How can an introverted couple cohabit with another couple?

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Could we all live together in one townhouse? (Photo by: Taber Andrew BainCC BY 2.0)
My husband, our two closest friends (who are married to each other), and I all live in an apartment building that has recently been purchased by an Evil Property Management Company. We aren’t bound by a long-term lease, so we’re considering moving out — all four of us together.

Since we have loved the community we have created living in the same building (we do a lot together, including having dinner together once per week), we’ve started discussing the possibility of renting a townhouse together, and living in closer community.

All of us have lived in some degree of community before, and had some combination of good and bad experiences with it, so we want to make sure we don’t fall into a dysfunctional roommate dynamic. Also, we’re all introverts to a greater or lesser degree, so we need to make sure we protect alone time. Has anyone else lived as a couple with another couple, or been an introvert living in intentional community? What made it work? What made it hard? -Sylvia

Comments on How can an introverted couple cohabit with another couple?

  1. I lived as a single person with a couple. Our biggest issue was trying to figure out when we were a trio of friends doing stuff together and when they were a couple and I was the single roommate. We encountered issues like home repairs, group vacations, date nights, family functions, etc. Both he and I wanted us to be a trio all the time; she did not. Eventually, it created enough friction between her and I that I decided to move out.

    Establish from the beginning how much money each person (or couple) is contributing. Establish who handles the group bills (rent, utilities, etc.) Establish what your plan is if someone can’t make ends meet. Figure out what your plan is for home repairs (a savings account you all pay into every month? a collection at time of need? putting it on one person’s credit card and paying them back?)

    Figure out your group rules. Are bedrooms completely off-limits? Are bathrooms shared? Are chores shared? Is one person going to be home the most and therefore expected to do the most? All of these questions are pretty normal issues for any community living.

    The most important thing is making sure everyone is on the same page and stays on the same page. It’s really easy to go from just roommates to attached at the hip (especially since you’re already friends and used to doing stuff together), and you may not even notice it happening. If that’s what you want, then it’s good. If it’s not, then you need to constantly reestablish boundaries.

  2. I think it’s really important to discuss upfront how you’ll each find your solitude, in terms of both time and space. What will be the expectations around spending time together, as a couple or as a foursome? Will you always eat dinner together? Will there be “house meetings” or other scheduled group time, and will they always be on the same day of the week or will it be more flexible? It’s probably helpful that you all understand introverts so you won’t be offended if someone comes home and doesn’t want to chat, or wants to eat breakfast alone.

    I’d also consider the physical space you’ll be renting. What kind of space will you each need to carve out for yourself? An extra bedroom, or large bedrooms with room for a “me time” corner? Do you want more than one “public” room in which to eat/read/watch TV, etc.? Those questions are important for anyone to consider, but especially people who need some space to recharge.

    I’ve lived with couples and I’ve lived with roommates whose SOs spend a lot of time around, though I’ve never lived with roommates with my own SO. I think it’s important to allow the time/space to be together as a couple, not just as a foursome. When I’ve lived in closer quarters, this even translated to “scheduling” the apartment for who would hang out where–such as who was going to use the kitchen for a nice candlelit dinner while someone else was out on a date, etc. If carving out that kind of space is important to you as individuals or couples, communicate about that and consider something like a paper or Google calendar to track who will be in and out when.

    I’m really interested in intentional communities, so I can’t wait to hear what others have to say. If you decide to go for it, I’d love to see a submission about how it’s going!

  3. Have a closed-door policy on your bedrooms. Agree that those are your private spaces and your roommate should knock and receive permission to enter before opening the door. This helps keep these spaces truly your own and gives you a sanctuary where you know you can be alone when you need to be.

    Try to have at least one meal a week together. Share the burden in cooking, shopping and cleaning. Try to schedule this at a time when everyone should be free and can plan to spend some time in the process. Maybe it’s Sunday brunch or Friday evening dinner–just sometime when you can socialize over a group activity and bond.

