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The Argument-Free Guide to Merging Households With Your New Spouse

Angeline Guido Hall remembers vividly the sofa that her husband, John, brought to their new marriage more than 10 years ago. “It was so terrible,” she says. “It was nothing a blanket could cover or a slipcover could help.” But the couch was comfortable, and it didn’t make sense to John to get rid of it. Eventually the newlyweds came to an agreement: “I would get to buy a couple of other things for the room that made me happy,” Angeline says, “and in a year we would replace the sofa with something a little bit more pleasing to the eye.”

As the principal designer and owner of Angeline Guido Design, Angeline sees similar issues play out with her newly married clients time and again. “It’s a tricky situation,” she says. “I think it’s something people should talk about in their premarital counseling because it does get emotional.”

If the problem revolves around one item in particular—a sentimental piece passed down from a grandparent, for example, or a comfy but unsightly sofa—the interior designer has some simple solutions. Maybe the piece takes up residence in a guest bedroom, where it’s still part of the home but not a centerpiece item, or maybe it gets a fresh coat of paint or new upholstery. And if the issue involves clashing styles—one spouse is classic, while the other is contemporary—Angeline suggests aiming for an eclectic look. Think: a modern sofa and modern art with a more traditional coffee table and chair. “That’s an easy way to blend people’s styles,” she says. “Then you kind of let both of them be in the room.”

Regardless of a couple’s individual conflicts, merging households can be a trying time for everyone. Liz Higgins, a licensed marriage and family therapist, relationship coach, and the founder of Millennial Life Counseling, regularly sees couples who are dealing with the challenges that come with moving in together. “At the end of the day, a transition like this is just that: It’s a transition in your life and in your relationship,” she says. “So with that, most likely, is going to come growing pains.”

One thing a couple can do to ease the tension of transition, Liz says, is to embrace a mindset that in relationships there are going to be challenges: “It’s not a matter of if, but when, and how you are going to choose to lean into that on an individual level so you can find solutions and stay connected.” She also works with her clients to figure out the real reasons why a seemingly insignificant subject, like a couch or a chair, is causing so much disagreement.

“We’re often very other-aware—what our partner is doing that’s frustrating us—but less self-aware,” she says. “Is this really [about] the couch? Is this really [about] your house? Or is this security? Is this control? So it’s being able to self-identify what’s going on for me, and can I communicate that in an effective way?”

For any couple merging their lives together—and learning to make decisions together—communication is key, but so is having an open mind. Liz advises her clients to enter the process with curiosity and a willingness to learn. “It’s when we go inward and put walls up and make decisions internally about ourself or our partner that are rigid in nature that we really hit walls,” she says, “and it’s a lot harder to compromise, find solutions together, and collaborate.”

Getting your newly merged household organized is another way to reduce stress. Shelley Tims Anbouba, owner of NEAT Method Dallas-Highland Park, often works with new couples who are setting up their first home together, and she says her company’s services go beyond just arranging belongings. “It really is an opportunity for a couple to put systems in place from the beginning that will allow them to spend time being together and make life together easier,” she says.

In addition to creating customized solutions for kitchens, closets, laundry rooms, and more, Shelley’s team of home organizing experts can set up a house while clients are traveling, including managing movers, unpacking, and coordinating deep cleans—all for a big reveal when they return. “We recently did that with a couple who was on their honeymoon,” she says. “We put together some furniture, managed the handyman, and made the new house super NEAT.”

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