As someone who has worked with a number of individuals, couples, and families over the years, I have to say that it’s getting harder and harder to surprise me in session. And yet, I’ve noticed that there’s one thing that never fails to catch me a bit off guard, and that’s when couples tell me that they haven’t yet discussed topics that I’d consider to be very important when it comes to a relationship. I’m not talking about small things like finding out your partner likes the Dark Roast blend from Tim Horton’s more than the original coffee; I'm talking really big, important, could-be-a-dealbreaker stuff.
As such, I thought it was important to shed some light on what I think are crucial conversations to have with your partner before deciding to move in together, get married, or take whatever significant step you feel is next in your relationship.
1. Are you on the same page about kids?
Do both of you want children? If no, is there any wiggle room with the person who doesn’t want children or not really?
A word of caution: if you’re someone who is leaning towards not having kids, it might be wise to keep things simple and just say you don’t intend to have children, period. Why? Because sometimes people hear what they want to hear, and if you tell them that you “most likely" don't want to have kids or that you’re “on the fence” while they’re gung-ho about the idea, they could sit there twiddling their thumbs bursting with hope until the day you change your mind and give them what they’ve always wanted: a family. To me, that’s just a recipe for disaster.
What about if your partner already has kids? How do you feel about being a step-parent? Are you okay knowing that at the end of the day, you aren’t their “real mom or dad” and therefore may have less of a voice in how they are parented? What is your partner’s ex-wife or ex-husband like? Are you able to have a civil relationship or will they make it their mission to make your life a living hell? Are you okay with a portion of your partner’s income going towards child support? Are you okay with blended families? Are they willing to have another child with you if that’s what you want? As you can see, there are plenty of very complicated questions to be asked and discussed.
What I’ve realized about the topic of kids is that it’s hard to find a way to compromise. You can’t just “kind of” have a kid with someone; you either have one or you don’t. Plus, choosing to have a child is the biggest decision you will ever make so you want to make sure you’re 100% sure it’s the right choice for you. No matter how much you love someone, be up front about whether or not you want to have a child, otherwise there is far too much opportunity for resentment down the line; you could resent them for “making you” have a child or they could resent you for not “letting them” start a family. This is dealbreaker material and the stuff of nasty, drawn-out divorces so please oh please have this conversation as soon as possible.
2. Do you spend money in a similar way?
If you value saving versus spending money, it might be important to find a partner who you don’t feel is frivolous with money. Or maybe you’re the type of person who really enjoys spending money on experiences rather than material objects so finding a partner who is interested in going on adventures with you might be a priority.
On the flip side, it could be beneficial to be with someone with somewhat different spending habits so that you balance each other out. So, if you like to save and they like to spend, you could theoretically play to each other’s strengths nicely so that you’re able to save up for fun experiences together. However, even in this context, you should probably be in the same realm of thought when it comes to what you consider to be expensive, “worth the money,” and more.
Additionally, it’s crucial that we are up front about where we spend our money as well. I have unfortunately met a number of people who discover that their partner secretly sends money to family members or spends thousands of dollars online due to a gambling addiction. Now, I am not downplaying how difficult it is to have these conversations and the amount of shame, embarrassment, and guilt that can come from them, but realistically, being in a relationship that is not based on honesty is not going to last. Period. At some point, something’s gotta give.
3. How much sex do you like having?
Some people feel like having sex is a main priority in a romantic relationship. Others see themselves as “less sexual” people and feel as though they don't need sex too regularly to feel happy, secure, or connected. While it’s almost impossible to find someone with the exact same sex drive as you, I feel as though it’s important to generally be on the same page here. If you’re someone who is very open and adventurous sexually—as in always wanting to try new things, possibly introduce new people, and have sex on a very frequent basis—then being with someone who could sort of take it or leave it might make you feel rejected, insecure, and frustrated.
While we’re on the topic though, I do think it can be harmful to send the message that we need sex for security and self esteem as this can cause our partner to pressure themselves to have sex when they might not want to. If there’s anything that creates the opposite of a safe, enjoyable sexual environment for either of you in the long term, it’s that.
4. What kind of work/life balance do you want?
Similarly to talking about how you spend money, it’s important to discuss how you spend time. Indeed, I’ve met a number of couples who unfortunately don’t have similar expectations about how many hours they’d like to spend at the office. Additionally, if you’re dating someone who is self-employed or starting their own business, that might come with its own set of challenges. They might feel more driven to work longer hours and have their phone on them all the time. Or they might experience a period of being in debt financially or simply not earning much of an income. You need to decide whether or not this is something you can live with.
5. Where do you want to live?
This is an especially important conversation for couples who might not come from the same country. If a significant move is required for the relationship to work, it’s important to be fully honest about if making such a move would lead to resentment or not. I have met a number of individuals who move to another country for their partner only to use this as ammunition during every single argument. “I moved to another country for you and you can’t even clean the damn dishes!” they’ll say. This just isn’t fair. If you feel as though the cons of moving to another country with someone outweigh the pros, then just don’t do it.
Even if you live in the same country, it’s important to talk about where you see yourself living down the road. Is one of you more of a suburbs person while the other can’t imagine living outside of the city? What commutes can you both live with?
6. What’s your relationship going to be like with each other’s in-laws?
I don’t think it’s necessary for couples to like their respective in-laws for a relationship to work. I’ve learned that what matters most is that you both agree on the boundaries that are set around these relationships. For example, if you really, really don’t get along with your partner’s dad yet they are super close, this might create a lot more friction than if they didn’t have a very close relationship. If Judy expects Ryan to see her parents every weekend but Ryan can barely stand being in the same room as them, then chances are the relationship simply won’t last. After all, there will likely come a time where Judy feels like she has to “pick between” Ryan and her family. And when kids come in to the mix then this gets all the more complicated.
7. How are you going to manage the housework?
Is your partner someone who values having more of an egalitarian household or are they more traditional (i.e. men work, women stay at home)? Are you okay with their views on this? If you both work, how are you going to juggle the daily chores in a way that makes sense and feels fair for both of you? What are your expectations of household cleanliness? While these might seem like insignificant things, you’d be amazed at how much arguments about household chores can affect a couple’s sense of happiness and wellbeing.
8. How do you feel about drugs/alcohol?
I have found that people have rather strong opinions about what is acceptable when it comes to the type of drug/alcohol, frequency of use, and amount consumed. If you're super against a drug that your partner might use, this could set the stage for secrecy and lying, mistrust, or contempt for the other person. Make sure you have an open and honest conversation about where you stand here.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, all this essentially comes down to navigating expectations. So often I think we experience anger or resentment because we feel as though our partner has let us down or broken some unwritten rule; we feel like they haven’t met our expectations about something and we become disappointed. But when we don’t communicate these expectations and ideas from the get-go, we set our partner up for failure and the relationship as well. Let’s make the commitment to truly lay all of our cards out on the table so that we can create genuine, authentic relationships that resentment simply cannot penetrate.
What crucial conversations do you think are important to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!