Moving in with a partner is a huge, exciting step. It typically brings about a resurgence of the honeymoon phase, when you’re blissed out on each other and nothing else seems as important or exciting as spending time together. Of course, this milestone can also be paired with heightened nerves and perhaps even a fear of how your relationship will change. We hate to be the one to tell you that moving in together probably will change your relationship, but there is good news: Change is how your relationship continues to grow.
But we won’t sugarcoat it, there will be days when your significant other feels more like a roommate than a partner—like on the days when your conversations don’t go beyond who is taking the trash out or if one of you remembered to pay the water bill. This is what we like to call “roommate syndrome,” and while it’s totally normal to experience it every once in a while, there are ways to avoid it and keep the excitement alive in your relationship.
What is roommate syndrome?
According to Hilary Weinstein, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Private Practice Psychotherapist, and owner of HLW Therapy, “roommate syndrome refers to a phase many couples find themselves in after living together for some time.” She says roommate syndrome happens “when the novelty of taking the new and exciting step of cohabitating wears off,” and when it does, couples experience a plateau.
A plateau could look and feel a lot of different ways, but most commonly, when the newness of moving in together wears off, couples get lost in day-to-day realities and don’t prioritize their relationships as much. For example, if you went on dates a lot before you moved in together and when you first started living together but now you’re wondering “Why would we plan date night when we see each other every night?,” you might be experiencing roommate syndrome.
Stressing that this is totally normal, Weinstein says it’s natural for couples to feel stagnant at times, especially after the honeymoon phase, when you’re experiencing “high after high.” Excuse me, while I breathe a sigh of relief.
What causes roommate syndrome?
Mia DiBiase, co-host of the dating podcast, Mostly Balanced, explains roommate syndrome as “the inverse of the honeymoon phase.” She says couples often experience roommate syndrome as they fall into everyday routines and there’s less emphasis on planning exciting date nights.
“Intimacy may take a backseat to things like quality sleep, and you’ll likely start to pick up on quirks or irritations as you get used to living with your partner,” DiBiase explains. All this can cause your spouse to feel more like a roommate than a romantic partner.
“When I think of roommate syndrome in a couple, the image that comes up for me is of a relationship in which one or both partners have become complacent,” Weinstein adds. “When a person is pleased with themself and unwilling to see areas for improvement while unaware of the damage this causes to a relationship, the opportunity for growth becomes stifled and resentment will breed.”
How to avoid roommate syndrome
To put it frankly, the honeymoon phase can’t and won’t last forever, but Weinstein stresses that “a relationship that stays idle for too long isn’t optimal either.” So while roommate syndrome is common and even expected, it’s by no means something you need to just accept and move on. Below, find eight ways to avoid roommate syndrome in your relationship.
Continuously work on communication
There’s one piece of relationship advice I’ll preach and follow until the end of time: Never stop working on communication. A couple that communicates well will always outlast one that doesn’t. And, in my own experience, so many arguments come down to communication.
If you can figure out your communication styles early on, you’ll be way more likely to be able to overcome obstacles roommate syndrome can cause. Weinstein agrees, adding that “the best way to ward off roommate syndrome is for each partner to be willing to listen to the other partner’s wants and needs, evaluate what relevant changes can be made, own accountability for any contribution to the problem, and take action toward growth.”
Step out of your routine
In other words, keep things fun. No relationship can be all fun, all the time—but falling into a mundane routine isn’t doing you any favors. Even if you love the routine you’ve adopted with your partner, don’t be afraid to step out of it from time to time. These changes can be small, too. Maybe you tend to start each day eating breakfast at the kitchen table, scrolling through your phone while sharing brief remarks. Why not see what happens if you take your coffee to go one morning? Put your phones away and go for a walk, just the two of you. Big or small, make an effort to keep things fresh by trying something new or simply going about your routine in a slightly different way.
Keep up your own self-care
If you’re not thriving, your relationship won’t be either. This doesn’t mean you have to be on your A-game and feeling great 100% of the time, but you shouldn’t let your own needs fall by the wayside. Take time to fall in love with yourself, be it with an indulgent massage, a solo vacation, or one of our favorite self-care practices that don’t cost a dollar. It’s true that your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you have, and if you don’t give yourself the time and attention you need, what makes you think you can give it to your partner?
It can be tempting when you first move in together to make changes to your routine (like shortening your everything shower from 20 minutes to 12 minutes so you’re not hogging the bathroom or not watching the shows that you want to watch to unwind because they don’t want to watch it), but too many sacrifices can breed resentment. So take this as your sign: Nurture yourself in the ways that you need to in order to show up refreshed for your relationship.
Plan regular date nights
Per DiBiase and Weinstein, part of what causes roommate syndrome is feeling like your relationship is stagnant. Once you move in with your partner, you’ll typically have fewer date nights and more couch nights.
There’s nothing wrong with a little Netflix and chill, but make an effort to schedule nights out when you can. I have a running note in my phone of all the places my boyfriend and I want to go—this way, when we have a free night on the horizon, I have an easy list of options to pull from.
“A couple can avoid slipping into a roommate stage by making an active effort to continue dating each other,” DiBiase says. “Even though you may spend time together most nights, designate a night for quality time and plan something fun and different.” She suggests keeping things interesting by rotating who plans the dates.
Make plans outside of your relationship
Consider this your sign to schedule your next night out with friends, sans significant others. And, yes, we know how difficult this can be to schedule when everyone has their own relationships, families, and personal obligations—but even regular phone calls with friends while out for a walk will help create a little healthy separation. (Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all!)
This goes for hobbies and time alone, too. Whether you choose to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about, join a sports league, book club, or another local group, it’s important to maintain your own identity outside of your relationship. Not only will this alleviate the inevitable fatigue of spending every waking moment with your partner, but it will also give you two a chance to come back together at the end of the day, tell them something new, and even make you more excited to see them after a long day.
Don’t take each other for granted
When your partner starts to annoy you for loading the dishwasher wrong, leaving the bed unmade, or forgetting to take out the garbage, pause before you argue. Yes, it’s important to communicate the things that are troubling you in a relationship—but think of how much happier we’d be if we all focused a bit more on what’s going well.
“It’s important to be mindful of the new stage you’re in and make an effort to not take for granted all the reasons you chose to be together,” DiBiase agrees. “Keep up with compliments, being affectionate, and appreciating your partner.”
Avoid the comparison trap
“Avoid scrolling on social media and comparing your relationship to what you see from other couples,” Weinstein urges. She explains that she sees couples fall into this habit constantly in her practice, and while it’s a slippery slope, it can be avoided by just putting your phone down for a while.
This is particularly relevant if you’re in a long-term relationship and find yourself comparing to couples who are fresh in the honeymoon stage. “Nobody posts content from their own phases of roommate syndrome or their arguments, so what’s depicted on social media is only a highlight reel and breeds an inaccurate ‘grass is always greener’ mentality,” Weinstein adds.
Our final advice? Keep your eyes on your own relationship and never stop checking in with each other. Some successful couples literally schedule time to touch base at the start or end of each week. Whether you want to go that route or not, just be sure to communicate regularly about what’s going well and what you could improve. Remember, many of us default to thinking our partner can read our minds when a simple issue could be solved by communication alone.