THE BLOG
05/13/2012 01:32 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2012

Moving In Together? Read This First

It's difficult to start to live with someone else. The easiest part of the whole process is getting all of your possessions into the same space (and that can actually be quite a hassle depending on the elevator situation). The psychological adjustments required are exhausting, and there isn't a salve or pill that makes them any easier to handle.

One of the biggest issues when people move in together is territories. Humans, just like lions, and tigers, and bears have them, but they don't get talked about very much.

We all need to know what spaces in the homes we share "belong to" us and to each of the other people we live with and which are shared, communal places. If people living together don't identify and respect territories, they may soon be living apart again.

Flickr photo by TheMuuj

A territory can be distinguished in many ways. The most common way that comes to mind is with walls to the ceiling and a door, but a territory can be delineated by the edge of a rug or a change in ceiling height, or the area lit by a lamp. Sometimes a territory is an area that can be seen while seated in a chair.

However it's defined, an individual's territory is not a place that only its owner can enter, but it is a space where the rules about how that owner likes to live in a space are observed -- and from which others can be excluded (politely) when its owner wants to be alone. It's best if it's a little out of the way, so it's easier to differentiate from common spaces. In their territory, a person tells their own story, presenting the photos, objects, and decorating styles that say the things about themselves that they want others, and particularly their housemate, to hear. Partners need to respect the stories being told, which probably isn't really difficult since something drew them to move in together in the first place.

Communal territories are just as important as individual ones, and in practical terms these are the spaces left over after those solo spots are claimed. Jointly "owned" places are where the couple can tell their "team" story to visitors -- and each other, bonding through that telling. In co-owned spaces both partners need to work together present objects, photos, and decorating styles that detail what's important to them as a team. This might be that they're fun loving, or determined to save the world, or devoted to golf, or something else.

Each of us has personal experiences about how a home should be lived in -- for example, some of us grew up with mothers who never let a dust mote lie, while others of us had moms who couldn't find the vacuum cleaner. It's important to openly discuss "place maintenance" rules and establish clear standards -- write them down if you must to prevent confusion later. What we learn about how to use and keep spaces when we're kids is burned into our psyches forever -- but if you discuss inconsistencies in these fundamental concerns with your partner, and develop common new standards for your joint home, a lot of tension can be eliminated.

Daily hassles, such as lost keys and unfindable trashcan liners, take a lot out of us mentally. They're exhausting. Couples moving in together should come up with clear solutions, such as orderly storage bins or a shelf right beside the front door, that keep these sorts of issues from sapping all the good humor left after a day at work. It's important to definitively establish -- label them if you must -- areas for keys and cell phone chargers and whatever else can be expected to go missing or be "misplaced."

All of this identifying territories and developing common standards and eliminating daily hassles can be stressful. Cut the tension by letting as much daylight into your new home as you can -- the daylight will boost your mood. So will quietly playing music you both enjoy and filling the air with scents to which the two of you have positive associations or that are generally known to be relaxing, such as lavender. Try to either eliminate clutter, or at least hide it in a cupboard or box.

The work required to establish a mutually desirable and supportive physical environment isn't easy, and often it's not fun, but it is worth it. Eventually.