help you get used to sharing a space sooner.
If you’ve dated for a while, you might have some familiarity with each other’s behavior patterns and needs.
But if not, it might take some time to get accustomed to the habits you’re less familiar with, including:
You like to stay up late, but they’re more of an “early to bed, early to rise” person. Or maybe they wake up early and toss and turn until you’re also wide awake.
It’s possible to realign sleep schedules so you both get the sleep you need, but it might take a little effort.
In the meantime, talk through temporary solves, like whoever wakes up earlier quickly gets up and avoids making noise until the other person wakes up naturally.
Everyone needs some time alone.
Finding space and privacy during a lockdown might look a little different than usual, especially if you have cramped living quarters.
But making sure you both get some space and privacy will go a long way toward helping your cohabitation succeed.
You might try:
- Taking turns going for long walks or getting out of the house for a while.
- Spending part of your downtime in different rooms. If your relationship is still fairly new, you might still be in the phase where you can’t keep your hands off each other. But taking a little distance to recharge can intensify your reconnection.
- Working in separate rooms. It might be tough to focus on work when they’re nearby. Plan to take breaks and lunch together, then move to different rooms to maximize productivity and reduce distractions.
- Talking about protocol for phone calls to family and friends, like leaving the room to give the caller space.
If one or both of you are gym-goers, your inability to keep up with a typical routine might frustrate you.
It’s important to get what activity you can while also respecting each other’s exercise needs — maybe one of you loves yoga while the other prefers early-morning runs.
Exercising together can be fun when you choose an activity you both enjoy.
But feeling obligated to do something usually isn’t very enjoyable. Invite them to join you, but don’t pressure them if they refuse.
You’ve probably enjoyed plenty of meals together. But cooking and eating all meals together can be a different story.
Maybe they eat lightly in the morning (or skip breakfast altogether), but you need a hearty breakfast to get moving. Or perhaps they’re vegan, while you eat anything and everything.
Allergies can complicate things, too. If you have to make absolutely certain none of the food they eat has come into contact with an allergen, you might need to skip that ingredient in their presence entirely.
Radically different eating habits can create challenges in some relationships, but they don’t have to.
Start by validating specific needs and preferences and get creative in the kitchen together!
If you’ve just transitioned from dating casually, you might still need to explore mutual long-term goals along with needs for intimacy and communication.
A sudden increase in intimacy can pose challenges when a relationship is still in its fledgling stages, but plenty of respectful communication can help you handle these challenges with grace.
With nowhere to go and not much to do, you might end up having long talks about dreams, ex-partners, family, childhood, and anything else you can think of.
Deep conversations can help build intimacy, but not everyone has a happy past or an infinite capacity for heavy emotional discussion, especially in already high-stress times.
Bonding over stories of childhood is a great way to learn more about each other. But when things get too heavy, a topic change might be key.
Spending time laughing over lighthearted stories can increase closeness, too!
It might seem like living together for the first time automatically translates to more frequent sex. That’s one outcome, sure, but increased uncertainty, stress, and tension can put the brakes on sexy moods pretty quickly.
So no matter how touchy you were before quarantine, or how frequently you had sex, things might look a little different.
Even someone who enjoys physical affection, like kissing, hugging, and hand holding, still probably needs to adjust to having someone around regularly.
If they pull away or show some irritation when you kiss them every time you walk by, it never hurts to have a check-in about boundaries.
If you’re wondering how COVID-19 impacts intimacy, check out our guide to sex during the pandemic.
It’s OK if you haven’t given any deep thought to your future with them yet.
Perhaps you’ve ruled out political mismatches and other immediate deal breakers but haven’t done any deep digging on the topic of marriage, children, or further cohabitation.
It’s generally smart to bring these things up earlier rather than later, but you might want to avoid adding tension while stuck in the same house.
It’s absolutely OK to take a rain check on this kind of conversation if you’re worried it might strain your relationship during lockdown.
Remember one important fact: They can’t read your mind.
If you feel irritable, trapped, restless, terrified, or anything else, they won’t know unless you tell them.
Communication is particularly essential when you’re still getting to know each other. Many relationship problems start out small but worsen when you don’t address them.
You might consider:
- Using “I” statements can help you avoid sounding judgmental. For example, “I don’t feel awake first thing in the morning, so a conversation will work better after coffee.”
- Relying on passive-aggressive communication usually makes matters worse. Instead, state specific problems clearly by referencing your needs. For example, “I’m glad we’re spending so much time together, but I need some physical space, too.
- Asking for their opinion on how to make the situation work can do wonders. For example, “I try to avoid watching TV in bed. Would you be open to staying up later to watch TV so we can keep devices out of the bedroom?”
When bringing up needs and feelings, respect and compassion are key.
On top of pandemic stress, it’s stressful to constantly worry about encroaching on someone’s personal space or house rules, and no one likes feeling wrong-footed.
During a disagreement:
- Acknowledge differences in opinion.
- Take turns listening and responding.
- Take breaks when things get heated and return to the issue when you both feel calmer.
If you intended moving in together as a temporary solution to avoid pandemic isolation, you might wonder how to handle moving back out once the pandemic is over.
Things might feel a little shaky if you’ve been stressed, but once physical distancing guidelines begin to relax, have an open conversation about where things stand.
What to do if you’re still good
A conversation can feel awkward if you want to continue the relationship and they don’t, or vice versa. But it’s pretty much unavoidable.
You might wait to have this discussion until you know it’s safe for whoever came to stay to leave, if they choose.
If things went well, you may want to make the relationship official, if you haven’t. This might involve continuing to live together, either immediately or after one partner returns home to pack and finish out their lease.
Just keep in mind you might need a little more time before living together permanently.
Everyone processes changes at their own pace. You may need to take a step back before taking one forward.
What to do if you’re totally done
Another potential outcome of your trial by fire? You might feel ready to move on.
Not every relationship works out and it’s important to be realistic about this possibility.
Unless they displayed troubling behavior that merits calling out, like repeated boundary-crossing, it may be enough to offer a big-picture explanation like, “I just don’t see us having long-term compatibility,” rather than pointing out specific personal habits.
A crash course in living together might not prepare you to ace a post-pandemic long-term relationship, but it can certainly teach you a lot.
You might worry about seeing each other at your worst, but consider that you’ll also see each other at your best — working together to make the best of a crisis.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.