Why is it so hard to live together?

Living with another human, even one you love deeply and would like to keep living with forever, can be really hard. The worst part is that it’s not just hard in the big, dramatic, interesting ways you can sit down and talk about. It’s also the small, niggly things that make you sound so petty when you raise them, so you just sit on the annoyance until it explodes out of you. 

It starts with something like, “how hard is it to put a new toilet roll on the holder when you are done? HOW HARD?!?”  To which your partner tells you to stop being ‘so dramatic!’. Which, it turns out, is another one of the things you hate, so you say “Stop minimizing my needs!” and they tell you to stop talking like your therapist.

Sounds familiar? If so, you are not alone! Here are some of the top ‘niggly’ things that make it hard living together.

Clean is a relative term

A clean kitchen to you might not be a clean kitchen to me. If you add in some OCD tendencies, then doing the dishes can become a battle for hygienic supremacy rather than just a daily chore.


We all think about this differently and it’s best you get on the same page or one partner will spend a lot of their life saying “…Really?” and looking hurt. (Same for burping.)

Friends over? Again?

A full house every weekend may sound like heaven to you but might be slowly destroying your partner’s will to live.

Cupboard doors

Leaving them open at night while you get into bed can make or break a relationship. Same goes for not closing a drawer when you take something out, leaving socks on the floor for three days and putting the milk back in the fridge when it’s finished rather than throwing it away. People have literally died for less.


Agreeing on how and where to spend money together exposes all our hard wired values. The big stuff like holiday versus renovating the kitchen is easy to talk about. The niggly stuff like buying lunch every day instead of packing one, the cost of night cream or how much is reasonable to spend on a birthday gift. This is where the low-grade hum of irritation lives. (Ed – we tried to make this point a little funny but couldn’t; money, it seems, is a serious business.)

The biggest niggle about living together is that the much-promised mindreading feature seems to be a myth. Living with someone doesn’t give them superhuman powers of insight and understanding. You still have to use your words and explain what you need and then listen to what your partner needs so you can find ways to learn to live happily together. (Urg. So time-consuming. Why don’t they just know?)

In her talk The Mathematics of Love, mathematician Hannah Fry shares that the algorithm that most accurately predicts if people will have a successful relationship centres on a couple’s ability to argue. The negative threshold – how big something needs to be before someone raises it – is the critical thing. Common sense suggests that couples that argue less and only about the big, important things are happier right? Wrong! The math says the strongest couples are the ones that talk about everything, even the trivial things that may not feel worth discussing.

Unfortunately, it turns out the only way to make it less hard to live together is to talk about the farts, open cupboards, how long plates can stand in the kitchen and exactly how many Americanos a month is too many. (Good luck.)