So you’re thinking that he might be the one, but have you talked about the hard stuff? It’s wise not to leave some of these conversations to after ‘I do’.
Communication is key in a relationship. It’s important that couples understand how each other communicates both emotionally and logistically. Emotionally, a couple needs to be able to verbalize how they think and feel - and often times, be able to differentiate between the two. Logistically, a successful couple can transparently communicate their plans and work out how the two plans can fit together.
Set aside some intentional time to talk about these things, and use this guide not as an all-encompassing list, but as a window for a fruitful discussion. Use our Filmore Naughty and Nice cards before or after this discussion if you want to spice things up.
1. Money: Does one of you feel fine about carrying credit card debt, while the other believes that one should only buy that which can be paid for when the bill arrives? Does one person need to build up a safety net of savings in order to feel at ease, while the other is OK with living month to month, without a fund for emergencies? What are each person’s security or control needs in terms of money? Will the other person’s spending habits feel like a support or a threat?
2. Children: Do you both want to be parents? How do each of you view the necessary compromises that come with having a child? Does one person believe in strict parental discipline while the other feels that gentle flexibility is the best approach?
3. Religious/ Spiritual views: Do you respect each other’s beliefs about the role of a higher power in human life or the absence thereof? Does one person’s faith make the other feel lonely or demeaned for standing outside of it? If beliefs are not held in common, does this result in whole arenas of discussion that are off-limits?
4. Sexual attraction: Is there a fundamental attraction between the two of you? Do you both feel safe and respected sexually? Do you both believe in the importance of communicating your desires and preferences to each other?
5. Fund of conversation: Is there a natural momentum in the dialogue between the two of you? Do you have a shared sense of humor? Do you both feel a kind of endlessness to the things you want to talk about, or does the fountain of conversation occasionally run dry? Does your partner sometimes bore you?
6. Attitude towards monogamy: Do you both believe that it is crucial to avoid infidelity? What do you each believe about handling the temptation to have an affair? Would you both feel comfortable with considering an open relationship at some point in the future? Would there be conditions, e.g. partners outside of the marriage are OK so long as there is nothing “serious” on the side that threatens the primacy of the two of you?
7. Handling conflict: Do the two of you have shared beliefs about lines that shouldn’t be crossed in a conflict, e.g. name-calling, insults, yelling, throwing or breaking things, pushing/shoving/ hitting. If one is hot-tempered and the other has a much longer fuse, is there sympathy for each other’s style along with mutual respect?
8. Conduct in the world: Do you both feel similarly about how society is organized economically? Does one person see poverty largely in terms of personal responsibility and the other see it as primarily resulting from social injustice? Are you in sync about each other’s response to strangers in need, treatment of waitpersons in restaurants, and other situations where you may have power over others?
9. Self-examination: Do you like to analyze your own actions and reactions, probing the origins of difficult feelings? Do you expect your partner to be equally willing to do this kind of self-examination and to talk about it openly? If one of you has little interest in this kind of probing or finds it burdensome, will the other feel resentful or lonely as a result of the one-sidedness? Is it OK with both of you to have different preferences in this regard?
10. Attitudes towards each other’s relatives: Are there cultural differences in terms of how relationships within each other’s extended family are viewed? Does one person see taking in a frail parent later as a basic familial expectation, while the other believes that this will be decided based on circumstances at the time? How do each of you view offering financial help to a sibling or parent in trouble?
Once a couple is aligned in these fundamental areas, everything else required for a lasting relationship is based on give and take, balancing disappointments and rewards. For instance, one person may have had parents whose relationship provided an example worth trying to follow, while the other may only know what they want to avoid. As a result, one may be able to trust far more readily than the other, who needs more space and time. Thus, it can happen that one person gives much more than the other for an extended period, only to be paid back years later. There are no perfect matches, no relationships without times of hardship, and the need for renewal. Harmony can be found and disrupted over and over again, yet most couples who attain multiple decades together say they can't imagine life without the other.