Newlyweds with a roommate: what should we be mindful of?

September 11 2014 | offbeatbride
Can three people that include one couple live together harmoniously? (Photo is not by the author, by: Robert JudgeCC BY 2.0)
My husband and I got married not too long ago (with great help from Offbeat Bride, might I add). We were in a long-distance relationship before the wedding, and that's not showing signs of ending any time soon. We visit each other every weekend.

It so happens that one of our long-time friends, also from our home town, found a part-time job in the city I work in, and we've decided to share a flat. My future roommate is an experienced flat-sharer while I am not. I am constantly thinking we need to regulate things and make them rock solid. I am hoping so much for us both to gain from this, and consistently worry I might be overdoing it and stepping on her toes…

Offbeat Homies, my questions are many:

  • Any advice on how to make this two-to-three person household a success?
  • Any home-sharing lifehacks?
  • How do you make roommates feel comfortable and appreciated?
  • How do you organize things?

Thank you! -uwrugbybunny

We know we have all kinds of non-traditional marital living situations — living apart together, living together part-time, married student housing — but what happens when you combine them with roommates?

Any advice, Homies who've added roommates to their relationships?

  1. Ha! My boyfriend and I lived in a not-so-long-distance relationship (about 2 1/2-3 hours apart) for around two years. I moved to his town this past January, but not with him. I live with a good friend of his and her new wife. I am the roommate of a married couple. The three of us got our rental house together, and share it as equals; however, I myself do not enjoy living with roommates (in part because I am ready to live with my boyfriend and we are making steps to get to that point). We've had our many differences, but all in all it is OK with communication.
    Tip one: KEEP IT FAIR. This doesn't mean that you need to take turns doing every chore, but it does mean that you guys should keep equal chores. For example, one of my roommates rarely lifts a finger inside the home, but insists on mowing our pretty large yard. I, myself, will spend three hours cleaning (dishes, windows, bathroom, carpets, dusting), about twice per week.
    Tip two: DO THINGS TOGETHER but keep your own stuff separate. I started feeling frustrated and hurt when I would come home and wasn't greeted (at all, except with a look of annoyance by them) by my roomies when they had company over. I get out and hang out with my bf and friends occasionally, but I was really hurt that my roomies and I didn't ever talk anymore. This is getting long, so I'll leave you with that. It can work, but you have to work at it (like any relationship). Best of luck!!

    • Hi! Question – asker here.

      So this is a little late now – we moved in together more than a year ago and now my flatmate is soon moving out (back to our hometown, for work and private reasons)… Maybe I should make a post on how it did work in the end?

      Anyway: the husband is only in the shared flat about every other weekend since he lives 200 km away. So the having people over thing is not such an issue.

      My flatmate and I have shared costs for nearly everything: food and other consumables such as washing powder, but not toiletries (except for facewashing soap, when we figured out that we use the same, expensive, handmade soap). I shoulder more of the 'flat' costs, since my room is a little bigger and my husband is here more often.

      We've scheduled in nights together when we cook and eat together, and try to have breakfast together as well when we're both around. We talk a LOT. We work things out. We have a calendar in the kitchen where we mark when we'Re here, when we're gone and the chores to be done. Lots of communication and planning, and like having a sister all of a sudden.

      I really wish she could stay.

  2. As with all room-mate situations, my main advice is to talk things over together, and to have a written agreement of some kind for the big stuff. It sucks at first, but saves a lot of pain later.

    Have a lease/mortgage document? Go over it all together.
    Does your building have rules and regs? Read those through together too.
    Do you need to organise who pays what bills, and when? Write it down so you can't be confused or disappointed later.

    Everyone thinks their level of cleanliness/tidiness is normal – go over expectations together. (Some examples: how often should we wipe the counter-tops? Vacuum? Clean the toilet? The shower? The bathroom floor? The windows? The fridge? Does everyone have responsibility for cleaning their own spaces? Who does the dishes – the person who dirtied them or does everyone do all of them sometimes? This all sounds incredibly tedious, but seriously, opinions vary wildly.)

    Discuss what spaces are private, and what spaces are communal. Discuss how communal spaces work. Do you need to label stuff in the fridge, or not? Are some items, eg milk, communal too? Will everyone's books and DVDs be kept together, or separately? What's the deal on having a party, or having a few friends round?

    You can totally do most of this over a meal or a beer, but DO IT. I know it sounds so boring, and potentially will raise disagreements, which no one wants when they first move in. You'll likely agree on a lot of it too, and it'll be no problem. But there sooo many occasions when I wished I'd talked about these things more when first moving in.

