A 2021 survey conducted in Japan and provided by Statista revealed that an estimated 8.2% of women and 6.4% of men have lived together with a romantic partner. This act of choosing to live together as a couple without being married is called cohabitation.
Deciding to live with someone, be it a friend, housemate, or romantic partner, is not a decision to take lightly as it involves lots of commitment, agreement, and compromise. For the latter, couples, cohabitating can be an effective way to test-run a relationship before committing to marriage as it creates situations that allow couples to get to know each other better as well as learn how to function as a unit.
That being said, there are some specifically unique challenges that couples might face that could put their relationship to the test. If you’re reading this and are contemplating taking this next big step with your partner, or are already cohabitating with someone, then read on to find out about some common problems that can occur when living with a couple; and how they can be addressed to reduce stress.
Communication is arguably the most important thing when living together and it’s very important to introduce, build, and implement a set of open, frank, and approachable communication channels to minimize friction, stress, and misunderstandings.
Studies have implied that cohabitating usually results in creating more conflict than if the couple were simply dating but living apart or if they were married. One theory is that more commitment is involved when cohabitating than if the couple were just dating but it’s not “finalized” like if they were married. This in-between zone can feel like a real test and judgment of the couple’s relationship and ability to function as a cohesive unit, which can lead to stress and friction.
Living together can bring to light relationship issues that were not previously apparent when living apart, and one of the biggest mistakes newly cohabitating couples make is to keep any grievances or issues to themselves to keep the peace. However, this is not recommended as resentment and annoyance start building up over time and will eventually lead to tension, friction, and discord.
Living together means having to have frank and open conversations that may not always be pleasant but are necessary. Couples need to learn how to both accept and provide constructive criticism and to learn to navigate any bumps and hiccups together as a unit. Communication or lack thereof can make or break a relationship so be sure to build good channels of communication between you.
A habit is a set of behaviors and practices that an individual establishes as a day-to-day routine or engages in frequently. Many habits come as second nature, and many don’t realize they are engaging in them or find them to be an annoyance.
When living with someone certain habits may come to light as “quirks” and “idiosyncrasies”; and while tolerable and even cute and amusing in small, measured doses, these habits can trigger a partner’s pet peeves and irritate them in the long run.
It’s important here to learn how to open a channel of communication in a respectful manner and how to compromise. Schedule a time when you’re both free from responsibilities, chores and work so your mind is clear and free from stress. Sit down and inform your partner in an honest but non-judgmental manner about a habit or habits that bother you and why, and then work together to find a solution that will allow you both to live in harmony without jeopardizing or changing the partner’s personality.
It comes as no surprise that different people prioritize and value different things and aspects of their lives. Couples who decide to cohabitate may come to realize how their values can clash with each other when living together because cohabitation involves pooling resources together and sharing things like living space, time, and furniture.
One of the things that can cause couples to come to a head is finances. The adage, money is the root of all evil, is not without merit as discussions and arguments about finances are usually one of the biggest culprits behind the cause of friction between couples.
To avoid or at least minimize issues regarding finances, have an open and honest conversation with your romantic partner about finances and expenses. Some common topics of discussion may include:
- How much to put aside for rent? (if you’re a couple looking to move in together but are on a budget, consider checking out Village House, a real estate organization specializing in low-budget apartments with low upfront costs and rent starting at ¥20,000)
- Willingness to open a joint account to pay for household necessities, utilities, groceries, rent, etc.
- How much to spend on travel expenses for holidays and trips
- Personal savings
Japan is notorious for having very compact apartments. A study conducted by Japan’s House and Land Survey in 2019 showed that the average floor plan of a Tokyo apartment is approximately 65.9 square meters, with only 41 square meters dedicated to living space, bedroom or sleeping area, dining area, and kitchen.
Many apartments in urban areas are also of an open plan or studio design, typically designated as 1R (1 room) or 1K (1 room with a separate space for a kitchen). However, if you are willing to move to the outskirts of the city, or are even happy to live in the countryside, you’ll be able to expand your housing options. Village House, a real estate organization, has over 1,000 properties across Japan’s 47 prefectures, with many rental properties outside of busy city centers so check out their website if you’re on the hunt for a place to live.
The design of such apartments, especially if you are living in one of Japan’s dense metropolitan cities, can result in a lack of private space if you decide to move in with a romantic partner. Living together means accepting a slight disruption and adjustment of your current lifestyle and habits, and living in close quarters with someone and seeing them every day will prove to be one of the biggest adjustments to make.
Depending on whether you identify as an introvert or extrovert, you may want or need more alone time and private space; so it’s important to set boundaries and carve out time alone without hurting your partner’s feelings. Explain the need for time alone but also schedule time together as a compromise.
Numerous studies have shown that couples, cohabitating, married, or otherwise, who spend time apart actually help strengthen their relationship and bond as the time alone:
- Encourages and fosters personal development
- Allows individuals to work on and strengthen their other relationships with family and friends
- Allows them to look forward to spending time with their romantic partner
Though this number is a strict generalization, marriage counselors and couples therapists hint at 70/30 – 70% together and 30% alone as a starting point. This can obviously be adjusted according to the specific needs of each couple and individual.
It’s wholly unrealistic to think that your romantic partner won’t stress you out. You can love them to the moon and back and still get ticked off by certain things they do or don’t do. To minimize stress, one thing cohabitating couples need to learn how to do is to identify their stressors and pet peeves, and then learn how to communicate with them without stepping on any toes or hurting anyone’s feelings.
Another way to manage stress with living together is to find and schedule activities to do together as a couple. Just like how companies send their employees out to learn how to work together as a team via bonding activities, couples living together can employ the same method by finding activities, hobbies, sports, etc. to do to better learn how to work together as a unit.
Other ways to manage stress are to identify the situation or argument and know when to pursue an issue and when to let something go. Implementing cool-off periods after an argument can also led to better communication and resolutions. Lastly, trying to see things from your partner’s perspective and putting yourself in their shoes can go a long way toward resolving any issues that may arise from living together as a couple.