When my roommate's boyfriend’s punk band started sleeping on the living room floor multiple times a week, I knew it was time to move out. We hadn’t had a shower curtain in God knows how many months and the palm tree-shaped novelty margarita glass that held too many toothbrushes was growing fuzzy mold.
Online, I spotted what seemed like a much better sitch: two other gainfully-employed people looking for a third roommate in their gorgeous old Victorian. They had a porch swing, a lush garden, an attic for storage, an actual shower curtain, and a very clean-looking ceramic toothbrush holder.
I clearly was not cut out for this house. They were meticulously clean, against any overnight company, and had a rigid system where they pooled groceries and assigned each roommate a night to make a vegetarian meal for the whole house. Every week. Forever.
I pretended I didn't microwave hot dogs and signed the lease the next day.
I figured I could adapt. After all, I’d lived with yellers, door slammers, jewelry stealers, rent dodgers, couples who were actively breaking up, amateur rappers, and cat owners who never cleaned the litter box. Each time, I pretended I was OK with the chaos. I’d camp out in my bedroom and convince myself I didn’t ever need to hang out in the common spaces or eat meals consisting of more than one ingredient.
But in my new house, I couldn’t keep pretending I was OK with rules I loathed. My roommates and I needed a peace treaty, stat. According to Jenine Lowery, Ph.D., individual and couples therapist and director of Black Female Therapist, the three of us were overdue for a conversation about boundaries. She explains that when it comes to sharing space with others — whether roommates, romantic partners, or your family — it’s essential to have an agreed-upon plan in place, one that everyone agrees on. If that sounds harder than staying off TikTok for a week, don’t stress. I spoke with Lowery and other mental health experts about setting living boundaries with anyone you’re sharing space with.
Setting Boundaries With Roommates
When looking for new roommates or trying to mediate conflict with your current ones, you might focus on what the other people are saying or doing. But Lowery explains the first step to establishing a healthy environment is getting clear on your own living style.
“When you have a better understanding of what you desire and your needs, it will make it easier to set appropriate boundaries, and you are less likely to run into conflict with your roommate,” Lowery tells Elite Daily.
She suggests journaling about your living patterns (like what time you eat dinner or how often you like to clean the bathroom), as well as your likes and dislikes in a living space, to better understand yourself. From there, you can communicate your preferences, and it’s easier to see your part in potential conflict.
How Do You Split Up Chores And Domestic Labor?
In a perfect world, you’d never have to speak twice about keeping the sponge out of the sink, and your roommate won’t care if you forget to sweep… but that’s not always the case. While you don’t always have the luxury of deeply investigating who you’re going to be living with, Lowery suggests getting on the same page as soon as possible.
“Grab your computer, open a Google Doc, and invite your roommate to share their ideas on chores [and] domestic labor,” she says. “Once you come up with a fair way to divide the labor, you can use the Google Doc as a reminder of the agreement and as a way to hold each other accountable.”
Rather than waiting for resentment to build or getting caught in who said what, having a standard written plan featuring everyone’s input gives daily structure to your home. This is especially a great tool if you’re taking over someone’s lease. Just because you’re the new person doesn’t mean you have to adapt seamlessly into the existing routine — your needs should be heard, too.
This document shouldn’t be set in stone. Maybe you used to cook together, but now your new job gives you dinner. Maybe you were OK with always taking out the trash, but now you want to split that duty. Instead of holding it all in, Lowery suggests being proactive. Revisit your house rules before your frustration grows into a huge conflict.
“Frequent check-ins and maintenance are important to ensure that everyone's expectations are still being met,” Lowery says. “Include a statement in your chore agreement on how there will be a quick monthly check-in meeting, where open dialogue is encouraged.”
See a problem bubbling up? Grab your roommate one-on-one when they’re in the mood to chat, and speak in a calm, respectful tone.
“Avoid things like rolling your eyes or speaking in a loud voice. Then start the conversation with an ‘I’ statement: ‘I feel anxious when I see dirty dishes in the sink.’ Be sure to thank your roommate for listening and addressing the problem,” Lowery says.
When it comes to living with people, especially strangers, there’s really no way to guarantee that all your needs will be met in a calm and supportive way. But creating a culture of frequent, less loaded check-ins and framing conversations around a set housing agreement rather than who is “wrong” or “right” can help keep the peace.
How Do You Set Boundaries With Roommates About Sex And Dating?
Keeping serenity in your living space demands being proactive about potential issues instead of doing recon after a major conflict explosion. Regardless of your or your roommate’s romantic status, sit down to make a game plan, and plan to revisit your agreement regularly to ensure it still works for you. The key here is to have these conversations without any dates or partners present.
