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Asking for a Friend is the Daily Emerald’s sex and relationship column. Em Chan answers anonymous questions about anything from how to date during quarantine to how to heal a broken heart. Submit a question here:

“How do I deal with living with my partner when we have mixed levels of tidiness — it drives me nuts!”

- Cramped cleanliness

Dear Cramped,

First off, congratulations on getting to the point with your partner where you both feel comfortable enough to live with each other! Unfortunately, as with any roommate, this is one of the many common issues that come up when you decide to cohabitate with someone new. 

Right off the bat, you two should carve out some time to discuss what both of your ideal living situations look like, complete with ground rules and expectations. Take this seriously because something that may not seem like a big deal is not as easily amenable later (as you’ve probably learned now that you’re being driven a bit “nuts”). 

One thing to keep in mind is that the main difference between going through this process with your partner versus a stranger or friend is how your relationship dynamics affect your interactions. Whether that is speaking more nicely and not always being direct about what makes you upset, being brutally honest or not even saying anything at all. The last option is the most dangerous, because while you might think brutal honesty or avoidance would squash an issue quickly, it lends itself to the opposite. Despite the intensity of romantic relationships, remember to talk to your partner with the level of openness and consideration you would show any other roommate. 

Like with anything else you would divulge in your partner, how you keep your space tidy is something that can be a touchy subject — especially for those (like your partner) who may not be the most neat naturally. To try to remedy this issue, I would suggest that you sit down with your partner to talk about ground rules, expectations for keeping the space neat and any grievances against eachother's tidiness habits. For many, the reason their upkeep habits are the way that they are is because they are influenced by the people or systems they grew up with. Making sure you have an understanding of each other and the reason you two operate the way you do will give more space for understanding your mismatched tidiness levels. 

If there are serious issues, it’s important to make sure you have concrete examples from how you’ve been living to pull from. It may be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s just another hurdle that you two will face now for greater harmony later. Stand your ground on certain issues, but also be open to compromising. As a generally neat person myself I know it’s difficult to allow more mess to accumulate, but again, not everyone is naturally tidy. 

Plus, in the grand scheme of things, your home is where you should be most comfortable — especially now that you have someone you love to share that space with. Upkeep is tedious and boring, but it shouldn’t take over your entire conversations or give you unnecessary stress.  

From what I’ve learned in seeing my friends move in with their partners, tidiness levels are an easy thing to get upset about and become something that eventually drives a wedge into the relationship. Because you two don’t have the usual buffer of space and time to cool down after a fight, it’s easy to passive aggressively use bickering about chores as an outlet for discontent about other aspects of your relationship.  

I hate to pull from pop culture, but when TV show couples argue about the dishes and then transition to talking about someone’s infidelity, that’s no exaggeration. It really is easy for conflicts to stay simmering behind closed doors and then burst from one superfluous annoyance. 

At the end of the day, your relationship comes before the annoyances about how many dishes are in the sink, if there’s an extra cup on the dinner table and even if the garbage should’ve been taken out yesterday. Your feelings for each other and desire to share something as intimate as a home is why you moved in together. 

It’s easy to get lost in the details of keeping your standard of living on par with how you’ve always been, but don’t forget the “why” behind it all.