It’s been 15 whole months. 15 months that Alex and I have been living together under the same roof and in our own apartment. 

For 15 months, we’ve been competitively playing card games by candlelight (Palace, anyone?), cracking up at Eric Matthews on our reruns of Boy Meets World, hosting little fur babies for weeks at a time, reading Patti Smith poems aloud to each other on the couch, and playing Tomb Raider and Disneyland video games until we get bored. From the bicycle rides in the rain, afternoons spent swimming in the pool, and evening strolls in our beloved Old Town, Alexandria, it’s been a wonderful first year living together. I’ll admit that I was nervous before we packed up our belongings and drove the 5 hours in that Uhaul to D.C. I was scared that living together after only 2 years of dating was too fast, that it would almost ruin us. It turned out that the year of living together solidified us and made us stronger as a unit than ever before. It wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just Alex: it was us now.

Alex learned more about me in this one year than he did in the first two. He learned that hard days at work for me leaves a trail of clothing leading to the bathroom. That reading spiritual books while taking long bubble baths are a daily occurrence. That I like to fall asleep reading until around 2:30 in the morning and I enjoy waking up around 10. That I can’t cook to save my life (have you ever cooked burnt and black pasta?), and I am a total creative yet productive mess. That I like to be alone for a few hours every evening so that I can create something – anything! That I like to be alone before I can socialize. (INFJ here.) That I forgive fast, and I move on faster.

I learned that Alex loves a cider and a first-person shooter game in order to unwind from the day. That pasta and turkey and red sauce is his go-to meal. And that he happens to love cats, despite always telling me he didn’t and was a dog-person. That he likes to put ketchup on his spaghetti?? (Seriously, who does this.) I learned that he likes to take early morning showers and read the newspaper long before work. That he loves to communicate when something is bothering him, and it’s harder for him to move on.

Living together is not glamorous. It looks like late nights spent at home playing cards and reading on the couch. It’s sleeping in on the weekends and Alex cooking up waffles in our Mickey Mouse toaster, glasses filled to the rim with cranberry juice and a foster kitten or two in our laps. We love the days and nights where we can just be: be in love, be bored and be grateful. Laughing is always included. A crazy adventure looks like biking on a nearby D.C. trail and taking a walk through the woods. We are simple people who like simple things, and yet we dream big.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t hard times.

Here are the five lessons I’ve learned from living with my partner during our first year living together:

1.Never go to sleep angry

You’re not going to believe this, but we never not go to sleep together. Even if we’re arguing about something. Even if I’m not tired… which I never am. But we always go to sleep together, even if that means I’m reading by candlelight for another hour before I’m tired enough to crash. Something about this little routine really connects us. It’s like this unspoken agreement. And if we’re mad at one another, we always say we love each other. And despite being upset, we still always hug or cuddle up. Physical connection and those three little words works like magic for couples living together.

2. Compromise is everything

When I joined forces with Alex, I realized that was the end of my life. I’ll never forget the day I put on my funky black bowling hat and posed next to my colorful art mural in my old single girl’s apartment in New York with sunflowers in hand and had my friend snap a Polaroid of me. I knew then that this was it. I would forever be compromising and negotiating and giving up half of what I want. When we moved in together, we realized it was about us going forward. So if that means compromising on dinner or agreeing to do the dishes even if you really don’t want to, it’s from now on all about c-o-m-p-r-o-m-i-s-e.  When Alex is suffering financially. I pick up the slack and take on extra jobs to support our family. If I’m struggling, he helps me out. It’s a constant give and take.

3. Add some spark and bring in a foster friend

During our first month living together, I brought up the proposition of fostering animals in our home that were stuck in shelter cages. Gratefully, Alex warmed up to the idea quickly and we spent our year hosting 9 cats in our cozy home. Don’t get me wrong: when you have fun with your partner, living together is great! But it can become a monotonous routine after awhile. And having a furry animal to play with and come home to everyday adds newness and an elevated level of love. There is nothing that creates spark more than taking care of little kittens together. If you’re curious about fostering, check out my post on it here!

4.Figure out a chore plan

Chances are someone would rather cook than clean. While I can’t stand doing laundry and the dishes, Alex can’t stand getting on his hands and knees and scrubbing the floors and bathtub. Certain chores I am totally fine with doing like mopping and sweeping the floors, cleaning the bathroom, scrubbing, organizing, and wiping down countertops. But others like dishes (and even cooking) makes me run the other direction. Being up front and communicative about which you’d rather not to, and making a plan and agreement to compromise works wonders.

….and the most important tip:

5.Don’t Hit Below the Belt

We all have that thing. That one thing that we are deeply sensitive and insecure about. We all know that one comment or sassy remark that can do serious damage to another but is the perfect end to a argument. Living together brings more friction between partners than living apart. When you are always around another person for months and years on end, you begin to pick up on that thing or two that really hurts the other. And it’s our job not to ever hurt that person…but especially where we know that it hurts the most. Keep that one thing off-limits always; it’s not worth damaging a relationship over.

Are there any lessons or tips you’ve learned over time from living with your partner? Any wise words for Alex, me and future readers? 

5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Our First Year Living Together

June 29, 2018

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Helena Woods is a destination family photographer currently based in France but travels worldwide. She lives for diving the world's oceans, recording her experiences traveling the world on her blog, and documenting moments of joyful and magical human connection. Her style is modern classic, emotive and honest. She believes in wild adventures, laughing too hard, and most importantly: capturing genuine moments that evoke feeling over perfectly posed photographs.

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