This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today, we’re hoping to help someone who doesn’t know if their desire to no longer live with their partner is a threat to their relationship.
I’ve been in a wonderful relationship for the past few years; the first two were long distance (while I finished my studies abroad) and for the last three, we’ve been living together.
My partner and I always wanted to live under the same roof, but when it actually happened, things turned out to be more complicated. My partner moved into the place I was already living in with friends, which really changed the group dynamic. We also realised that, as a couple, we have very different ways of understanding personal space.
For me, my home is sacred – every object in it has meaning and keeping things tidy helps me to keep my mind in order, too. For him, home "is just a container" of things, as he’d say. Tidiness was a constant source of conflict in our first year living together.
Now, we’ve made many compromises and no longer live with flatmates, but when we’re apart for work, or family reasons, I often feel relieved. These moments remind me of the years when we were long distance - a time when we didn’t fight about who does the washing, cooking, taking out the bins and so on.
Sometimes I envy friends who live on their own and don't have to compromise with people they date. Is it normal to think that living together is overrated? Is it possible to have a strong, intimate relationship, but not live under the same roof?
As you’ve identified in your letter, you and your partner have different understandings of what makes a home - and how important it is to take care of it. Since this is a crucial source of stress in your relationship, it’s useful to first establish the root cause of your difference in values.
As explained by Milan-based clinical psychologist and sex counsellor, Raffaele Simone, people’s perspectives on their home space are determined by past experiences and family backgrounds. “Let's think about someone who grew up in a family who moved homes often,” says Simone. “Being attached to a place likely became associated with the pain of leaving it. As a result, they might’ve become unconsciously inclined not to develop an attachment to a home.”
These differences in your relationship - to the home and the objects in it - can manifest in all kinds of everyday situations. Let’s say, your kitchen table belonged to your grandmother, who is no longer with you. For you, that table represents an important and positive memory. But for someone else, it could cause sadness.
Another complicating factor in your co-living situation could be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed many people’s feelings about their homes to the extreme. “We brought all our routines into the home,” Simone explains. The home became an office, a gym and even a bakery - leading many of us to fantasise about owning our own space in the near future. (As shown by the peak in house searches over that period.)
“But for others,” Simone continues, “the pandemic brought feelings of hatred towards the home they were trapped in for so long.” For you, taking care of your home is a way to take care of yourself. But maybe your partner puts more value in enjoying life outside the home – going out, travelling, being in nature. As a result, doing housework might feel like a waste of time to them. It might elicit feelings of bitterness, especially if he feels he had to “put on hold” so much in the past few years.
Even today, in heterosexual couples, domestic work is disproportionately carried out by women. This is mostly due to differences in gender socialisation - and it’s only recently started changing. No matter how frustrating it is, your partner may have never learned how to do some house chores.
If you want to reach a better compromise in how you divide the work, you may need to do some teaching and explaining. But, no matter what, it’s essential you don’t guilt-trip him. “Teaching must be an enriching process, not a demeaning one,” reminds Simone.
That said, if you still feel your relationship would be better living separately, or you just crave your own space, there’s really nothing wrong with that. “Just because that’s what most people generally do, it’s not a must,” says Simone.
Social expectations and economic pressures aside: “It all depends on how much you value living together.” If this is still what you want on some level, then it might be worth trying to work things out and renegotiate the terms of your cohabitation. Another option is to try to live separately, as an experiment, and see what you like best.
As for broaching the subject with your partner, “you should always make it clear that a personal preference, such as being in your own space, does not change the affection you have for the person,” says Simone. “Having a private area in your life allows you to hold space for personal development, independent from your partner.”
After all, our generation is much more used to moving around, and sharing our lives, in fluid ways. Living together today is very different from what it once was. "When we are with someone, we know they’re there because they trust the relationship we have,” Simone concludes. “This allows us to feel good in the couple, even without seeing each other daily or living together.”