Living with my partner isn’t like living with a roommate

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I'll do these when I damn well please!! …as long as that's okay with you?
I’ll do these when I damn well please!! …if that’s okay? Photo by author.

When you live with roommates, you have to share a space and be mutually respectful of that shared space (ideally). In college, I lived with a couple of different sets of roommates, and each experience was the same: my home life was spent in my bedroom, where I had complete and total control. My desk, my bed, all my stuff — in my bedroom. I ate there, worked there, hung out there with friends there, and lived in my room and only my room. This wasn’t necessarily because my roommates were annoying — I just liked having control over my space. Most of the time the space was spic and span as I’m just fond of my stuff being tidy; but during exams, for example, I’d let it get out of control. However, it was my choice to do so. It was I who decided that I’d get to the laundry in a couple days, or that those books could hang out on the floor until this paper was done. Whether it was messy or clean, it was under my rule. Like a tiny queendom with black and purple decorations and a stocked liquor cabinet.

This also meant that if I ever used the common areas, I made sure to leave no trace when I went back to my room. I hated it when I came home to a pile of dirty dishes with the perpetrator nowhere to be found, or when someone’s homework covered the dining room table for days. In an effort to set an example, I covered my tracks anywhere around the house as best as I could.

So, here’s where this adjustment to living with my boyfriend comes in. The other day when he was at work, I texted him to say “I’m exhausted and I just want to warn you that the dishes aren’t done. I’ll get to them tomorrow first thing.”

His response: “I hate to tell you this, love, but you’re an adult now. You can do the dishes whenever you want!”

My reaction in my mind: “Not true. I have a responsibility to my roommate to maintain this house in the way that I would want to live in it.” Then I caught myself and thought for a minute. Does living with your partner mean that maybe, just maybe, the entire home is now under our shared dominion? And that, within reason, I can decide what gets done when, just like he can? I still wasn’t sure.

A couple days later, I caught him doing my dishes. “Sorry, I was going to get to those,” I apologized, baffled at why anyone would want to clean up my mess. “No big deal — we each help each other,” he responded casually, like it was a regular thing for roommates to help with each other’s messes. Cheerfully, even.

And after all, he’s right. I think nothing of tidying up after him from time to time, or doing his laundry along with mine, etc. When I finally examined it, this was because we’re not actually roommates — we’re partners. It’s our place, and I’m finding more and more that it’s our job to keep it tidy, too.

Of course, there are going to be times when I wish he would get to chores a little earlier. But I’m sure that goes both ways. And instead of feeling resentment against a messy roommate, I can feel good about talking about sharing household chores — though I’m still kind of perplexed at this arrangement. But one thing’s for sure: I don’t have to live entirely in one room anymore.

Comments on Living with my partner isn’t like living with a roommate

  1. Could have written this myself a couple of years ago! I was so used to holing up in my room that having a WHOLE APARTMENT to play around/make messes in was mindblowing when I moved in with my now-husband. Now if neither of us feel like doing the dishes, it’s totally cool, they sit there til the morning. I pick up after him, he picks up after me (I leave a trail of coke cans in my wake)… and it’s awesome!

    • I to leave a trail of coke cans in my wake… On the other hand, I lived in a home in University where everyone cleaned up after everyone, or else lived in mess perpetually. My fiance was one of those roommates. It made moving in together really easy.

    • I found that when my husband and I got married, there was a bit of this attitude going on. The best remedy I’ve found is communicate with your partner about what your expectations are, and what is actually going on. We live by the motto “don’t set me up to fail” which means: communicate to me what you need and what I can do to achieve it, so I know how to not fail. From there you can compromise, or find some plan that works for both of you. Discuss what cleaning looked like in your home-of-origin, and whether that is something you want to continue or want to diverge from.

  2. I love this article! I was so nervous about moving in with my husband because (even with good roommates), I had always felt uncomfortable sharing space, and ended up confined to my room most of the time. I was terrified that after we moved in together I would go crazy because I wouldn’t have that private space. I’ve never been happier to be more wrong! In my experience, it’s been SO much better living with him, for the reasons you’ve said. Sure, we have our dust ups from time to time about chores, etc, but for the most part, we’re in this thing together and it’s AWESOME.

  3. For the first time my fiance and I now have our own place without roommates and yes – you are so entirely correct, it is very different (and for me waaaaay less stressful) Our last roommate set up we did share the common space and spent time hanging out as a group and whatnot, but the stresses of trying not to get in someones way or when someone gets in your way are pretty inescapable. When I said to my fiance that I have a much easier time living with him than anyone else he had an indelicate response as to why :-p (which I’m sure that helps relieve the tension as it were haha)

  4. I was never very successful living with roommates- somehow the “having an actual relationship” part makes it so much easier. If I ask my husband to clean something up (or, let’s be realistic, the other way around) he’s not going to quietly resent me forever. If I leave a cereal bowl out, he’s not going to passive aggressively leave a BIGGER cereal bowl out. Etc etc forever.