If you’re looking for new roommates, Lowery suggests discussing your comfort level with dates or partners staying over in your initial conversations about sharing space. Though it may feel a little uncomfortable, getting specific is going to help you here: How often do you want people to stay over? Does everyone need to be fully clothed in common spaces? Are partners allowed to be over when the roommate isn’t home? If you don’t ever want a naked person in your kitchen, but might want to make out in the living room, you get to say that.
Because this can be a sensitive, personal subject, Lowery says, “Ground rules are necessary.” If you have rules squared away from the start, it shouldn’t feel like a diss to your roommate's partner when you point out they’ve been staying over more often than you agreed on.
Setting Boundaries With Partners
When you’re in love and excited to live with your partner, it can be easy to start seeing yourself as half of a whole — instead of two separate wholes under one roof. But you and your partner are like a set of salt and pepper shakers — you’re two different things that go nicely together. You won’t always see eye to eye. (Which is normal! And healthy.)
How To Navigate Different Living Preferences When Living With Your Partner?
If you’ve learned about romance from Kate Hudson movies, you may think cohabiting means an endless montage of reading in bed together, making pancakes in your underwear, and falling asleep each night after passionate sex, wrapped in each other’s arms. Well, I’ve got some news for you.
While shacking up with your lover can be sexy and fun, Anita A. Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, explains that there sometimes will be disagreements. Whether you love hosting and your partner hates company or you live to vacuum and your partner doesn’t use coasters, you’re bound to have living preferences you don’t agree on.
“Both partners should approach living together with a realistic mindset — you’re two different people with two different preferences and quirks that you both need to accommodate,” Chlipala tells Elite Daily. “Have honest conversations about how you two operate and what you need on a daily basis.”
Per Chlipala, the only way to get on the same page about your respective living preferences is to have frequent conversations about them. Instead of looking through rom-com-colored glasses, assuming everything will just ~work out~, get super specific about your living needs.
Do you swear by your nightly 30-minute skin care routine? Can you only think straight if the toilet paper roll is a certain way? Do you need some quiet time after your monthly progress meetings at work? When left unanswered, these small things can fester into big piles of resentment.
“I recommend setting aside time every week, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, to talk about logistics,” Chlipala says. “This can include to-do lists, planning for events that are coming up, and also just a general check-in on what is working or what might need some tweaking.”
Chlipala continues that these conversations are especially important in the early days of living together. Rather than “playing it cool” and developing a long, lingering frustration, bringing your feelings up when you start to feel them creates a healthy habit of smaller, less intense conversations.
If you’ve been living together for a while and you’re starting to notice feelings of resentment forming or clear mismatched expectations, Chlipala suggests being curious about your feelings, rather than suppressing them. You’re taking this next step to learn more about each other, not to live out a storybook fantasy.
“Watch any ‘shoulds’ that pop into your mind, how you think your partner should be doing things,” Chlipala says. “Your partner has their way of doing things — and has been doing it their way for years — and it’s OK.”
Language around what your partner “should” be doing or what your relationship “should” look like can make everyone feel defensive. Figuring out what you each personally need — rather than what’s objectively right or wrong (or what looks cutest on IG) — can help you find peace.
How To Set Boundaries With Your Partner Around Alone Time
After moving in with a partner, actively make space for both the “I” and “we” of a relationship, says Alyssa “Lia” Mancao, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Alyssa Marie Wellness. Translation? Sure, there are things you may love to share, but there are also plenty of things you need to do on your own.
“Maintaining a personal life is highly important after moving in with a partner,” says Mancao. “You want to remember and incorporate the identity that you have outside of the relationship.”
Whether you’re just moving in with a partner or you’ve been sharing a space for years, Mancao suggests setting aside time for you and your partner to do things alone. Whether you establish a running wine night with your friends or join a new yoga class that your partner would hate, prioritizing solo time and personal interests keeps you from making your relationship your entire personality.
“If your partner doesn't seem to understand, talk to them about why [alone time] is important to you and reassure them that it is not personal,” Mancao says.
Once you establish the importance of personal space in your relationship, you’ve set the precedent that it’s OK for either of you to ask for alone time when you need it. When you’re both comfortable asking for space, these conversations become more frequent and less emotionally loaded.
Of course, when you’re super in love and your lives have fully braided together like a fresh loaf of challah, it can feel daunting to establish these boundaries.
Rather than jumping into “we always do everything together” or “you’ve become clingy,” Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, therapist and conflict expert, suggests pointing out a specific thing you want to change. Stay away from “absolutist” language like “always” or “never,” and frame your thoughts around you, not them. From there you can state your need in an observational and concrete way, instead of labeling or shaming the other person.