    Keep board games and card games within easy reach in the living room. Use them often! I’m not much of a chit-chatter (and honestly, I’m not even much of a game-player) but when we pick up a game, it’s just naturally to chat a little and bond, even if it’s just about the rules of the game or silly, good-natured smack talk.

  4. My former partner and I lived with another couple for just over a year and a half. There is some great advice above. Here’s some tips and some of the unexpected areas of conflict I’ve seen arise during intentional family living:

    – Have a regular (once a month or so) group meeting time. Do a check-in even if there aren’t any problems. This DEFINITELY helps solve issues before they blow up.
    – Discuss what to do if one of the couples breaks-up before the lease ends.
    – Have a private-ish space for discussion and conflict resolution within each couple. Having to retreat to your bedroom as the only private space is burdensome and it’s nice to have a covered porch or den for those difficult conversations.
    – Discuss what happens if one of the couples gets pregnant.
    – Decorating. Who’s stuff goes out in the public spaces? Often there is one person in each couple that has strong opinions on house decor and that person won’t be used to negotiation with an different person(couple) about what’s ok on the walls and tables. This also pertains to holiday decor.
    – Holidays. Are either couple intending to host for any of the holidays that involves relatives dropping in?
    – Discuss having guests over. Especially for introverts. How much warning time is needed to bring someone over for dinner/watch a movie/just hang out?
    – State of dress. I’m a tank top and underwear person. Others may prefer nudity or even prefer NOT seeing anyone partially disrobed.
    – Moving furniture. I like to rearrange rooms every six months to a year. Just for something fresh. My former roommate wanted to have the couch in the same location. For-EVER.
    -Rent a house. Preferably one with a split bedroom floor plan and two bathrooms.

    I personally love intentionally family co-habitation. We all went our separate ways in the end but I would do it again with people I’m close to now. In many ways it’s like polyamory. You need to have great communication skills and talk, talk, talk about everything. There are difficulties but for me, the benefits outweigh the costs.

    • Dude, holidays and pregnancy never occurred to me! Those would be some seriously big issues to have to deal with. I would pretty much rather “accidentally” cut myself and visit the ER than host a family holiday, even if it was someone else’s family.

      With the pregnancy thing, I’ll tack on “family emergency child-rearing.” The more people in a house, the more likely one of them is to have that crazy sibling/cousin/friend who gets arrested and needs someone to take care of their kid.

    • Yes to meetings! I live in a house of 6 with my boyfriend and we don’t have regular meetings, and sometimes issues crop up that are awkward to deal with because there isn’t a defined space to do so. I would say to hammer out the big issues above and establish regular meeting times BEFORE the move-in. The meetings can act as just a check-in to be sure everything is still good, or a place to bring up the little issues you didn’t think of ahead of time. Extremely useful, but it’s hard to establish that if you didn’t all go in expecting it!

  5. So, this is pretty funny timing. I’m the question-asker here, and we’re a fair bit farther along in the process than when I originally submitted the question — in fact, we’re moving in together (into an absolutely gorgeous rental house — with garden space!) tomorrow.

    We’ve still got a few details to iron out, but we’ve already talked about a lot of the things mentioned above. A bunch of things we’ve decided to handle as they come up, just because we haven’t had enough time to work out all the kinks yet. Some things (e.g. pregnancy) would affect things differently depending on when they happened — we have a one-year lease, but we’re planning to be there for four-ish years. An unexpected pregnancy now is a completely different matter than one in three years, for a number of reasons.

  6. My partner and I were, until recently, living in a house with 5 (!) boys, and their respective girlfriends were -always- there.
    As the only female officially living in the house, and the only one of any of us that had lived out of home, they all looked to me for instruction, which was good, in some situations, but bad in others….
    I work from home, sewing and making costumes for TV, which is awesome, but messy. So I rented two rooms in the house – one for ‘work’ and one for the SO and I to live in. The boys usually respected this, but occasionally I would come home to piles of things in there, because ‘it’s the spare room’….Which became a problem. But not as much of a problem as the assumption that because I work from home, I would play housewife, and cook and clean all the time. Like, I’m more than happy to do my share of the cleaning, and I love cooking for people, but I don’t like people expecting me to feed them, if that makes sense? Once I sat them down and told them I was not their mother, and wasn’t going to be doing their washing, or cleaning their bathroom, they made more of an effort.
    But it was great having other people to play video games with, and an endless supply of real-life mannequins!
    We also had a massive Christmas breakfast with all 12 of us, and invited everyone’s families, which was really cool, because it meant they could show their parents that they were actually doing ok, living out of home, but it really added to the community vibe.

