Compromise and open, honest conversation are the common threads in every strong relationship. You don’t have to be on the same page with your S.O on every single issue, but discussing your differences now will help you avoid running into problems later on.
Below, marriage experts share seven questions to ask yourself (and then, your partner) to ensure your relationship has what it takes to go the distance.
1. What makes me feel valued in a relationship?
We tend to express love the same way we want to receive it — but how you demonstrate and feel love may not hold true for your partner. That’s why it’s vital to learn what your particular love language is, said Anne Crowley, a psychologist based in Austin, Texas.
“Understanding what makes you feel cared for and talking about it sets a good foundation for a positive connection,” she said. “It is important to keep this conversation going as it is not uncommon for a person’s love language to change, especially for women.”
2. Do I want to have kids and if so, at what point in my life?
Maybe you’re so excited to have kids, you’ve already figured out what schools you want to send them to — or maybe your feelings are more along the lines of, “thanks but no thanks.” Whatever the case may be, don’t wait until after you’re super committed to tell your partner, said Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C.
“While your feelings can change over time, people’s expectations about family are generally deeply held and stable,” she said. “Discussing expectations about family really is a discussion of values, and marriages are most successful when partners share similar values.”
3. How do I approach sex?
To gauge whether or not you’ll enjoy a satisfying sex life once the honeymoon phase ends, ask each other this simple question: When you have sex, whom do you strive to please?
“It’s best if both partners say ‘me and my partner,'” said Laurel Steinberg, a sex and relationship therapist and an adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University. “When partners are solely focused on their individual pleasure, a couple will only have sex as frequently as its least turned-on member wants. If they’re sexually compatible, they understand that they don’t always have to be completely in the mood — they take delight in their partner’s sexual pleasure.”
4. What’s my approach to personal finances?
No issue is as potentially problematic as having different approaches to spending. That’s why it’s essential to have ongoing, completely open conversations about money, Clark said: how you value money, how you spend it and to what extent you want to combine your finances. (Shared bank accounts aren’t for everyone.)
“While it is unlikely that you will agree on every aspect of money, it is really helpful to be able to discuss what can be a tricky, conflicting topic,” she said. “Like with the family discussion, money taps our values and how we think about and use money will reflect them.”
Clark recommends talking to each other about how you prefer to save and spend money, what expenses you prioritize most and how you can budget more effectively as a team.
5. What role do I expect my spouse to play in my life?
For better or worse, you’ll likely follow the behaviors you saw your parents demonstrate in marriage, and that includes gender-specific roles. To avoid any awkward conversations along the lines of — “Hey, I thought you were going to stay home once we had kids?” — discuss what family life was like for you growing up.
“Couples need to examine and share their family ‘scripts,'” Crowley said. “We are preprogrammed from our family of origin. We observe what a husband and wife look like from our upbringing with mom and dad. Being able to discuss what we learned — what we liked or didn’t — leads to more personal and familial security.”
6. What am I bringing to the table as a partner?
You’ve probably thoroughly considered why you want to be with your partner, but what positive traits and relationship-bolstering qualities are you offering him or her? What do you need to work on? Taking stock of what you individually bring to the table may better prepare you for a committed relationship than any question you could ask your S.O., said Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a couples psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center.
“Most couples face the same challenges throughout the arc of their marriage: For instance, one person craves lots of time to talk and connect emotionally while the other prefers connecting through shared activities,” she said. “These differences are not likely to change with time, but couples who build on their strengths and acknowledge their challenges are likely to evolve to greater emotional maturity in their approach to shared hurdles.”
7. Am I an extrovert, an introvert or something in between?
This question may seem like small potatoes compared to others on the list but determining where you (and your future spouse) fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum will have a huge impact on how you spend your shared down time, Clark said.
“After a long day at the office, an introvert may need some time alone to regain their energy before engaging with a partner, whereas an extrovert will gravitate toward conversation” she said. “This can cause conflict in a relationship if two partners have different energy needs and don’t understand how to work around them — or worse, take their partners rebuff or seemingly endless engagement personally.”
To bridge the introvert/extrovert divide, have an open discussion about it — and in the meantime, don’t take it personally if your S.O. needs his or her space, Clark said.
“It is helpful to know that these needs are generally stable traits and have to do with fatigue — something that can be mitigated through rest and planning time together that allows for both parties to meet their energy needs.”
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