    Living separately from your partner is hard, and it can be difficult to know what to expect with any new living arrangement. The best thing you can possibly do is to make sure everyone knows their rights and responsibilities straight off. Then everyone can just get on with having fun, and having a great time together, without the worries over the everyday stuff.

  3. Hubby and I lived with our roommate for 2 years before we got married. A year later, and he's still living with us. It's actually a mutually beneficial relationship we all have. We're in Florida, roommate works in Alaska – he goes up there for 3-ish weeks, then comes back to FL for a week or two. Our rent is cheap since he pays 1/3, but most of the time we still have the place to ourselves. And he doesn't have to pay full rent for a place he barely actually stays in.

    Two major bits of advice for apartment sharing:

    1. Clean up after yourself in a timely manner (what constitutes "timely" for your household my vary)
    2. Establish early on that you should both communicate about anything that isn't working for you. Have a conversation RIGHT NOW about how you want to be able to tell your roommate about anything that upsets you, and that you also want him/her to discuss any issues with you. Not talking about things ends up with both of you being miserable if you're afraid to step on each other's toes. You want to be happy, not secretly disdain your roommate for playing music at 11pm when you're trying to sleep!

    As for making sure your roommate is appreciated, set up one or two nights a week where you'll cook dinner together or even just order take-out together. If you make a sweet treat make sure to let your roommate know he/she can have some too! We have a specific counter space that's designated for food we're sharing, and I keep cookies there most of the time. This system also lays another ground rule – if that one specific counter space is for food sharing, it's implied that everything else belongs to us individually. And that's just what works for us ­čÖé

    Edited to add: Also be weary of getting too cuddly on the couch or anything with your roommate around. You really don't want them to feel uncomfortable or like a "third wheel" when your husband is around.

    • Thank you for your last point. I used to flat with 2 other people, and 1 of them had his gf around ALL THE TIME (to the point where we at first had a conversation about her contributing, then kicked him out). They used to close the lounge door, turn off the lights and watch TV cuddled up in the dark, which made me and my other flatmate NEVER want to go in there. He also had very loud sex, and his room was right next door to the lounge. Totally uncool.

  4. I think something worth bearing in mind is that you (alone) don't have to make of a success of this or find the right thing to do, it's about working that what works best for the combination of you and your future housemate. That said, as the homeowner you do need to be crystal clear for yourself what you want and need and what you won't tolerate in your home. You don't need to necessarily present a list of rules to your new housemate (it is very hard to do this without appearing to scold someone before they have even done something) but when talking together about how you both want it to work, take responsibility that all your non-negotiable areas get covered. As the one whose home is being moved into I think it's totally fine to have non-negotiable areas/issues (no one has no non-negotiable areas/issue!), what would not be ok would be for these to come as a surprise to your new housemate as once they have moved in.

    Having established the non-negotiables, how you then organise the living space and chores etc is up to the two of you, some combinations of people seem to only work with written out and displayed rotas etc and some work just fine with a brief discussion before moving in and adjustment as you go along. It's all about the combinations of people involved, so say how you would like to organise things and ask how the new housemate how they would like to, and find the middle ground.

    Moving in with a friend does have the pitfall of potential falling out and loosing the friendship but in my experience this is usually when it's assumed that the existing friendship negates the need to be clear about boundaries and work things out together. Be clear about what is and isn't flexible and you'll be a great housemate and with any luck will get a great housemate!

  5. I think that the answers here really depend on each of you as individuals. My husband and I have had numerous roommates over the years and each experience has been completely different. With our first roommate we all just kind of tried to start living together and go from there. It worked out pretty well because our roommate was easy-going and helpful but subsequent roommate experiences weren't as pain free. After the first experience I realized that it's important to be communicative with your roommates and to discuss expectations and living arrangements prior to the move in.

    For example, when I come home from work I like to decompress alone. I need a roommate to respect my space when I get home. With some roommates we have had "what's mine is yours" policies with food but other roommates who didn't eat what we ate kept their food in a seperate space in the kitchen. We don't expect ultimate cleanliness but do expect that dishes will be cleaned within 1-2 days of being used and that if you make a mess (spilling things, breaking things, etc.) you will clean it up.

