A few months ago — after the first COVID lockdown ended — a friend of mine broke up with her boyfriend. They had been on and off for nearly a year, and apparently being quarantined for almost two months was the last straw.
Theirs wasn’t the only relationship that struggled to survive during and after the lockdown. Another couple of friends, Mary and Mark, recently broke up. From what Mary told me, they had been arguing a lot during the last year and a half, and spending twenty-four hours a day together in a small studio apartment before and during the lockdown didn’t help.
These friends who’d broken up kept saying the same things. “If only I could go back in time, I would definitely insist on spending more time apart.” “If I could go back in time, I would argue less over small things.”
It made me realize my boyfriend and I have built some healthy habits since we moved in together — habits that are strengthening, not destroying, our relationship.
We are not a perfect couple — in fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect couple — but these habits are helping us live together without going nuts.
Gamify House Chores
Keeping a two-bedroom apartment clean is not as easy as it seems, especially when you and your partner are both super busy with your jobs and hobbies or side-hustles. So, it’s essential to split responsibilities and help each other. Not only that, but it’s also important that both partners make an effort to proactively tidy up and clean when they see it’s necessary.
So we gamify house chores. We decided that for each task we get some points — for example, whoever cooks gets twenty points, who washes the dishes ten points, and who cleans the kitchen and the dining room ten points.
We keep track of the points on a post-it on the fridge and at the end of each day, whoever scored more points wins. The reward is this: the partner who loses will have to do something for the other person the following day, such as prepare a warm cup of tea, iron their clothes, or cook a yummy meal.
Why it works
According to research, the main aim of gamification is to foster motivation and performance in regard to a given activity. Also, gamification satisfies some fundamental human desires.
As Susan Jacobs explains in an article published in Learning Solutions, gamification taps into basic human desires such as people’s need for reward and achievement; into their innate love of competition and collaboration; and into the human desire for self-expression and altruism.
Also, I find gamification of house chores is a great habit as it makes things fun. It encourages both partners to do their part and it prevents arguing over who’s doing what — since one of the most common arguments for couples living together is about the division of household chores.
Try the “No Drama Challenge”
When living together, it’s easy to have disagreements or petty arguments — especially when both partners work from home and spend a lot of time together. This is why it’s so important to wisely choose your battles.
There are times when it’s just not worth arguing over trivial stuff. Not dwelling on what niggles you and changing the subject is the wisest option in such cases.
Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, said, “Healthy relationships hinge on a couple’s ability to know which issues are worth fighting over and which ones are worth letting go.”
In my apartment, there is a calendar where my boyfriend and I mark off the conflict-free days. We called this idea the No Drama Challenge. The idea behind it is to reward ourselves with a special date every time we achieve a period of two weeks without arguments over trivial stuff. Obviously, this doesn’t mean we avoid facing more serious issues when these arise. It only means we are learning to wisely pick our battles.
Why it works
Think of it like this: the more you practice the No Drama Challenge, the more drama-free days you have. Building the habit of letting go of trivial things can only strengthen your relationship with your partner and leave more space for pleasant moments instead.
For us, marking off the drama-free days feels incredibly good, especially after a few weeks doing it. Because we feel we are both doing a great job by accomplishing something together every day. And as Barton Goldsmith Ph.D. explains in an article in Psychology Today, creating goals as a couple is one of the most powerful and connecting things you can do.
Another reason why this works so well for us is that gamifying drama avoidance feels more like a hobby to us. Because it’s fun. And it’s easier to make something a habit if it’s a hobby first.
Sleep in Separate Rooms From Time to Time
My boyfriend and I have different sleeping habits, wake-up times, and temperature preferences. For these reasons, sometimes we sleep in different rooms, so we both get a good rest and avoid being grumpy the next day.
Try this if you can. If you live in a one-bedroom apartment, you can use the living room — and invest in a good sofa if necessary. Sleeping in different rooms isn’t as bad as many assume. And it isn’t necessarily a sign of a lack of intimacy. It may simply mean you and your partner have different habits or preferences.
As Kelsey Borresen mentioned in an article published in The Huffpost, it could be that one partner snores and the other is a light sleeper. Maybe you have different bedtimes and wake-up times. Maybe one needs a window open year-round, while the other is always cold and wants it permanently closed.
Also, according to research, when sleep is measured objectively, people seem to sleep worse with a partner. In fact, if you sleep with someone who snores, you can blame them for up to 50 percent of your sleep disruptions.
Why this works
A relationship works better when everyone’s well-rested and not grumpy. According to research, even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood, which can negatively impact a relationship — if both partners are grumpy, the chances of having a fight are higher. Sleeping in separate rooms can help avoid unnecessary conflict.
For people like my boyfriend and me, sleeping in separate rooms from time to time definitely works. I find that consistently getting a good night’s sleep has a positive impact on our relationship. When we wake up well-rested, we are both in a better mood throughout the day. Not only that, but I feel that we also have more space and me-time, which enables each of us to recharge.
Go to the Grocery Store Separately
This might sound weird, but I prefer when we run errands separately. I believe in the importance of spending time apart, especially when living together. You can spend even one or two hours running errands, and that precious time can be used to have some additional me-time and recharge.
According to an article published in Psychology Today, alone time can help keep a relationship fresh and less stressful. However, when you and your partner live together, you obviously have less time apart than when you were just dating.
Why this works
My partner and I spend time apart only when we go out with our friends separately, or go to the gym for a workout. So, even just going to the grocery store separately gives us alone time. We don’t end up craving personal space as many people in a stable relationship do.
According to a study conducted by Travelodge, couples who spend a lot of time apart seem to be happier. Time apart helps each partner recharge. And most importantly, it makes couple-time more exciting and special. So, something as simple as running errands alone helps contribute to finding that balance between time together and time alone.
Living with your partner can be a great experience — or it can become a nightmare. When living under the same roof, how much space you give each other, or how you handle conflict, become much more important. Developing habits together and creating mutual goals can help strengthen your relationship and make it easier to live together.