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Dear Christine, Anita in Ann Arbor

| January 17, 2016

ccc 2Dear Christine, 

I’ve been with my partner for 10 years and we get along great.  I feel the secret to our success has been keeping separate homes.  Every couple years my partner, Alice, really pushes for us to move in together.  I realize it would save us both a ton of money and it’s a pain going back and forth.  Plus, I do love her and plan to spend the rest of my life with her.  What holds me back is one, she’s a slob and I’m a neat freak, and two, I sometimes like my space and really feel the need to go home and sleep in my own bed alone. 

I’ve almost given in at times but I worry it will end us.  If we sell both of our homes and buy a new one and don’t make it, it’ll be a mess.  I have absolutely no one who agrees with me.  My friends, family and partner all think I’m wrong.  So I see you answer questions and I read your columns so I thought I’d ask.  Am I in the wrong? 

Anita in Ann Arbor

 

Dear Anita,

Your conflict is the fodder of comedy, as in The Odd Couple on TV and on stage.  It’s as common as can be in human existence.  And everyone you know likes to weigh in on who is “right” and who is “wrong.”  The only opinions that matter in this situation is yours and Alice’s. My first question is: What’s true about your relationship with Alice?  Do you and she really get along great or does she need you to cohabitate?  Is she just tolerating your quirk or does she also credit the success of your relationship to each of you having your own space?

There’s no right or wrong way to be a couple, so long as you both agree on the boundaries and ground rules.  I once had a client, a gay couple who lived in different houses a mile apart.  They were told by their therapist that they could NOT be a couple if they lived in different residences.  I don’t understand that requirement. One in the couple was fighting his ex for custody of their children, and living with someone out of wedlock was used against his case, so they bought 2 houses.  There’s plenty of straight couples who do not cohabitate, and sometimes live far from each other, one on the East Coast, the other on the West.  How do they manage to still be a couple?  I’m sure there’s a lot of commuting back and forth, phone calls, texting, Skyping and the like!  But no one disputes they are a couple. So, couples can be couples but not cohabitate, if that’s what they both choose.

Opposites attract.  It seems that every couple is made up of a lark and a night owl, and so co-sleeping can be difficult, as described in a New York Times article today:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/fashion/sleep-marriage-couples.html.  People actually get better rest when sleeping alone, but report more satisfaction when sleeping next to their partner.  And if that partner snores, or if both of you have different sleeping schedules or work opposite shifts, sleep may suffer and the relationship might be stressed. But it is better for each to sleep as their unique chronotype (https://www.bioinfo.mpg.de/mctq/core_work_life/core/introduction.jsp?language=engdictates).  Forcing a lark to become a night owl may well put more stress on the relationship than sleeping separately.

What’s important is to recognize and accept differences between you and your partner.  That means, you accept Alice’s sloppiness and she has to accept your neatness.  What does acceptance look like?  That can vary considerably.  It might mean having one home, but double the size of either of your houses, so you can divide up the neat areas and the messy areas, and close doors to not see each other’s way of being.  And compromise on the common areas.  It may mean two houses.

What do you and Alice need to do to make your 10 year relationship work for you as you go into your 11th year? Talk openly and honestly about each of your needs.  Are there any points or areas of overlap?  Is there any sane way to live together in one house and have both of you feel comfortable and at home without resentment?  In the NYT sleep-marriage article, Bruce Feiler recommends that you accept your differences and not force the other to sleep or wake at your schedule, as that will cause the other to be tired, irritable, less focused and less able to function at work, and the demanding partner will be blamed.  Instead, carve out time when you both are alert and make sure that is quality time.  At least when it comes to sleep.

So, I’m not in the business of telling you if you are right or wrong.  ?   I just want you and Alice to negotiate with each other without benefit or detraction from family and friends’ opinions.  Be honest with each other about who you really are and what you must have and absolutely cannot have in the relationship.  I know you’ll figure out what is best for the two of you as individuals and as a couple.

Christine Cantrell, PhD,

Psychologist

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

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Category: Featured Column

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