I’m a firm believer that communication is key in any relationship, especially when it comes to romantic ones. Yet magazines like Cosmopolitan consistently tell women that it’s better to play games with their partners than to hash things out. Sitcoms do the same; how many television shows have you seen that essentially derive all of its plots from the storyline where a whacky husband wants to keep something equally whacky from his uptight wife? (I’m looking at you, “King of Queens.”) Both men and women are fed this idea that the opposite sex is from another planet (nevermind that this mentality entirely ignores trans* or intersex individuals) – and it’s better not to try to understand one another.
That’s total garbage. Talking to one another is crucial to having a successful relationship. It should happen early and often and, yes, you will sometimes have to talk about difficult things. Sometimes, you’ll disagree. Sometimes, you’ll have to compromise. (Gasp!) I swear I’m not trying to sabotage your romance, but I do think your partner should also probably be one of your best friends. Try and have these eight conversations with your significant other so you can get on the same page about the “big” things in life — you’ll thank me later. (And remember: there are no right or wrong answers to the questions below nor are there right or wrong ways to discuss the topic. As long as you’re talking things out, you’re good!)
What do you need from me?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no one way men or women behave. There are billions of us and we all want, need, and crave different things. Maybe you want a partner who is also your absolute best friend. Maybe you want a partner who respects your space. The answers to what your partner wants and who they are as a person will come naturally as you’re getting to know each other. But there will be some things you’ll need to chat about. For example, Bill and I have previously discussed how he and I react differently to arguments. While he wants to talk things out right away, I lose my cool that way. Instead, I need some quiet time to myself. We talked that out and we’re better off because of it.
How should we handle the holidays?
When two people come together, they have to merge two sets of holiday traditions, which can be challenging. Whose family will you spend the major holidays with? Will you rotate? Will each family have its own holiday year after year? Will you invent your own holiday traditions together? Or will you divide holidays and conquer, like my partner and I? It takes some forethought and planning, as well as some sacrifices, but it can also be really nice. I spend my holidays with two families instead of one and combine that with some new traditions just for Bill and I.
Where do you stand on religion?
While you certainly don’t have to be part of the same religion to make your relationship work, you do have respect one another’s beliefs, practices, or lack thereof. Figure out what matters to the both of you and then go from there. Will you be attending church/synagogue/mass together? How frequently? Which holiday(s) will you be celebrating? How strictly do you adhere to your religion’s rules? Does it matter if one of you is religious while the other isn’t at all? For Bill and I, both atheists, religion isn’t important to us, and that, in turn, is important. I’m happier having a partner who shares my views and doesn’t adhere to any religious beliefs.
Do we want to get married?
Well… do you? What kind of wedding are you interested in? Do you love or hate public proposals? How much money would you be willing to spend on the wedding? Where will you honeymoon? These questions will naturally come up the longer you date, but even months or years before you’re “ready” to commit to marriage, it can be beneficial to talk these things over. I always think it’s better to get on the same page long before the moment arises. Plus, take it from me, after you’ve been with your partner for a long time, people WILL start asking questions. It’s annoying, but if you’re both on the same page, it will help you shrug it off. “When are you guys getting married?” will feel less pointed if you both know your answer will be, “When hell freezes over. Now stop asking.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
Given that you will be spending a lot of your free time together, it’s important to know how you like to spend that time. Bill and I love to have quiet weekends, either watching movies or doing low-key activities out (visiting museums or wineries, shopping, going out to dinner, spending time at the park with our dog). But that may not be for you. So figure out what you both like — and what you both like could be spending lots of time apart. That’s not weird; it’s all about whatever works for you!
How should we handle our finances?
Money can be a huge source of friction in some relationships, which is why talking about finances is extremely important. Don’t listen to what others say about how couples should deal with their money; instead, do what feels right for you and your partner. (I’ve previously offered some tips about finances that can help get you started.) It’s possible you’d like to split absolutely everything right down the middle, regardless of salaries. It’s possible one partner will pay for more because they earn more. Maybe you’ll both work; maybe one of you won’t. Maybe you want to pool your money and expenses entirely, maybe you want to leave all of your finances separate, or maybe you’d like to do a hybrid. For example, Bill and I split expenses evenly, we have a joint checking and savings account, and we also have our own, separate checking and savings accounts. It helps us feel like we’re in this together, but it also makes us feel good to have our “own” money. This way, I can buy a new pair of Uggs without feeling guilty.
Do we want kids? What about pets?
Do you want kids someday or are you adamantly against it? At what age would you like to become a parent? How many will make your family feel complete? Talk this out. While these are decisions that can be made together, don’t be afraid to voice your feelings. If your partner wants kids and you don’t, be honest and upfront. If you have differing views, you’ll need to figure out what that means. Will you resent your partner if you want kids, but he/she doesn’t? What about the other way around? Don’t assume that your partner will simply change his/her mind on the idea later. They may, but they also may not. (This can also apply to pets.)
What are your goals? Where do you see us in the future?
This one feels big, but you don’t need to have a solid idea of exactly what you want 50 years from now. However, if you want to settle down in a suburban house full of kids as a stay-at-home parent and your partner imagines the two of you child-free, backpacking through the depths of the North Pole, you should probably air that out before it’s too late. Consider: where would you ultimately like to live (city, country)? Are you considering a house, an apartment, a condo, something else? What does your ideal retirement look like? What makes you happy? What will make you feel like your life is a good one? Similarly, if you have a very clear-cut idea of your career trajectory, share that with your partner! Maybe someday you want to own a bakery or travel to Italy or go to law school. Whatever it is, talk it out.
These things will help your relationship feel less mysterious and more like you’re in this, for the long haul, together.