  7. I lived happily with my introverted sister-in-law for over a year, and I’m definitely a little social butterfly. It’s up to the extrovert to respect the introvert’s space, and it’s up to the introvert to be willing to clearly communicate her or his boundaries. Passive aggression comes easily to the introvert, and to the extrovert, and proper communication and understanding of what does and does not make a person comfortable will help cut that shit out quick. 🙂 Good luck to you!

  8. My wife and I have had a roommate for about 6 months now. For the most part it’s been really great and has caused very few issues. It’s slightly different than this question because she is clearly just renting a room in our house, so there isn’t as much to navigate as if we were truly sharing a home. However, I have a question. How do people handle sex? We are hesitant to engage as we think she might hear and that seems awkward. Do you only have sex when the person/people are gone? Or do you just assume that living with a couple means they’re going to have sex sometimes? This has been terribly uncomfortable for us and I’d love to hear how other people handle it.

    • I just assumed they were having sex. I didn’t want to see it or hear it, but sometimes that’s unavoidable. I preferred if they waited until I left for work, but hey, sex can’t always be scheduled.

      I would say that if you’re into non-closed door sex (kitchen table, family room, whatever) wait until the roommate isn’t home or schedule a time for them to be out of the house. You could also ask if they would be willing to spend the night with a friend for special occasions like anniversaries. Don’t kick them out, obviously, but you can ask. If you want to make it less awkward, focus on the awesome candlelit dinner you want to have, not the awesome sex.

      If you’re comfortable enough talking to your roommate about it, you could always come up with a “We’re about to have sex” code. That could alert your roommate to put on headphones or go for a walk if they want to do that instead. Or you could put on the TV or music or a white noise machine if that wouldn’t distract you too badly.

      • Once I tossed my roommate (who was reading a book) the video game controller and turned on the TV for him, grabbed my partner’s hand and pointedly closed the bedroom door behind us. After that, the code for “I’m getting laid if you don’t want to hear it” was to toss someone the video game controller. Sometimes they left, sometimes they kept reading, sometimes they did something else noisy. But in any event, it was fair warning. Though I don’t think it was really necessary in that group, just sort of silly and maybe some attempt at being respectful.

        In later years, I was basically living with a guy and his roommate, who had two long-term girlfriends during my time there. One was a bit private, who was somewhat bothered by the concept of anyone knowing about her sex life or hearing about theirs, and she would usually turn on some music or something if she suspected anything was going on in the other bedroom, and would do passive-aggressive things to get some “quiet time” with her honey. The other girlfriend and I used to have screaming competitions and one of the guys got accused by the downstairs neighbors of doing construction on the apartment in the middle of the night. So… that wasn’t exactly the kind of place where any kind of code was necessary. Anyone in the living room was more likely to hear a girl hollering down the hall that she was waiting. (That was the same apartment where each roommate got walked in on at least once screwing a girl on the couch, and I don’t think that ever stopped anyone from doing it–at the moment, or thereafter.)

        I can definitely say, I can’t live with people who won’t let me walk around naked. Maybe I won’t actually do it, but I’d prefer to know I could.

        • I’ve had a similar situation when I would spend the night at my boyfriend’s apartment. His bed was up against the wall that he and his nocturnal roommate shared and there wasn’t enough room to move the bed away from the wall without hitting something else instead, so having sex was awkward. When he was home, we would usually take all the blankets and pillows off the bed and put them on the floor and just do the deed there. Or try something out sitting in a chair or something. We’re pretty quiet, though, so any noise that wasn’t bed-hitting-wall was never really an issue.

