We were heading back from a family function at the tom cat’s sister’s house out in the suburbs, our sleek little hatchback vibrating as she shot down the highway like a dirt-smeared silver bullet. I fidgeted in my leather seat, stared out of the passenger-side window and fixed my gaze on the silhouette of a distant mountain, hazy-blue and dotted with snow patches. Shifted my eyes over to the tom cat, fidgeted again and cleared my throat.
“I, um… We need to talk about something.” I confessed awkwardly, fingers twining in my lap.
“Oh yeah?” His focus was on the sloping pavement that rolled underfoot, but his grip on the leather steering wheel tightened.
I knew we had to talk about it, but how could I really approach such a sensitive topic?
Who Gets What?
I really didn’t want to consider what would happen if we broke up, now that we were officially living together, but it was a conversation that I knew would be absolutely vital.
He made all the money, and we had separate bank accounts, so that wasn’t an issue, but what about furniture? Most of it was either mine, or had been given to us by my family, but what about my dresser, which he bought? What about our fancy set of Lagostina pots? When we eventually get a dog (which we will do), who gets custody rights?
This is a textbook scenario of “hope for the best but plan for the worst.” People change over the years, and the person they become may not be the person you fell in love with – or the other way around.
Furthermore, many governments don’t have many laws protecting those in common-law relationships. Even of those who do, there’s always a chance that you may not fall into their legal definitions. You can easily find a friend or acquaintance who knows someone with a horror story about a nasty break up with someone they lived with. In the end, it’s in your best interests to protect yourself by having this important (but rather awkward) conversation.
I’d suggest getting it typed out and signed, too. Sort of like a common-law prenuptial.
Who pays what?
This one’s actually something of a two-part conversation. I’m a student, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m lucky if I make $10,000 a year. Meanwhile, the tom cat’s be graduated for a few years now and has a comfortable job living in the big city. The money conversation, the first of the serious conversations that we had, took place late at night while we were half asleep and happily cocooned in his old blue comforter.
Not the ideal time to do it, maybe, but it got done and we were both clear what we expected of each other and what was expected of ourselves.
With money being one of the major reasons for divorce and separation all over the world, having this little chat helps to open up the lines of communication, making the money talk easier in the future.
This is great, because you have the opportunity to segue into the second part: the ever-important budget talk. Understanding who’s pocket is going to be lighter from rent payments and who’s footing the bill for the groceries means nothing if you don’t keep track of how much money is going where.
Figuring out a rough budget isn’t as scary as it sounds; templates like this one are only a quick Google search away. Sit down together and determine how much money you’re raking in, whether it’s salary, gift cards or birthday money. Then, figure out the fixed expenses – rent, property taxes, car insurance, car payments, and the like – and then tack on expenses, like groceries and entertainment costs, that vary from month to month.
Who Cleans What?
Yes, seriously. This, as I’ve recently found, is a deceptively significant conversation – especially if spare time is a luxury that both parties seldom experience. Who washes, dries and folds the laundry? Who cooks dinner? Who vacuums? Who cleans the cat box? Beyond basic housework, also delegate the more labour-intensive tasks like cleaning out gutters, moving lawns and squishing spiders.
Now is a good time to figure out where exceptions lie and if one person is better equipped than another for a particular task. (The tom cat cleans the stove and bathtub, for instance, because the scrubbing aggravates my tendinitis. Meanwhile, I’m the local spider-dispatcher.)
If nothing else, having this particular conversation will make sure that you both know how much work is involved in maintaining a household if most – if not all – of the responsibilities end up falling on one person. Trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating than cleaning hours a day, every day, only to have dirty Ziploc containers dumped carelessly on counters once the significant other gets home from a tiring day at work.
What are some vital "living together" discussions you've had in the past?