About one year ago, Helen came home to a living room filled with boxes. It is not that uncommon for clutter to fill up the living room, but clutter is seldomly organised in moving boxes. A very enthusiastic Nadine appeared from behind the boxes. As it turned out, Nadine had packed her stuff and was moving in with Helen… Fun!
What looks like a very impulsive action, was in fact the consequence of a personal development course. During this course, Nadine was confronted with the introduction round, ‘What is your name?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Are you single?’, ‘Are you living together?’, ‘Are you married?’, etc. When it was Nadine’s turn to introduce herself, she briefly considered her ‘status’ and announced with a huge smile, that she was going to live together! That evening at home, Nadine told Helen all about the course, regarding the content but also regarding the introduction round. Helen paid full attention and started laughing. All participants of the course already knew about their forthcoming living-together-event, only Helen herself had missed the memo.
This was not a problem, for the memo arrived per mail one week later. On her birthday, Helen found a large box in the living room, addressed to her. Nadine jumped out of the box (not out of the closet) and our destiny was sealed: from now on we were going to live together! It was made particularly clear, that the package could not be returned to sender and did not come with any guarantees.
So we started living together. Initially full time in the South Western side of the Netherlands and currently part time in the North and South Western side of the Netherlands, but always together. And that takes a little getting used to. In the beginning, it seemed like nothing really changed. We already were together a lot and now even more! Until…(you can hear a spooky music in your head to create tension…) Nadine’s homegrown vegetable garden started growing and our garden was taken over by vegetables and changed into a local jungle! Fortunately, we now were together to consume it all.
Soon, more changes were reaching the surface. It appeared that making plans became more tricky, the usual habits were less usual and logical to the other person and sharing was taken very literally (and problematic if this concerns the last piece of chocolate).
The one night Nadine had an appointment which did not suit Helen and the other night Helen made an appointment for the both of them, which resulted in Nadine having to be at two places at the same time. After some rescheduling, our first step towards reaching the level of a responsible couple, was a shared calendar…. Brrrr, now our lives were really connected!
This made the step towards a shared bank account a lot easier and we took this step not much later. By this, the joke ‘going Dutch’ lost its elegancy.
The practical sides of living together, were under control. There are also other aspects connected to melting two lives together though. What were our expectations? And more importantly, how do we express our expectations by means of our communication? It is only possible to clarify your expectations, once these are clear for yourself. So, time for homework!
Both of us made two lists: one list with the things we did NOT want and one list with the things we really LIKED. For instance, on the first list we put ‘telling lies’, ‘taking big financial decisions without consultation etc. We also put small frustrations (of the level of socks next to the laundry basked) on this list. The other list served as inspiration for small and major moments of happiness. Think about gifts, vacations, but also the ring around the finger (yes the ring from this blog which raised so many questions) and all the other things we really like (as it turns out there are a lot of things we like for our relationship).
We shared our lists adding new points to it as we went through them. With regard to the absolute NOT wanted items, we were able to agree about a lot of things. The smaller frustrations were for discussion purposes, hoping to find mutual understanding and possible compromises. This worked in most cases and one of the major benefits was that we were not discussing things from an emotional perspective. Say for yourself: what sounds better? Coming home after a long exhausting day tripping over the stuff, that is blocking your way as you try to sprint to the toilet, for you already had to go for over an hour, shouting ‘Clean up this mess’!! Or: sitting on the sofa with a tea on your lap indicating that ‘from your perspective, your partner does not the share the same priorities with regard to decluttering’. The second way usually is easier to digest.
Taking everything together, we created a solid basis with our expectations and we had been able to communicate these in a neat and organised manner. By moderating the frustration points from the NOT list and combining them with items from the LIKE list, we created a pleasant and fun evening. Make no mistake, discussing frustration points is of major interest. The first 10 times, a small frustration remains a small frustration, but a 1000 times repetitive small frustration adds up to one absolute not item of the NOT list. We would also like to introduce you to the sandwich principle. This is not meant as a bite in between (although you can always take a break for food), but an advise with regard sharing frustrations: wrapped between a bun of LIKE items.
Does this mean we never have an argument? Of course not, we also experience cloudy days. But we have a couple of tools to solve it and if that does not work, we will give ourselves homework again. Eventually, the sun shines every day with a bright blue sky and we are super happy with each other and our life together!
A sunny goodbye,
Helen and Nadine
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