A while back, I wrote about sharing a mortgage between two families – a post that has since become one of the most popular pages here at the fountainside. Every week, a stream of NSW-based people find my blog by googling “one mortgage, two families” or “how to share rent with another family”. It goes to show what we already know: living in Sydney isn’t always easy or cheap.
It’s for this reason I’m introducing Danielle,* who along with her husband, has been sharing rent with another married couple for the past year. When I visited her suburban, family-sized home to do the interview, I was struck by how warm and inviting it was. From the cosy living spaces to the well-tended garden and quaint kitchen, it was obvious this wasn’t your ordinary share house, and the benefits of living together extend beyond shared utility/internet bills. Danielle shares her experience below.
Soph: How did you come to rent with another married couple?
Danielle: We actually didn’t come up with the idea on our own. It developed spontaneously in conversation, on the way home from a party with our soon-to-be housemates. We weren’t particularly close to them, but we did get on well. As we chatted in that long car ride, we realised we shared a conviction about the importance of living out God’s love and grace in the context of community. We wanted to share not just an occasional meal, but our lives with others who believe in Jesus. Seeing how we both were not from Sydney and planned to live here for a few more years, the conversation naturally wandered down the path of how we could do community living together. We tossed around different living arrangements over the course of a year, then started seriously looking at houses together.
Soph: What did you enjoy about the experience?
Danielle: The companionship. It was nice not to have to come home to an empty house. We could watch movies together, discuss each other’s daily problems as they arose.
Also, learning from each other. My female housemate was my complete opposites, personality wise. I was happy to follow, she was happy to lead. I was extroverted, she was more introverted. I’m a very open person and we had to come to the middle. I noticed she made an effort to open up with me and I respect her for that, because she really pushed her boundaries. It was challenging to give grace, to say, “You’re doing something and I don’t know why, but I know that it’s valid.” We had a pact that we could always come back at any moment after an event and say, “can I just ask what you meant when you did this?” Almost every time I asked, it turned out to be just miscommunication. We worked well together and complemented each other, because we weren’t trying to get in each other’s way. About once a month we would have a cuppa – just have deep talks and pray together. I learned so much from her, as she thinks about things differently.
Soph: What did you find difficult?
Danielle: There was some difficulty with having guests. We were always fine with them having guests over, which they did more frequently than us, but it was a little irritating when they’d let us know very late sometimes. Also we had different styles of entertaining probably because of our different personalities. I would be fine to have everyone in as a big family night. With some of her guests, she’d rather have small gatherings, by themselves in another room.
It was really tough when our housemates informed us their situation had changed and they needed to move out. It felt like a break up because we had really melded. We knew we’d still see them maybe once or twice a month, but it wouldn’t be the same. It also had a negative impact on us. We had to move out too, or find new housemates in a short time period. But we made our best effort to be understanding of their situation and to put ourselves in their shoes. Still, we were so glad when we found another couple to move in.
However the blessing of living together far outweighed the difficulties. We are so thankful to have shared this special time with them, a time we will look back on it with joy.
Soph: How did you handle the everyday details, like chores, etc?
Danielle: We both had similar expectations for cleanliness and tidiness. We kept the living room pretty clear of stuff. Some chores were assigned to specific people, like emptying the kitchen bin. The boys had a magnet, when it was facing down it was my husband’s turn to take out the garbage, facing up it would be the other husband’s turn. The dish rack was one issue! Often there were dishes left in the rack for long time. In the end, we just tried to put away our own dishes from the rack straight after they dried.
It’s very hard to hide such weaknesses when you live with other people. They will discover them eventually.
Before we moved in, we toyed with the idea of taking turns cooking for each other, but we decided to cook separately in the end, in order to allow the most freedom, since our cooking/eating styles and times were quite different. We often entertained guests separately in the house, so it did sometimes feel to me more like we were two couples living separate lives. Nevertheless there were many great spontaneous chats in the kitchen as we prepared our separate meals, and having generally one weekly dinner together did give us sense of community.
Soph: How did you deal with conflict?
Danielle: Both couples made an effort to be very understanding and gracious. That atmosphere made it easy to deal with things. Our weekly dinner together was our designated time to catch up, and bring up any issues we had. It was really good to have that designated time to bring up issues to discuss. It meant we didn’t have to worry that at any moment or when we got home from work and were tired, the other couple would bring up a conflict issue. It allowed us to relax more the rest of the time.
Soph: Did living with another couple make marriage challenging?
Danielle: Not really. It was almost better because my husband is introverted and needed his ‘cave time’, whereas I need people and would get irritated with him if he wanted to be alone. Living with another couple means I can be with people and can still give him his cave time. It took the pressure off him to fulfil all those social needs for me.
Soph: What would you change if you could do it all again?
Danielle: I would have changed my levels of openness to match hers more on certain issues. I would have been more assertive in voicing things that where issues for me. I avoided conflict too much. It also would have been good, before we moved in together, to share more openly about our own particular known weaknesses and struggles. It’s very hard to hide such weaknesses when you live with other people. They will discover them eventually. It’s good to just get it out there in the beginning so people know what they’re getting into, but also so that they can understand you better and be more gracious.
Soph: What did you learn from this experience?
Danielle: Looking back, I really do see how this experience has stretched us to grow in maturity, selflessness, love and grace. It helped us to become more like Jesus. It’s made us better people, and we’ve established a close relationship with this couple that will hopefully last a lifetime.
I’ve also learned that no one is perfect and we all have weaknesses. We also all have different strengths, and no person is more valuable than another. Humility is so important in relationships. It’s helpful to others when you’re brave enough to admit your weaknesses and struggles. And dealing with other people’s weaknesses is an opportunity to demonstrate grace. I’ve grown so much in my ability to give people grace and acceptance when I don’t understand them.
*Not her real name
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