    The two biggest helps with our less easy-going roommates were a chore chart and setting laundry times. The chore chart changed weekly for us because I'm a nerd obsessed with spreadsheets and I wanted to balance out the jobs, but it could also just be as simple as "Hey, we clean on Sundays, can you help us?" or "We expect you to help keep the common rooms clean." And as someone who can wear up to three sets of clothes in a day (gym, work, going out, sleeping), have specific laundry days was important. Especially when you all have varied schedules, it helps to know that you have a laundry day and your roommate won't be trying to get work clothes washed at the last minute because your roommate's laundry day was two days prior.

    And again, I emphasize communication. For the most part, we have always felt comfortable with discussing concerns with our roommates (usually regarding cleanliness or foodstuff) because we talked about it openly from the beginning. If something is bothering you about the living arrangement (something legitimate, not that you hate the way your roomie makes a sandwich), all of you in the house need to be able to talk about it in a judgement and feelings free zone.

  6. I've shared a house with my sister and her now husband for years. The biggest thing for us was discussing expectations (who pays for what, cleaning, etc.), what's for communal use (food, spaces, etc.), and pet peeves. We decided that it was easiest to split bills three ways and cooking dinner for everyone and doing dishes on a set weekly rotation so that we all knew what to expect weekly and could get into a groove. These things had to be adjusted as time went by and our schedules changed, so it also helps to be flexible and communicate when something, no matter how minor, comes up. Like my sister and brother-in-law might want a night out, but she's supposed to make dinner that night, we just switch duties and she'll cook dinner on one of the nights I'm supposed to. That way everyone does what they like, but no one feels taken advantage of.

    I wish we had discussed pet peeves earlier than we did. For example, I need a tidy kitchen. I hate going in there in the morning and there stacks of dirty dishes on the counters. It makes me nuts, but doesn't bother my roommates. Not talking about it lead to some uncomfortable "conversations" and I walked around annoyed far more than I needed to. If we had talked about things we need done to avoid getting ticked with each other earlier, we could have been a lot happier sooner. This is a workable living situation, and can be a lot of fun. It's mostly a matter of making sure that everyone is talking and working with each other.

  7. As someone who has lived with a couple, I can only say my biggest grief was always that I felt like couples ganged up on myself and our other roomie. I've seen this happen with friends who live with couples too. If the couple agrees on something they can steamroll everyone else. I'm not saying everyone does this but perhaps when you approach problems you can approach them as separate individuals rather than a preset team. Just keeping in mind what your roommate is saying/feeling is a good start.

  8. I guess I'm a little different but still a situation people think is strange or odd. I live with my ex-byofriend, best friend, her ex-boyfriend and another female friend. Yes, just to clarify that is correct. It works fine. I'd advise talking, talking and more tlaking. Just a simple hi, how was your day. Makes a huge difference. As does just saying ohh do you mind if i have a few friends over on friday. your more than welcome to join. Remember the flat/house is shared. if you want alone time with a friend, catch a coffee is a quiet cafe or purposely arrange a time when you know your roomie is out (sounds strange but then you aren't telling them no I'm having the shared space and you have to be in your room).

  9. Most importantly, remember you will be splitting everything three ways, and not two ways. That's what gets couples into trouble with singles, in my experience, whether it's at a potluck, splitting a tab, or anything else. Couples tend to think of themselves as one unit, and the single as one unit, making it seem fair to divide responsibilities into two. But there are three of you, so responsibilities should fall equally to all parties.

    My other advice would be to a find flat with as soundproof bedrooms as possible. And then maybe hang things on those walls for more soundproofing. And even then make sure to keep noise to a minimum.

    • In terms of bar tab etc, sure completely true, but with rent, it might be a little different because the roommate likely has their own room and the couple share a room. Water, gas etc sure should be even thirds but if its a two bedroom house, if the single wants "half the house" then its not unreasonable to pay almost half the rent.

  10. My husband and I took in a housemate this year. We own the house, so there is some power dynamic there. But there are a few things that have caught me off guard:
    The spouse and I had division of labor worked out, so when roomie first moved in stuff was just getting done. We had to make space for him to do chores.
    I can't walk around naked anymore. Seriously, I had to buy a bathrobe.
    We use a dry erase board on the fridge to track things, like perishables in the fridge (since everyone can buy for collective use) and who is going to be home for dinner so the person cooking knows how much to make.
    It is amazing to me to hear my spouse give "feedback" to the roomie who just says "thank you" when the same feedback to me would get a "how dare you tell me how to live in MY house." (see above note about power dynamic)
    I have to be explicit about needing my space, if I want to read in the living room and not talk. I made it clear to roomie when he first moved in that this happens sometimes and to not take it personally.

    It is fun to have another person around. He's an easygoing good natured guy who I generally like.

