When I first moved in with my partner, it shocked me how much of an introvert he actually was. Attracted to his outgoing personality and humorous jokes, I saw his hidden quiet side at home. Staying together with our other halves shows us their most unguarded selves, and vice versa.
Essentially, it means elevating him or her to family status. Think about it, who are your harshest critics, sees the worst of you… yet loves you anyway? That’s what family means, and being with someone for the long haul means embracing their good, bad and ugly.
My partner and I fought the most when we started cohabiting. It wasn’t just clichés like “who left the toilet seat up” or a particular way of squeezing toothpaste.
It was the constant presence of the other person that was difficult to get used to. The need for personal space aside, quarrels and disagreements become more complicated when you’re living like family.
In the past, when you’re quarrelling outside or over the phone, you can just leave or hang up. When you’re living in the same house, the tension is always there until you actually resolve it. You can’t “go home and talk about it tomorrow” because you are already home.
I hated conflict and always tried to fix things asap. He didn’t like talking about feelings and thought that problems belonged under the carpet. This clash of problem-solving approaches was a disaster that led to 3am screaming matches.
But we had to work and pay the bills. So we learned. And it was hard, because it meant undoing all the behavioural patterns we’d been accustomed to since childhood.
It hit me then how relationships are hard work. I missed the feeling of going on dates and returning home to our own lives. Those were the days where you used to smile at every text he sent, or “argue” over who missed each other more.
Now you get to build a daily routine together, decide who washes the dishes or does the laundry.
Suddenly, a lot of your conversations revolve around to-do lists and household chores. Weekend dates turn into grocery runs. Sounds sweet at the start, but to do this everyday? It makes sense why your parents don’t act like young people in love anymore.
This is the reality of married life. In Singapore, we may not have enough opportunities to prepare ourselves for the challenges that await us.
Because of high rental prices, our Asian culture, and housing policies today, most of us will live with our parents until we get married. Under the Built To Order (BTO) housing scheme, young couples will ballot for a HDB flat, and wait for three to five years to move into their future home.
Heather, a 25-year-old civil servant, awaits her BTO flat due in three years with mixed feelings. “I look forward to having our own space, but at the same time it stresses me out,” she says. “Living together comes with new responsibilities. It might lead to problems that haven’t surfaced in the relationship.”
Rebecca, 26 and married for one year, took a marriage preparation course with her spouse before moving in together. But even the course could not prepare her for the “intensity of the challenges” in real life.
“My husband needs a lot of personal space. He likes to come home to a peaceful environment, while I am more chatty, which caused some tension at the start.”
She advises pre-wed couples to discuss the details of everyday life, from sleep schedules to housework, as well as the frequency of hosting friends and family.
While we can’t change housing realities in Singapore, we can find ways to better prepare for a life ahead with our partners. For couples who want to try staying together before marriage, you can rent a subsidised flat from HDB.
If you are waiting for a BTO or Sale of Balance Flat to be completed, you can rent up to a 5-room flat. But sometimes all it takes to make a relationship work is going back to the fundamentals.
When you have your loved one beside you every day and night, it’s easy to take him or her for granted. Maybe it was easier to cherish each other when you couldn’t bear to part at the end of a date.
This is where you learn that love is not a noun but a verb, not a feeling but an action you choose to do every day, even when you don’t feel like it.
Alan, a 31-year-old engineer, says, “When I first stayed together with my wife, we quarrelled a lot over finances. I hated how money issues would affect our relationship.”
“But she always reminded me that our love was larger than our problems. That kept me going.”
As you adapt to living together, love may be expressed in different ways. You may start asking yourselves, “Where has the romance gone?”
In a long journey like marriage, keeping the romance going takes effort. Perhaps romance now is no longer roses and surprise gifts. Maybe it is her cooking a simple meal, or him ironing the clothes.
Geraldine, 29, a recent newly-wed, agrees that dates with her husband have changed dramatically after marriage. “Our dates used to be movies, shopping and cafe-hopping. Now a good weekend starts with us waking up early to shop for groceries at the wet market.”
“But it’s not a bad change,” she says, for she now appreciates little moments together more.
My grandparents have been married for half a century. When I asked them “What is love?”, both answered almost immediately, “Compromise.”
Probably not the first thing we millennials would think of. I think marriage means being on the same team. Whatever life throws at us, we fight it together, and not each other.
Easier said than done of course. But if you can survive living in the same house for maybe a year or two, then your future sounds promising.
And then kids come into the picture…