Ask Amy: ‘Odd Couple’ needs to negotiate cohabitation

March 11

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been together for about seven months, and we’re planning on him moving into my condo in a few months. I really love him and can see a future with him, but I’m really anxious about living with someone, since I’ve never done that before, despite being in some long relationships.

I’m almost 33, and am pretty set in my ways. I’m worried about having enough “me” time when he moves in. Also, he’s really messy, and I’m pretty neat.

Sometimes I have trouble standing up for myself and asking for what I need. I want to take this next step with him, but I’m scared. How do I make this work so that we’re both happy and comfortable living together? -- Anxious Annie

DEAR ANXIOUS: Because you and your guy are so different, you should anticipate challenges in living together. You are both going to have to make some (possibly major) lifestyle adjustments.

Learning to communicate effectively trumps every other life alteration, however. For instance, if you don’t make your needs known but then complain about not having a voice, it is not at all fair to him. Successful couples communicate and negotiate — and know when to compromise or (equally important) let it go.

The messy vs. neat issue will cause both of you continued aggravation unless you learn to let some stuff go, and he learns to modify his habits somewhat. I highly recommend hiring outside cleaning help if you can afford it.

You do need “me” time, but it is your responsibility to get it, not his responsibility to grant it.

Start talking about your cohabitation now. Be honest about all of your feelings — the apprehension and the excitement. He may also have questions (and some misgivings). Work on your communication skills.

And take a road trip together. Nothing tests and teaches about a relationship quite like traveling together. If you do decide to cohabit, agree to a weekly formal “check in” where you discuss household issues — both financial and personal time budgeting. This is not a gripe session, mind you, but an opportunity to learn to work as a team.

DEAR AMY: In the morning my husband and I read the paper at the table over coffee. Lately he has taken to reading magazines, etc. at the dinner table. This strikes me as being very rude, but he does not take well to being corrected, so I have said nothing to avoid a scene or tantrum.

The crazy thing is, he is very vocal about others having good manners and behaving with civility. I am tempted to read my e-mail on my cellphone at the dinner table, just to see what he says. What suggestions do you have? -- Feeling Stuck

DEAR STUCK: Your husband might see this answer in his morning newspaper, or you could definitely read your e-mail (or a novel) at the dinner table, but didn’t you already state that you think this is rude?

Your rudeness will not cancel out his rudeness. He will neither notice nor care when you read at the table, because you have arrived at an uncomfortable juncture in your relationship where he is doing what he wants to do (and doesn’t care what you think about it), while you are trying to passively avoid a tantrum.

You might start a conversation about this -- and possibly avoid a scene -- by inserting a note in one of his magazines saying, “Honey, I would really like to spend dinner time with you, not your reading material. Can we talk?”

If he doesn’t like to be corrected, then he shouldn’t behave in ways that invite correction.

DEAR AMY: Regarding “Burnt Out Auntie’s” letter about enabling her addict niece, I see this every day in my profession. The enabled ones are the ones that continue to go in and out of prison. It is their lifestyle. They don’t love their children or themselves as much as they love drugs. The people that are left to fend for themselves are more apt to finally take responsibility for themselves. -- Experienced

DEAR EXPERIENCED: Addiction is a disease, not a choice, but giving an addict money feeds the disease.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2014 by the Chicago Tribune

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