  11. I live this!

    When I moved to a new city to start grad school, I left my long term BF behind and moved in with a roomie I met on Craigslist. She and I get along famously, and I LOVE our apartment. Six months later, my boyfriend (now husband) moved in, and we're all still living together 5 years later, even after getting married two years ago!

    First, we really lucked out in terms of all three of us being fairly easygoing and conflict-averse. so there have never really been any fights over things like cleaning or bills. It's very much a pick your battles state of being. Lots of things are not 100% how we would do them if it was just the two of us living together, but the cheaper rent, great apartment, and pain in the butt of moving before I finish my terminal degree all mean that it's much easier to let things roll off you than to pick fights or make things an issue. And if something really needs to get brought up, we have a civil conversation about how to adjust to meet everyone's needs!

    One thing I didn't expect was the serious "nesting" syndrome that comes after getting married – since we tied the knot (thanks OBB!) we have been yearning for a space of our own, but for the reasons outlined above we opted to stay. It's an exercise in compromise, but it is fun to dream of the cozy home for the two of us that will be when I finally finish school and we move to a new city to start life in the real world!

    tldr; Our keys to success? Cook and procure your own food, have separate bathrooms and bedrooms (one for the couple, one for the odd one out), don't sweat the small stuff, don't keep score (just do the dishes, it doesn't matter who dirtied them!), and communicate clearly about the deal-breakers.

  12. This couldn't have come at a better time. My now husband and I got married last weekend (OBB = Fab). We have lived together just the two of us for a few years. Due to various circumstances a week before we married we moved into rented accommodation with one of our friends. The main things we all agreed on were how bills and rent were to be split (rent 50/50 and bills 2/3 to 1/3) and to communicate any problems issues straight away. I'm sure there will be hiccups as we all get settled but it has been good seeing some different views on the subject. Wish us luck.

  13. DEALBREAKERS. Talk about those things that short circuit you first thing. For me, it's unannounced guests, especially guests who will be staying overnight. Encourage your roommate to speak up and be honest about hers so that you're starting from a place of openness and concern for each others' feelings.

    Division of labor is also important to talk about, as well as expectations for common area cleanliness. It sounds like your roommate is laid back, but getting this hammered out first go will cut down on awkward conversations later.

    Beware of the "mom and dad" dynamic. My husband and I shared the master bedroom of a house we rented with three other (single) friends. One of our particularly anxious roommates worried that we saw the place as "our house" and they were all just living in it. This was far from the truth, but be aware that there is a possibility that your roommate may consciously or unconsciously project feelings of this nature, and you might unconsciously fill that role.

  14. Having lived as a couple with a roommate, I've got a few thoughts. Everyone else has great advice about the practicals of living. I thought I'd address some of the nastier stuff that can happen.

    -Communication is key, as everyone else has said. Don't tiptoe around each other. Own the shit that makes you bonkers, let the things that matter less slide. You have to communicate up front and keep talking. The minute someone stops talking is when these arrangements tank, by far.

    -Have a solid policy about personal spaces. Is your shared room with your SO open for roommate to come in and out? Is it your sanctum sanctorum? Can your roommate come in if the door is open, or to vacuum on Wednesday afternoons? Say so up front and enforce those boundaries.

    -Make sure you, your SO, and your roommate are all on the same page about what kind of relationship you're all in. Are you a couple who happens to have a roommate and you all live mostly separate lives save for movie night every two weeks? Are you a tight group of friends who wants to do everything together? Are you somewhere in-between? Make this clear up front. A lot of couple + roommate situations I've been in or watched happen went down in flames because the roommate wanted the situation to turn into a happy poly triad and was disappointed. This is part of communication, but not a thing a lot of people think about. Be clear, be respectful, and if someone's stance changes, be prepared to readdress the situation and potentially break up the arrangement.

    -Have a sense of what your dealbreakers are and talk about them. Is there behaviour that you will not tolerate, period? Put those out there up front. For me, it was smoking cigarettes in the house, willful destruction of the property, and engaging in self-harming behaviour (cutting, drug use, etc). Any of those things meant there was going to be a come to Jesus and things were going to change, pronto, be that mental health services were called, an intervention happened, or I got in touch with someone's main support network about their behaviour (also mostly for mental health stuff).

    -Be honest and frank about what needs to happen if the household has to break up. If roommate gets a great job offer two states over or wants to move in with their SO, if your SO's parent declines and you both need to move to Kansas to take care of them, whatever the case may be, decide up front about how you'll handle the remaining rent, who will pay for what, and what the terms are for breaking up the household. Consider this your personal rental contract with one another. You hopefully won't need it, but if you do, you will kick yourself for not having it.

