What A Major Move Taught Us About Our Relationship

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
By Kelsey Hopson-Shiller

There’s a list I received in one of my graduate school classes that denotes the most stressful things that can happen in a person’s life. The expected, negative, stressors are on the list (illness, death of a loved one), as are the slightly less-expected, positive ones (planning a wedding, having a baby). Squarely in the middle of the list (meaning, it could be triggered by a positive or negative event and could potentially happen at any life stage) is moving. Even if you’re making like the Jeffersons and moving on up, the actual process of packing and schlepping and unpacking and rearranging just sucks.

Julie and I had been dating for about a year when we decided to move in together. Far from U-Hauling, we’d given the decision some heavy consideration. Even so, I think if you asked either of us what the hardest point in our relationship has been so far, both of us would point to the first few months we lived together.

While we can laugh about them now, those moving memories may be just one of the reasons we never relocated again while we lived in Colorado. Being the compulsive problem-solver that I am, when we decided to move to California, I initiated a lot of conversations. What had we learned from surviving that first move? What could we apply to this next one? We’ve been in Los Angeles for three months now, and I am delighted to report that this move has been much less of an existential crisis than our first one was. As such, we wanted to point out a few things we learned between our first move and our most recent one that might make the process less terrible for you and your loved one.

We also gave ourselves permission to feel lonely sometimes, and to not beat ourselves up when loneliness feels like a lack of gratitude for how kind everyone’s been.

Unpack Your (Metaphorical) Baggage
When Jules and I moved in together for the first time, it wasn’t just her and me setting up our first home together. Nope — it was Julie and me, and the good and bad parts of the homes we’d grown up in, and the ways we were raised, and the people we’d dated before, and the things we thought we just had to put in place from the very beginning, or we’d doom our whole relationship.

For us, this came to a boiling point over our curtains, which we decided on together. What we didn’t come to an agreement on was when those suckers were going up and how that was going to happen. Cut to the first summer Saturday we spent in our new place, taking resentful turns standing on tiptoes on a kitchen chair, holding an electric drill in fully extended arms, trying to install curtain rods in brick and plaster walls while the other person tried to boost some extra height and stability with the shoulder-under-butt-cheek maneuver.

Related: Long Distance Relationships Suck. But So Does Uprooting Your Whole Life

We were hot. We were cranky. We were uncomfortable. It was a tense, silent five hours. But it was never really about the curtains. It was the inevitable result of one person’s need to know the house would be finished eventually, and another’s desire to spend as little as possible on new house materials. This problem could have been solved with some better communication, or, you know, a ladder. A little self-awareness could have gone a long way here in circumventing the issue. Think about the things you really need to have happen before you can relax in a new place. Consider why you need those, and then, if your partner calls you out for perceived unreasonableness, be prepared to explain. Consideration ahead of time will limit the places you feel like you have to take a stand (and give you stronger footing where you do need to).

Cut Yourselves Some Slack
If you and your partner find yourselves bickering more than usual about whether to keep the old potholders or where to put the new bedroom lamp, it’s probably not the beginning of the end of your relationship. It’s because moving is really not much fun, and not taking another person’s crankiness personally will help enormously.

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
For this move, cutting ourselves some slack with getting the house together really helped us keep the peace as well. Our apartment in L.A. is much smaller than our house in Denver was, so we needed some new things in order to make all of our existing things work. We hit a point where we didn’t want to spend any more money at Ikea (because even when you’ve saved and budgeted, moving is really expensive, and social workers rarely get relocation bonuses), so we decided we were okay with the whole house not being as "done" as we’d like just yet.

It’s working for us right now, and we’ll keep chipping away at the project as time, money, and my patience with Swedish instruction manuals allow. The best part? Our second move together wasn’t an entire restructuring of our relationship, so we were able to discuss things like prolonged unpacking without the emotional weight.

We’ll keep chipping away at it as time, money, and my patience with Swedish instruction manuals allow.

Embrace The Adventure
One of the hard parts about moving is the loss of familiarity. We not only missed all of the people we left in Colorado; we left all of our places, too. And when everything is new, all of the time, it can be hard to ever feel comfortable. For instance, in Denver, we had five or six places we’d go for date night. We loved them. They were ours. They were great places, and we got a little complacent and rarely deviated too far from our established path. So we decided to make discovering a new city together an unexpected bonding opportunity. We take turns picking happy hours from Yelp reviews in neighborhoods we haven’t been to yet. My mom gave Julie an amazing guidebook of urban walks, and we usually spend one afternoon each weekend exploring on foot.

Related: Would You Move Somewhere You Don't Like For Love?
Take The Help That's Given (& Don't Be Afraid To Ask)
My parents did so much for us right when we got here — from letting me move back home for a month to helping us apartment-hunt. I’d mention that I needed to pick up cleaner for the new fridge in passing, and I'd come home from work to find that my mom had gotten it for me while she was running her own errands. At first I felt guilty, and then I decided to shift it toward grateful — because I really couldn’t do it all myself. The same goes for our friends out here. Our move to L.A. was largely triggered by a desire to be closer to my family, but it meant leaving a community we’d spent seven years developing in Denver.

Consideration ahead of time will limit the places you feel like you have to take a stand (and give you stronger footing where you do need to).

While we are enjoying seeing my parents, sister, and nephew more often, we still feel lonely and rootless away from our Denver people, who’ve been our friends and chosen family for so long. Having new and old friends out here go out of their way to invite us for barbecues and parades and margaritas has done so much to make us feel less lonely.

We know it’s an extra effort to include new people in established social routines, and we feel grateful and humble that when we’ve mentioned missing our community, others have stepped right up to include us in theirs. We also gave ourselves permission to feel lonely sometimes, and to not beat ourselves up when loneliness feels like a lack of gratitude for how kind everyone’s been. Finally, I had to get over feeling like I was annoying far-flung friends with notes and requests for FaceTime appointments. They’ve all been helping me maintain a semblance of sanity for years — why would they stop now just because I can’t see them in person as frequently?

Because, like with many things in our relationship/marriage/life, practice makes perfect.

Other than its sneaky insidiousness, something else sets moving apart from the transitions on my old Stress List: Moving itself is a temporary action. Once you move, you slowly start to develop routines again and find a community you can put some exploratory roots in. Maybe eventually you’ll have more space or figure out how to use what you have more effectively.

When we trip over boxes or sift through the pile of books on the floor in the corner of our living room, Julie and I are fond of summing up our contempt for the moving process by saying to each other, “Never again. We’re staying in this apartment until we die. And then, someone else can move our stuff.” But we know we’re lying. We’re already scheming how to save enough to buy a place here, because we think we’d like to stick around for a while. Which means we’ll have to pack up and do it all again. When I think about that, I feel lightheaded. But I don’t dread it the way I used to. Because, like with many things in our relationship/marriage/life, practice makes perfect. Or if not perfect, closer than we were before.

Next: 7 Tips For A More Equal Household

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