In order to keep sane in a long-term live-in relationship, each person is going to need space. This doesn’t have to negatively affect intimacy, as long as you do it right.
When More Space is Needed
How do we know when we need to establish a bit more space for ourselves? There have been a few times in my life when I have mis-diagnosed a problem in a relationship as a need to end it. Luckily, with Kati we’ve been able to recover from these mistakes fairly well. That hasn’t always been the case of course, and I know several friends who have broken things off prematurely in their past relationships only to regret it later.
Sometimes, I’ll feel like I can’t live with this woman. I’ll get mad that she doesn’t treat my property with care or if she leaves her things out in a messy way. I’ll get mad if she doesn’t wash the dishes as much as I do. These sorts of issues can sometimes be infuriating if they are allowed to simmer, but they are pretty much the same problems one would have with any roommate. They aren’t really major, and they’re not really relationship issues either.
Other problems are a bit closer to relationship issues. Living with your girlfriend/boyfriend will slowly strip away all of the mystery in the relationship. You’ll see them without their makeup or hair done. They’ll see us playing video games in our boxers and unshaven. It can be quite jarring to the physical relationship to see these previously private aspects of your partner’s life.
Personal Space & Cohabitation
For these problems, the solution has turned out to be fairly simple. Kati and I no longer share a room when we live together. If possible, we get an apartment with two bathrooms as well. She always gets the master bedroom so that her closets and bathroom are bigger and more private. I always get to put my entertainment system in the living room and maintain that space to make up for my lack of a bathtub and tiny closet.
Reddit comics are usually so dumb, but I related to this one too well to pass it up.
We also have a few ground rules for the place too. I’m not allowed outside of my bedroom without at least gym shorts and a T-Shirt on (neither of us are, but I was the offender). She’s not allowed to cook unless she cleans up the mess before going to bed that night. We only sleep in the same room if we both want to, and neither of us are allowed to get mad if the other person doesn’t want to. We each do our own laundry separately for the most part to maintain that aspect of mystery as well.
Each of us are responsible for our own pets. I walk, feed, bathe, and buy toys for Moogle (link requires you to be my Facebook friend) while she does the same for her cat, Trash. If her cat pees in my room, she cleans it up. If my dog chews up her underwear, I buy her new ones.
Right now, Kati and I are living separately so that we can both have the jobs we love, but next time we live together we plan on continuing these practices that have worked before. These methods have reduced our fighting about dumb little issues by a metric shit-ton.
Mental & Social Space
Living together can get exhausting. There are times when everyone gets tired of their mate and living under the same roof exacerbates that situation quite a bit. Sometimes, this requires a bit more than just a separate bedroom and bathroom. It requires “me time”.
When we got into a funk, I decided to pick up a hobby that would get me out of the house a few days a week. Before my car accident jacked up my neck, I played full-pads tackle football for the AZFL. Having practice 2 nights a week and a game every Sunday afternoon was a great way to get out of the house and make friends. After my accident, I started playing Magic: The Gathering 2-3 nights a week at a local comic shop. Doing things with other people breaks up the monotony of monogamy nicely.
At the end of the day, this type of stuff will get you through boredom and overexposure. Problems like that can also be fixed together by going on vacation, starting a hobby or project together, or just trying new things (comedy clubs, theater shows, exotic restaurants, sex toys, etc.). Doing impulsive and new things adds spice to life.
When Space Isn’t Enough
There are several relationship problems that won’t be fixed by adding space. If the two of you want different things, it is doomed to failure unless one of you changes your mind. If you want the same kind of space as I do, but your partner wants to cuddle in the same bed every night, at least one of you is going to be unhappy. If there is abuse involved, that is obviously solved by way more space than mentioned here — more like a restraining order worth of space.
In some cases, adding a little extra space to a relationship can tell you a lot about your feelings toward it. If you continuously add space and never have the urge to take some of it back, perhaps you are just happier without that person. In my case, the ideal amount of space would probably be living right next door to Kati in 2 one bedroom apartments, but that’s not quite as fiscally sound as a well-designed 2br/2bath apartment. For some people, having separate beds in the same room I Love Lucy style is enough.
How do you know how much space is enough? Think of it like a level (the tool, like this). If one or both of you are uncomfortable with how close/distant your relationship is, lean in the opposite direction a little until it feels like it’s too far. Cut back until it feels right and repeat until the bubble is dead center.
Here Comes the Cliche
All of this relies on honest communication with your partner. Secrets and lies are the tumors in so many relationships. If you can avoid this in yourself, and have good enough instincts about selecting a mate, you should be able to keep your communication nice and clean. If you’ve already started a relationship that has secrets and lies, those webs will get more and more tangled until you both come clean. If you want it to last, it should be worth it to you.
Honesty and communication also require self-confidence on both sides. You have to be able to trust that your partner feels secure and confident enough to tell you what he/she honestly wants, if you want to give it to them. By the same token, you have to have the guts to ask them to try that weird thing you like in the bedroom or (in some cases even more importantly) to tell them no when you don’t want something. Making your partner happy is great, but not at your own expense. Make sacrifices once in awhile for their sake, but don’t overdo it (Kati can get me to go to one Country Music event per year max). Being open in this way lets you skip many of the bullshit arguments that those dishonest couples have.
Don’t refuse the kindness of others. It took me months before I would feel comfortable letting Kati buy me gifts whenever she wanted to. I would refuse them or tell her to save her money for other things for herself, but that was wrong of me. Now, I trust her to know how to spend her own time and money. If she wants to buy me something nice, I should just say thank you and accept it happily. The same goes for when my Dad wants to take me out to lunch. Sometimes letting them give you something you want is also giving them what they want.
And Now a Fun Excercise
Think of a few people that are close to you. Now for each one, determine how long you can hang out with them in person before they start to drive you nuts. Post your results in the comments section below! Here’s mine:
- My Mom: About 7-10 days
- Kati: About 6-8 days
- My Roommate: About 3-4 days
- My Brother: About 2-3 days
- My Dad: About 1.5-2 days
- Moogle: About 0.5-1 day (without being crated)
- My Stepdad: About 15 minutes
Given, my tolerance may be a little lower than most people’s, but the road to crazy for me is a short drive. No one should take this personally, of course. Some personalities just mesh better than others and it says nothing about my affection for any of you. This is about setting up the best possible amount of space for your relationships to be happy and healthy, not about rating how much you care for anyone.