Living Together: How to Avoid the 5 Most Common Pitfalls

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Moving in with your partner is more than just playing house. Learn how to prevent communication breakdown with these tips from relationship expert Dr. Linda Papadopoulos’ What Men Say, What Women Hear.

To make living together as smooth as possible it’s a good idea to identify potential trouble spots within your relationship and look at how you can cope with these situations when they occur.

Problem: Perceived insensitivity
Solution: Next time your partner says something like “I’m not ready to let you into my life to the point where we actually live together,” before resorting to anger or insults, try to identify where your partner’s feelings are coming from. Perhaps his last girlfriend tried to control his life the minute they swapped door keys. Maybe his father left the family home when he was very young and he is anxious that he might do the same. Resist the temptation to assume “My boyfriend won’t let me move in because he is selfish” and acknowledge that these feelings are usually signs of hidden vulnerabilities or soft spots.

Problem: Biased thinking
Solution: Again, this looks at your ability to reflect on what your partner says to you. The easiest thing in the world is reacting to a comment or a situation as we immediately perceive it. But the most useful thing in the world is being able to remove yourself from the situation and obtain a far more neutral view, or even better, to be able to empathize with your partner and appreciate why he feels the way he does. In romantic relationships, misinterpretation is the biggest cause of conflict. If your partner says, “I’m going out again tonight. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in,” instead of hearing “I’ll be late. I can’t be bothered to see you,” make the effort to hear the sentiments intended. He more likely means “I love living with you, but I need to maintain relationships outside of ours. However, I accept that now we live together and my actions affect you, so I will try to be as quiet as I can if it is late when I come home.”

You need to look at both your partner’s and your own automatic thoughts and examine them for bias. Analyze your feelings and ask yourself if they are entirely justified, or if your feelings are influenced by factors that are unrelated to your partner’s words or actions.

Problem: Resolving conflict

Solution: When conflict arises, change your tactics. Typically, we go into arguments with the aim of winning. Essentially we end up in a scenario that resembles two bulls locking horns. A far more effective strategy involves changing the objective, so you and your partner aren’t battling to win the argument. Instead, you are working together to reach a compromise. Resolution, not retribution, should be the goal. You need to be able to discuss these issues without trying to score points. Winning an argument brings no satisfaction if it leaves your partner destroyed and your relationship in tatters. If you don’t want to move in but your partner does, don’t make your aim “I must keep going until I get my way and my partner accepts that I will never move in with him.” Instead your mission statement should be “I recognize that my partner and I have conflicting views on this, and we will keep discussing it until we reach a solution that addresses and fulfils both sets of needs, so we can support each other.”

Problem: Inability to make shared decisions

Solution: Making tricky decisions with your partner is like practicing a sport. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Once you and your partner get into the routine of discussing issues, recognizing each other’s points of view, and deciding on a clear path of action, it will become as much a part of your relationship as your sex life or Sunday-morning pancakes.

Problem: Expecting too much

Solution: Be realistic about what living with your partner will be like. Many of the difficulties in your relationship will still be present even after you decide to move in together. Sharing a roof won’t whitewash your relationship and make it perfect. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work through your problems, it just means that you shouldn’t expect cohabiting to solve them. Otherwise, you are likely to be disappointed down the line. The aim should be to set your own realistic goals and to discuss them with your partner. It is important to consider whether your goals are similar to his or else you could run into problems as your future together progresses. Be careful not to let wishful thinking or mind-reading get in the way of effective communication of your hopes and fears for your relationship. And ensure that you communicate with your partner on how you see cohabiting working to avoid your expectations being dashed once the boxes are unpacked and the bedroom set is already on its way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, author of What Men Say, What Women Hear:Bridging the Communication Gap One Conversation at a Time (Copyright © 2009 by Linda Papadopoulos), is a well-known and respected psychologist, specializing in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). She has regular column in Cosmopolitan (UK) and is a frequent guest on talk and TV shows, including the role of expert psychologist on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club. She currently lives in London with her husband and daughter.

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