Over the course of my year-long engagement to my now-husband, I obsessed over every detail that would make our big day absolutely perfect. I scheduled cake tastings months in advance, made menu and flower selections between work meetings, and sent daily messages hounding extended family members for their RSVPs. And don’t get me started on my detailed project plan!
In true Type-A fashion, I developed a plan—and a back-up plan—to get us to our wedding day. But there was one huge unknown that wasn’t as easy to plan for: my husband and I hadn’t lived together before we got married. And, if all the unsolicited advice I got during our engagement was any indication, I had a lot to worry about!
Was it smart to marry a man I’d never lived with?
Well, with nearly nine months of marital experience under my belt, I can confidently say that I wasn’t. Here are five practices I recommend for taking the crazy out of becoming first-time roommates with your husband.
1. Talking about the past is OK—and important
Whether you’ve known your future spouse since middle school or only for a few months, it’s important to acknowledge the different norms that existed in each of your childhood homes, dorm rooms, adult apartments, etc. We pushed discomfort aside and discussed what “normal” and “comfortable” has looked like for each of us in the past, even if they weren’t the standards we wanted to set in our new home together. When we had this talk, we touched on our pet peeves, lesser-known habits, and even gender-influenced spousal roles.
In my family, my dad managed the finances and budgeting for the household. And while he did a great job of maintaining our family’s assets, I knew I wanted to have a more active “money” role in my new household. So since we’ve been married, we’ve set up joint accounts, scheduled budget touch-points, and created the ultimate shared Google Sheet to keep us both involved.
Even if there are aspects of your past you’d rather forget, getting it all out in the open will give your partner the best shot at understanding your expectations.
2. State your expectations, but be open to adjustments with time
As cliché as it may sound, expectation without communication is a recipe for disaster. Set aside time to dive into what you expect of each other and get explicit. We talked about it all! What does a “clean kitchen” mean to each of us? Does the TV stay on while we eat dinner? Do our guests have to take off their shoes at the door?
And while we felt great about the expectations we aligned on, we viewed that first round of standards as a trial. Every so often, we ask ourselves “is this still working for us?” And if not, we switch it up.
Early on, for instance, we decided to designate every Friday evening as date night. But after a few last-minute cancellations and a dinner date spent answering work emails, we agreed that the day of the week was less important than the quality time we spend together. So now we more generally aim for one date a week.
Acknowledging that we’re still learning and growing in this process has made it much easier to adjust our expectations without shame or frustration—not to mention all of the time saved by not fighting about expectations neither of us really care about.
3. (Healthy) conflict resolution is a must
Loving your partner doesn’t mean you always agree with them, and there’s plenty to disagree on when moving in together for the first time (can you believe my husband hangs the toilet paper upside down?).
Early on in our relationship, we made a point to call out the behaviors that signaled destructive or dismissive communication habits, and we banned them. A simple reminder to “check your delivery” during an argument works as a call to drop our egos and focus on the goal. Even though our in-the-moment conversations didn’t always feel ideal, they set the stage for respectful disagreement in our household.
Now that we live together, we’re even more committed to that promise as we work to maintain our home as our haven (we won’t wage war here).
Tough conversations are normal (and important) and receiving feedback from someone you love can feel like a personal attack. In order to ensure our frustrations are heard and taken seriously, we employ the “listen to understand, not to respond” approach. That means avoiding phrases like “you always”/“you never” and giving your spouse the floor to talk without interrupting or disputing before offering an apology or potential resolution.
We lived out this lesson last week, for example, after a disagreement about our least favorite household chore: the laundry. We turned an accusatory chat about who “dropped the ball” into a level-headed conversation about our workloads and a reasonable path forward.
4. Take steps to make it OUR home
As much as I loved my pre-marriage furniture and bedding—and hated the barstools my husband brought into the marriage—we were intentional about creating a space that reflected both of us after we moved in together. That doesn’t mean we went out and bought all our furniture brand new. Instead, we compromised on what to keep and what to get rid of.
Are you bringing your couch into the marriage? Maybe your spouse gets to pick the accent pillows. Are you keeping your in-law’s heirloom dresser? Maybe you pick the accent décor in the room. As eager as you may be to furnish and decorate your first home, take some time before investing a ton in brand-new items.
As you learn how to live with each other (and learn the space you’ll be living in), you’ll get a better sense of what old pieces can stay and which need to be replaced. Our current home isn’t an exact replica of my Pinterest vision board or my husband’s former bachelor pad, but we’re slowly adding components that reflect us both.
5. There’s no winning when you’re on the same team
All the small details aside, we got married because we were truly excited to live our lives together. And with the shared goals of fostering a happy home environment and living lives full of love and adventure, we had to stop keeping “score.” Regardless of how many times I forget to clear my plate after a meal or how many times my husband leaves his shoes laying around post-run, we don’t keep a tally of each other’s shortcomings.
Keeping a mental log of unmet expectations can help you fortify your own fears and build evidence in a case against your spouse’s character. Knowing that I’ve moved my husband’s sneakers to the closet 35 times, for instance, would only serve as ammunition for future arguments when I want to prove that I’m the cleaner, more thoughtful spouse. And it’s a slippery slope. Before long, I’ve started viewing the shoe organization task as confirmation that I have a deeper commitment to the household and to our marriage.
As tough as it may be, we’re learning to extend grace and kindness as we navigate our new living situation. There are times when he picks up my slack and I pick up his, just as members of a sports team would. So while we each try to be the best (and neatest) versions of ourselves, we also acknowledge that we won’t always get things right. Lucky for both of us, being perfect isn’t a condition of being married. And by focusing on being great teammates (instead of flawless roommates), we’re living out our favorite mantra: Happy Spouse, Happy House!
These past nine months have been a whirlwind, filled with many first-time conversations, mismatched expectations, and gentle reminders that we still have a ton to learn. Some days are amazing and others are a hot mess. But our commitment to learning and growing together has made each day worth it.