    • Somewhat different because we’re two couples, not a couple and a single-person, but we had a talk about basically not finding each others’ sex habits awkward — whether that be afternoon sex, or showering together, or whatever. We’re all pretty open about sex, though, so that’s going to be very different if you can’t just talk about it openly. We already knew, as relative newlyweds, that we’d all be having sex, so just getting it out in the open that sex is awesome, and afternoon sex is awesome, and showering together is awesome, etc. just made things less awkward in general.

    • HOTF (Husband of the future) and I have a similar arrangement. We own the house and his best friend rents the upstairs bedroom from us. I’m sure roomie assumes that HOTF and I have sex. And we definitely still have sex when roomie is home. We found out that he can’t really hear anything when he is upstairs with the door closed. One day HOTF asked him if he could hear us in the living room watching TV from his room. We get up before him and I was concerned about waking him. That’s when we found out his room is close to sound proof. So the only time I “try” to be quiet is if I know he is in the living room. We’ll turn on the radio or TV to camouflage the noise. We avoid having sex in the other rooms of the house unless we know that he is out of town.

      I don’t really like the “signal” method that some suggest. It seems like it would make your roommate even more aware of your sex life than if you just turned on the TV to drown out the noise.

      Maybe one of you should just have a quick chat with your roomie. You can pose it as a more general sort of question like we did. I wouldn’t suggest both speaking with her about it. I would say whichever of you has a more comfortable relationship with her. That way, you would at least know what level of noise is actually reaching her.

  9. I am currently both of these things. My husband and I are are living with another couple and I am an introvert (As is one member of the other couple.)

    To help protect alone time, I recommend looking for a place where the space is broken up into different areas. Get a place with as many rooms as you can reasonably afford. An extra bedroom set up as an office or library or guest bedroom with a comfy chair can provide a good place for someone to hide out when they need to be alone or need quiet time when other people are talking or watching TV. Some houses and town houses also have random extra rooms that are not usable as bedrooms (or instance because the washer and dryer are in there or because you have to walk through it to get to the garage) but which can be useful in providing more space to get away from each other.

    If there is space in your bedroom, a comfy chair in the bedroom can also provide a place to hide out.

    Multiple floors is good for breaking up space and putting distance between rooms.

    Paying attention to schedules and arranging your schedule so that you have time at home alone when other people are out (either individually or as a couple) can also be a way to get alone time.

    And talk to the people you live with about the fact that to like being around them but that you need alone time sometimes. This may be less of an issue if you are all introverts, but having all the cards on the table is always a good idea when you are going to be living with people.

    • Since we’re all introverts, making sure we had space (temporal and physical) to get away from each other was a priority for all of us. We were looking for a three bedroom place: two bedrooms for the couples, and one as the “introvert room” (although it more wound up as the office, since I’m a work-from-home freelance graphic designer, and one of our housemates is an Occupational Therapist, and needs a home office for her work). In the house we wound up in, there are a lot of great nook-y bits, one of which is off the office — it’s a little slanty bit under the roof, and it has a sky-light, and it’s a perfect place to get away! We also have a basement, with a finished rec-room, unfinished laundry room, and unfinished workroom. Not to mention the garden and the garage. Also since we’re all introverts, everyone really understands the need to get away from people, so nobody will be offended if someone just needs to go hide.

  10. I’m seriously planning, one day, to buy a motel and turn it into a little intentional community space. I like the idea of intentional community, but I need a sanctuary of space to retreat to regularly. Big houses with lots of bedrooms make me ridiculously happy, but long-term I need a little more quiet-time and personal space than that really allows. BUT having a HUGE kitchen that everyone shares for big family dinners and preserving projects would be awesome, while having separate kitchenettes lets everyone have their own special foods that aren’t for sharing, too. Plus, less likely to bother anyone if you’re up getting a snack in the middle of the night, or just can’t sleep–either because you have your own space to do it in, or because you can leave that space for your partner/kids/whatever to keep sleeping while you go to the common area to be awake. I wouldn’t mind little cabins around a Big House either. But that’s a Someday Plan.