    One thing that’s been super useful, though- my husband and I have a long-standing agreement (and so did I and my ex before him) that he handles the dishes and I handle the laundry. It makes sense, since he does the cooking and generally rules the kitchen, and I’m the one who insists on a fresh t-shirt every single day (*gasp*) and doesn’t want my bras going in the dryer. He will occasionally do a load of just-his-things if he needs something in particular and I’ve let it go too long (happens sometimes if I am waiting for a full white load, for example,) which is kind of annoying because I’d rather he just bug me to do it… but he doesn’t seem to mind so, oh well 😛

  5. I am very similar when living with roommates. My room is my private domain and I stay there the majority of the time. When my bf and I moved in together, we shared a room in a house full of roommates. I think it was the worst of both worlds. I still retreated to my room, because we lived with 3 other people, but so did he, so we NEVER could have our own private space from each other. I felt a bit bitter about sharing my domain. When I lived alone my bedroom was my sanctuary, and then, suddenly, I had to share that domain. If I wanted to read a book quietly on our bed, but he wanted to play Skyrim on the computer (which was in the same room) with the volume really loud, I felt annoyed that my space was being invaded. He got annoyed when I wanted to watch Buffy the Vampire slayer and he wanted to listen to music. It took some adjustment, but we finally figured out how to not murder each other (loving murder of course 😉 ).

    This article makes me soooo excited, because, finally, we are moving to our own little apartment next weekend! Yay!!! 😀

  6. Such a relevant article for me. I’ve just moved in with my fiancee after years of living in sharehouses. The first paragraph of this article described me completely. How mindblowing it is to not have to keep all my wordly possessions in one tiny room! I’m definitely still getting used to the changes, but I feel way more comfortable talking to my partner if something is bothering me about the house than if I was still living with housemates.

  7. I definitely had the same experience of expecting it to be the same! Probably partly because it was actually the exact same flat I’d been sharing with roommates…

    I love living with my boyfriend though. No passive-aggression about washing up! (Because we actually have a relationship above and beyond “roommate”, I suppose, and we care about each other’s moods much more.)

    And no more doing all activities in the same room! I didn’t realise how much the student lifestyle of eat-sleep-work-hang out all in the same room actually sucks until I had *different rooms* for *different activities*. Amazing stuff.

  8. My husband and I are coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. We had been living on our own for a long time before we moved in together. While it is true that living with him is better than what I remember it was like living with roommates, it was difficult because we were both set in our ways and used to doing whatever we pleased in our homes.

    However, in some respects it is easier to live with a partner. It is wonderful that I am no longer the only one responsible for doing everything in my house. Tomorrow, I am having friends over for drinks after work. Last night, I left a mess in the kitchen because I was too exhausted to clean before bed. This morning, the kitchen was sparkling clean. My man is awesome like that.

    One thing that does drive me crazy is that I feel that I go out of my way to thank him for all of the cleaning that he does around the house. On the other hand, he rarely even seems to notice if I clean anything. Does anyone else have this experience? It frustrates me because I think that maybe as a woman I have been brought up to feel extreme gratitude for any “help” I receive around the house. My father certainly never did any housework. Perhaps my husband just expects me to do what I do because I am a woman, even though he is evolved enough to do his share. Or am I just complaining too much?

    • That’s an interesting question you pose about gender roles. Does your husband thank you when you do non-housework things? It might just be that he’s not as attuned to showing gratitude, rather than that he expects you to do housework because you’re the woman. You might be reading too much into it, and taking offense where none exists. Sometimes we can ascribe so many motives to someone without actually just asking them about it. So bring it up… with curiosity, not complaint. And look at your housework in the larger context of who he is and how he interacts with you.

      • He does thank me for other things, so this is different. I brought it up this morning and gave him some time to think about it. I am interested to hear what his response will be. I am sure that he never realized that he expects appreciation in this area while rarely giving it. I do believe that it stems from our society’s expectations. While we have come far, we are not equal yet!

        • Yeah, I know this feeling well. I cleaned my bf and my shared room every day before I left for work (and he was gone already), but never got a thank you. I do think he just kind of “expected it” because I’m a female.

          We had a talk and decided to adopt the “I appreciate you” sentiment that I read in an article on here a while ago. We say “I appreciate you” any time we notice the other has done something. It does sound cheesy, but it really helped with the resentment I felt. Him too, honestly. Apparently, I wasn’t thanking him for some little things he did for me either. So win, win!

    • My spouse & I have an agreement that we can (and should) brag to each other about the housework we’ve done so that the other can notice, appreciate, and thank the one who did it. Saves tremendously on fights & feelings of being ignored. Perhaps it’s a bit silly to be as explicit as “I’m going to need you to look at all the dishes I’ve done when you get home and say wow” but seriously, it’s awesome and it totally works. Try it!

  9. I love this. It’s so true.

    I love the feeling of the flat feeling like a home rather than just a place where my room is. I love that our stuff is spread through the whole place rather than having to keep to one room.