  15. I know some groups who, after struggling to find an acceptable cleaning rota, found it easier just to split the cost of a cleaner between them to hit the key areas once a week.
    Not everyone feels the same way about the standard the house should be kept to, and people can get quite resentful if either they feel they are being forced to live in a pigsty, or they feel they are being forced to give up a disproportionate amount of their free time to clean to someone else's schedule. Sometimes it takes the drama out of the situation to just add one extra (relatively small) household bill to make that problem go away.

    • Yes, this! I was scrolling down to write this. Just after we got married we had a roommate in our house for a while, and I'm pretty sure having a cleaner avoided very many arguments and awkward situations, as my husband and I are quite messy and she was very neat.
      The other thing we did that was really helpful was have a pot of money that every individual person added an agreed amount to every month. The money was used for bills plus reasonable house expenses like toilet paper and bleach. Anyone could take some and buy household stuff if they left the receipt in the pot, and if we had any left over at the end of the month we'd save it for a house dinner date or something else nice to do together.
      I don't think our situation would have worked if we hadn't all been pretty easy going and happy to talk about awkward things before they simmered. I agree with everyone above who mentioned open communication!

  16. With the communal/personal, it's not just food — coming home to find no toilet paper in the whole house is very unpleasant, but I hadn't known that my housemates didn't share my philosophy of "always keep a few rolls in the closet" and instead would only buy more when it ran out. The little things can be bigger than the big things — I'd lock an outside door as soon as I came inside, but someone else would only lock a door when they went to bed or left the house empty, and it really bothered me. For future new housemates, I'd have us walk through the house and mention things like that.

  17. My husband and I had a friend who lived with us for about 6 months due to unfortunate circumstances. We had basically 24 hours to prepare. We had also lived, not very happily, with my brother-in-law in that same house for 2 years. Finally, I lived with my SIL for 3 months before my husband was able to move with me across country (SIL was an awesome roommate). The friend who lived with us turned out to be the perfect roommate. Here were the things that worked for us (and hadn't worked with our previous roomie):
    1. Defined space. With my BIL he had lived in the house for years alone, so we were relegated to one bedroom suite and felt like houseguests the entire time. With our friend we made sure that she had a cupboard in the kitchen and a spot in our office/craft room/tv room. She didn't arrive with much stuff, but if she had we would have encouraged her to use all the "shared" areas.
    2. Shared Activities. This was a big one for both of my successful roomie situations. With my SIL we had a couple TV shows we would watch several nights a week. With my friend we had tv and I was teaching her fiberarts so we would do that most evenings while my hubs played computer games. We also shared grocery runs and trips to petsmart (for cat food and puppy watching).
    3. Alone time. Oh man, it is good to have the house to yourself sometimes. Know your roommate's schedule and arrange to have a time (preferably every day) when you each have the house to yourself. This is important for both the married couple (thin walls) and the single roomie.
    4. Don't neglect your partner. Living with a friend (if they are a good roommate) basically feels like a slumber party ALL THE TIME. Your partner may not feel that way about it. Make sure to spend plenty of time with them and let them pick some of the shared activities/movies/etc.

    Our friend treated our pets like they were royalty and came with us on weekend trips, in return we got to know her better than we'd ever hoped. My sis-in-law and I are now very close, partly due to power-watching "Merlin" on our shared days off, and partly because we saw each other when we weren't at our best – and still wanted to be friends.

    All that being said, when I asked my partner if he'd want to have another roommate he was very emphatic. Definitely not.*

    *I think he missed walking around in the buff.

  18. About to dive into this whirlwind. My husband is quite a social person and when we were long-distance (2 years before getting married), he lived alone and his apartment was like a revolving door. Everyone was always coming in and out. By moving in with an introverted roommate, I hope to curb that nonstop people flow a little bit… our home is our sanctuary.

    We're about to move in with a mutual (guy) friend and his big ol' dog. I'm sincerely hoping for the best. Our friend works as a full time sous chef (hello, free food!) and has lived with my husband before. We know he's a reliable guy and mostly keeps to himself. I'm excited to have someone that both my husband and I can hang out with separately or together, and that all the responsibility of a household doesn't fall on us. Plus, since our new roommate has a big goofy dog, we get all the perks of a dog with none of the financial responsibility! Not to mention AMAZING rent savings.. it gives us a bit to save up for our own place.

    We'll see how this goes! Wish us luck…

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