    I see where the Original Question Asker has responded, but were you still looking for someplace, I would suggest going in on a duplex. Everybody gets personal space with their partner, but easy enough to do things together and often duplexes still have some shareable common area.

    • The duplex is the Someday Plan — kind of like the motel is your Someday Plan. Before our apartment building turned Super Sucky, we were planning to stay there until the four of us were ready to buy a duplex together, and raise our families in that duplex. Right now, we’re not anywhere close to ready to buy, and even renting a duplex is completely out-of-budget — single-family homes are much cheaper to rent here than two apartments of anything like the same quality — and also it would have been much harder to find a whole duplex going up for rent at the same time (we were looking for a place for several months just to find a house that worked for all of us). I think the main extra challenge of a shared house vs. a duplex is going to be the shared kitchen, but we’ve been discussing how to make that work (what food we’re sharing, cooking schedules, etc.), so I think it will be workable.

  11. I love the cohabiting couples/intentional and/or unintentional community posts pop up. Like most people above, my girlfriend and I live with 4 other people (one couple, one single person, and one person whose girlfriend does not live with us), so 6 people all together of varying levels of introversion and extroversion. I think the fact that we all respect each others personal space and private time is the most important factor. I think everyone above has already touched on the important points. Good luck with the new home!!!! Our little community has worked out so far, and I hope it continues to work out for everyone else. =)

  12. I’d be really interested in hearing more about this as you all move in together and negotiate living together.
    My fiancee and I are planning on buying a 2-3 family house with another couple (and their baby). We live in North Brooklyn (Williamsburg and Greenpoint), one family houses aren’t available (they are generally ripped down to build condos), and hastily built condos just aren’t our thing. So the plan is to buy a house, live in separate apartments, but have a shared yard, and possibly a basement with a shared washer and dryer (#NYCrealestatedreams), and share lives a bit. They have a baby, we don’t know if we will in the future, but I love the idea of having a small person in my life.

    • That’s honestly exactly how I’d like to live in the future. I don’t really want a family of my own, but I’d love to be able to share someone else’s life like that.

      Basically I just want to live on a commune.

  13. I lived and worked on a farm for three months in the summer of 2011. It was after my second year of college, so I had really only lived with my two roommates before (one by chance which was a disaster, and the second by choice which was perfect). So, I was understandably very nervous to live with several strangers. I met them once before I moved in. There was one couple who owned the farm and lived on the main floor, another couple who joined them the year before and lived in the basement apartment, and an intern who was around my age. The intern and I both had our own rooms on the main floor, and a bathroom between us.

    I am the biggest introvert I know. I spend almost all of my time not at work alone (mostly by choice, but sometimes I do get lonely). In the mornings and most evenings, everyone did their own thing. At lunch, we always had a communal lunch and it was actually really fun. It was one part of the day where I got to get in my socializing and aside from that I was free to do what I wanted. Even though a live/work situation is different than a just living situation, everyone was really respectful of my privacy and desire to be alone. There was always someone around if I felt chatty, but I could hole up in my room and not be judged.

    There were some clashes (not between me, but between some of the others), so that did make it a bit awkward, but it wasn’t anything better communication couldn’t fix. I was so nervous about it I was almost terrified, but it was actually one of the best experiences of my life. If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay! You might be stuck in a lease, but they only last so long if it’s really that bad (and chances are it will be fine, especially if you already know how everyone functions). Just make sure everyone has some sort of space that they can retreat to when they want their alone time.

    This was actually probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had, and I am eternally grateful for it.

  14. Hi! I realize your conversation about co-habituating was some time ago, but I would love to know if any one of you, or someone you know, bought a house with friends or another couple, or is planning on doing so. Also, the friends or couples must all live in the house together. I work in casting for a TV production company, and we are casting for a show called Homes With Friends. Please respond on this link if this is you! Thanks!

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