    The best thing is going to be when we next move to a place with two bedrooms, one of which will be our study. I have never, ever had a bedroom without a desk in it. Never had a bedroom that was just, you know, a bedroom. So excited.

    • I had never had a bedroom without a desk either! And let me tell you: it’s awesome, but it also means that the bedroom is very bare. We’re having fun trying to figure out what else goes in a bedroom now that the desk doesn’t have to.

      • I want space!! I want a big giant space where I can lie on the floor and kick my legs in the air.

        Or maybe some mess. Yeah, that’s more likely. Or maybe some guitars.

  10. That’s one of the bajillion reasons I hate living apart from my boyfriend (we’re in school in different states): I have to do all the dishes now. And nobody makes me dinner. And I never come home to clean laundry anymore. Wah, wah, wah. (Also, he kept the classy vacuum because his apartment is all carpet… but my area rug is getting real grimy.)
    But he has learned to do more chores, in our semesters apart. So… win?

  11. First off, you have an awesome boyfriend there. While I fully believe that is the sort of respect every person should have for their partner, I look at older generations and recall how in years past men lived by very different rules. Thank heaven times are changing!

    Onto my two cents…I had to learn this lesson VERY quickly a couple years back. I’d only been living with my boyfriend for about 2 months (and we’d been dating for just under a year) when he took a nasty fall and severely broke his ankle. Goodbye sharing of chores. I had to manage the entire apartment all by myself (with him occasionally making bank transfers to help pay for groceries) while he was stuck on the couch hopped up on serious pain killers. Sometimes when I got home from work I just did not have the energy to do much more than make dinner. So messes sometimes cropped up, and they got taken care of when they got taken care of. Honestly, we were just living day to day hoping he wouldn’t be stuck with a limp the rest of his life and thanking our stars that the injury wasn’t worse. After the worst was over and he could more or less walk again we had settled into a very different routine than I had anticipated going into our moving in together. But at the end of the day it still worked. I tend to work longer hours than he does, and he knows a lot more about cooking than I do, so he tends to take care of most of our meals while I clean up. In addition, he tends to be a “neat freak” about keeping things tidy, but won’t scrub the bathroom sink for weeks, whereas I tend to leave half-finished projects strewn about but get skeeved out by toothpaste build-up and loooove vacuuming. It seems we balance each other well in that way.

    I don’t think there is any “right” way to live with other people, be they your partner or not. Just as long as you figure out a system that keeps you both happy you’re doing what’s right for you.

  12. This was really encouraging to read. I recently moved into my first apartment that I WON’T be sharing with roomies, and it’s been fabulous to have the space to myself. Knowing how I feel about sharing my space has definitely made me wonder if I’ll ever be happy living with a partner, though. It’s nice to know it’s different!

  13. Completely unrelated note, but is that chalkboard paint on the jars in the background? They look so cool! (I might have to steal this idea for my pantry’s steadily growing collection of thrifted jars…)

  14. It IS completely different, and AWESOME…once we figured out our system. While I am walking the dog in the mornings (EVERY morning), my husband empties the dishwasher, feeds the pets, makes breakfast, and makes coffee. Each week I am in charge of planning meals and doing the grocery shopping. My husband hates grocery shopping so much that he offers to stay home and do the vacuuming (WIN!) We tend to cook dinner together, or one of us will cook while the other walks the dog.
    But the great thing is that we don’t mind picking up the slack for the other one. If I get home from work first, I don’t mind cooking dinner so he can have some down time. And when I have a headache, he doesn’t mind cleaning up the kitchen, etc.
    For weekend chores, we commit time to “being productive,” where we are both working on chores. He tends to do the obvious stuff, while I pick up on details (like floor boards, light switches, etc.) You can’t resent each other when you are BOTH working.
    Some people like to alternate chores, but it seems to work better for us if we have designated jobs. Then there’s no “Is it my turn? I’m sure I did this last time!” questioning, we just take care of whatever it is.

  15. I have had and am currently having a very similar situation! After two HORRIBLE roommates I vowed never to have one again but I do now (too much for one comment post, but lets just say I was right to have never wanted one again). I’ve also lived with boyfriends which is MUCH different than living with JUST a roommate. MINE/THEIRS becomes OURS and it’s actually a huge relief! My boyfriend is now my fiance. We have lived together, just us, for 3 years. Then we made the decision to move to Austin and have a roommate now. Financially, it was a good choice. Emotionally, psychologically, and physically. It probably wasn’t. I don’t mind picking up after my fiance or just rolling my eyes when he leaves dirty socks by the door. But if the roommate leaves something out for so long that it FORCES me to clean it up (my biggest complaint is after cooking. Clean up after you damn self! We live in Texas! It doesn’t get cold! Those dirty dishes are going to bring in bugs!), that REALLY makes a rage inside my head! I can no longer chalk it up to him being “a man” or “he just forgot.” No. He’s lazy and lived with his mom for too long!

    The light at the end of the tunnel? The lease is up in June (even though that seems like an eternity!) and by then we should be able to afford a place by ourselves! Living with your significant other is great! And I can’t wait to get back to doing just that!

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