What should I keep in mind when moving in with a mate for the first time?

Question

I'm wondering if you have any tips on how to survive with your first live in partner? I am moving in with my mate, and I've never lived with a romantic partner before. I'm pretty good at resolving conflicts with roommates, but it seems like living with a mate would be different.

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Answer

Moving in with a mate tends to be an anxiety-producing activity; moving is already stressful by itself, and having to combine lifestyles and possessions with a romantic partner adds a whole new layer of complexity.

I think you are quite right in thinking that living with a romantic partner is different from living with a roommate, primarily because the way you tend to communicate with a romantic partner is very different from how you would normally communicate with someone who is just a roommate.

The most important thing that will make your move-in process go more smoothly is to approach any conflicts you may have with your mate empathetically. Remember, you and your mate are on the same team — don't allow yourself to get sucked into adversarial arguments, in which it seems like one of you has to lose for the other one to win.

Now that you're living together, you only truly win when you are both left feeling happy and feeling as though your needs have been properly addressed. Anything else will leave one of you feeling resentful, and that resentment is likely to manifest itself as negativity down the line.

So, how are you supposed to keep disagreements from turning adversarial? The key thing is to remember to empathize with your mate before approaching them, and to communicate with your mate in a way that is not emotionally violent.

If you're wondering what the trick is to non-violent communication in this context, it really is quite simple: Do not react immediately when your mate does something you don't like, or annoys you in some way. Instead, take a moment to think about why your mate is doing the thing that is upsetting you; consider what the underlying motivations might be, and how you might think, feel, and act if you were in the same situation. Realize that your mate almost certainly is not doing whatever it is that you don't like to annoy you on purpose. Then, after empathizing, when you finally approach your mate, start out by explaining to your mate that you empathize with what they are doing and why they are doing it before you launch into why it annoys or upsets you.

Now, to see how non-violent communication can achieve more positive outcomes for both parties, let's take a common example: Your partner is a total slob, and never does the dishes. Even worse, when your partner is done with a dish, they just let it sit, which allows food to get stuck on and makes your cleanup task even more work. How frustrating!

How could you approach your partner about this situation non-violently? Well, for starters, let's take a moment to think about why you partner is behaving this way. Did your partner grow up in a household where someone else always handled the dishes? Does your partner maybe not know how to clean dishes effectively, and so chooses to allow you to handle a task that you are more talented with? Has your partner been very busy or stressed lately, and so just isn't keeping up on things as well as your partner normally would? Note to yourself that your partner almost certainly isn't neglecting the dishes to intentionally waste your time or to piss you off.

Once you've taken a moment to empathize, you can then talk with your partner about what is bothering you, starting with expressing your empathy.

"Hey, I've noticed that lately I've been doing a lot of the dishes, and I feel annoyed when a lot of my free time is going into scrubbing dishes that have food stuck onto them. I know you aren't letting dishes sit to annoy me or to waste my time, but it is affecting me in a negative way. Would you be willing to help out with the dishes more often, or to at least soak them so that they're easier for me to clean?"

So what's so great about speaking this way? Approaching your mate like this prevents your mate from becoming defensive. As well, you're being respectful of your mate's autonomy by asking your mate if they would be willing to help out, rather than commanding them to do so or making them feel obligated. I almost guarantee that when you approach your mate like this, you will get an apology, and an offer of your mate's help, in whatever way your mate feels comfortable.

In some more complicated cases, you and your mate will have to take turns empathizing with each other's needs and desires, and you will need to work with your mate on reaching a compromise that makes both of you happy. Fortunately, the strategy I laid out works in more complex situations as well. Just keep taking turns empathizing with each other, clearly expressing your needs and wants, and asking your mate to help (rather than ordering them to, or telling them they ought to), and you will be able to avoid many, many nasty fights.

Hope that helps! Feel free to follow up with any comments or additional questions by using the feedback form below or by visiting our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.