For example, you might say, “Hey, I noticed we often spend the entire weekend together, and lately, I’ve been missing my friends. This weekend, I need to have some solid friend time.”
The more you practice making these statements, the easier it will become. When you know that you can both state your needs freely without hurting the other (e.g., “Hey, I need some alone time tonight” instead of, “You always smother me right when I come home from work”), you can keep lines of communication open without causing each other to feel defensive.
“In most cases, once the defenses go up, there's no communicating,” Forshee says.
Setting Boundaries With Your Parents
Maybe you moved home during the peak of the pandemic. Maybe you just moved back to take care of a sick family member. Maybe you’ve always lived with your folks. Whatever the case, living with your parents as an adult demands its own kind of boundaries.
How To Set Boundaries About Having Dates Over
You know that annoying thing your parents used to say about asking for permission instead of forgiveness? That’s the name of the game with bringing overnight guests back to your parents’ house. You want to make sure you and your folks are clear on the boundaries and rules beforehand.
First up, make sure you’re allowed to have dates spend the night. Though this conversation may be uncomfortable or awkward, a single weird talk with your parents is better than your parents walking in on you two half-naked.
“The problem is less that you're living with your parents, but rather if you're living like a child,” Pricilla Martinez, counselor and founder of Regroop Life & Relationship Coaching, tells Elite Daily. “If you have to tiptoe around them, have a curfew, or hide things from them like you're going to ‘get in trouble’ — that could make potential partners apprehensive. You don't want to give off the vibe that your parents control your life and relationships.”
That said, gaining their permission shows that you respect the group living space. While it may be frustrating, Martinez reminds you that every co-living situation has its limitations.
Once your parents have given the overnight OK, it’s time to get specific about the boundaries. Can dates sleep in your room? Do your parents expect to meet them before they stay over? Will they passively-aggressively open your bedroom door while you and your date are inside? Having a solid plan already means no “But, Mom!” bickering in front of your date.
Speaking of your date, you also want to ensure that they know what they’re coming home to. This transparency can help build trust between you and your date, instead of surprising them with, “Actually, this is my mom’s condo,” or forcing them to sneak out your window before your dad wakes up.
One way to set yourself up for success? Do a test run with your friends. “If your parents respect your boundaries and privacy with them, it's a good indication that they'll do the same with future dates,” Martinez says.
Hosting a small dinner party or seeing how your parents act to having a platonic friend over can be a great way to get them more comfortable with your company and to gauge how they’ll handle a potential date. Furthermore, being an adult with your platonic company — like not leaving a mess, not being super loud at 2 a.m. when your folks are sleeping, and not stealing their fancy liquor and replacing it with water — will likely make it a smoother transition to having a romantic partner or date over for the night.
“It's crucial that you take on the role of an adult roommate and not just their child if you want them to view you differently,” Martinez says. “Live your life like you would if you're living with roommates — it's unfair to expect your parents to take care of you, but not treat you like a child.”
How To Set Boundaries With Working From Home
If your job takes place online, your parents may struggle to comprehend that typing at the kitchen table is work. Rather than waiting for them to interrupt you during a meeting or asking you to let the repairman in while you’re calling a client, Martinez suggests explaining your daily schedule to them. When they know you have weekly progress reports or frequent conference calls, you can easily say, “Hey, I’ve got that meeting,” and close the door — no feelings hurt. If you’re really feeling generous, you can even show them your Slack or Excel sheets to give a visual of the work you’re doing all day.
“Communication is key,” Martinez says. “Explain your schedule and when you are available to talk or help.”
When trying to find a tone to start these conversations, Martinez shares you can be respectful but firm. Though seeing your mom fish dirty towels out of your hamper may make you feel like you’re 15 again, you are an adult. An employed one, at that! You can state when you are and aren’t available to help around the house without sounding like a bratty teenager who doesn't want to unload the dishwasher.
“Don't ask, inform,” Martinez says. “If you feel you need permission or approval to live your life, you're always going to be a child with them.”
For instance, if you know you have a giant project due, let your parents know you’ll be unavailable for the afternoon, but can make dinner at 6 p.m. Rather than forgoing all responsibilities or pretending you aren’t sharing space with your folks, let them know when you can contribute to the household — and then stick to your word.
Martinez says that ultimately if you’re living with your parents — likely in a home they own or rent — then you might benefit from making some adjustments. If they’re always in your business while you’re working, you may want to go to a coffee shop during the day.
“You're not going to have all the same liberties as living alone,” she says. “Living at home functions well when the rest of your life is outside of the home.”
From having open conversations to writing group documents, open, respectful, and frequent communication will ensure your living space feels right for everyone. Don’t be fooled by those cheugy signs from T.J. Maxx: Boundaries, not love, make this house a home.