When you make the decision to commit to someone, no topic of discussion should be off the table. Sure, some conversations may be more awkward than others, but having the tough talks now could help you stave off major problems in the long run.
Below, psychologists and other experts share seven uncomfortable (but essential) conversations to have with your S.O. if you want to avoid divorce.
1. How close are you to your parents?
If you and your partner are used to different levels of involvement from your parents, problems will inevitably arise. Early on, talk about what feels most comfortable, said Kristin Davin, a New York City-based psychologist and divorce mediator.
“The parent question is usually a problem when one family dominates spending time with the couple, especially around the holidays or when a child is born,” she said. “Ask each other: ‘How we can both enjoy each other’s families without feeling they’re being overly intrusive? How do stand as a united front without saying ‘no’ too often or hurting family relationships?”
2. How important is sex in a relationship?
Don’t let the initial hot-and-heavy, spontaneous-sex-at-every-hour-of-the-day phase fool you: It’s not likely to last forever. That’s exactly why it’s so important to get a baseline understanding of how high a priority sex is in your partner’s eyes, said Aaron Anderson, a marriage and family therapist and owner of the Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado.
“Sex is one of the most common problems I see as a marriage counselor for a reason: After you’ve been together a while and the stressors of life come in, there tends to be problems in the bedroom,” he said. “Sometimes couples have differing desires in the frequency of sex, sometimes they disagree on how experimental they want to be in (or outside!) the bedroom. These problems are rarely anticipated in the early stages of a relationship but they can cause big problems down the road.”
3. Do you want to have kids — and if so, how do you want to raise them?
Once you’ve decided if and when you want to have kids, give some serious thought to how you want to raise them, said Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“You need to figure out how rigid or loose you’re likely to be when it comes to structures and rules,” she said. “On one end of the spectrum is the very controlling, strict and punitive style, and on the other end is no control whatsoever. Find out where you and your partner stand along the spectrum.”
4. How do you define monogamy?
Monogamy means different things to different people. To avoid overstepping boundaries, have an open, honest conversation about what a faithful relationship looks like to you. Then, negotiate a shared definition that works for both partners, said Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, a Washington, D.C.-based therapist.
“It’s really smart to clarify expectations not just about sex and whether you will be exclusive, but also expectations about social media, socializing and how you define monogamy,” she said. “Ask the important questions: Do I have permission to continue a long-standing friendship with an ex? Is there an expectation that we’ll share and discuss flirtatious comments received on Facebook? Is it OK to spend an evening out on the town with a good-looking, single colleague?”
5. What does our shared future look like?
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten? Twenty? Does your vision of retirement include traveling the world and living it up — or staying home and enjoying Netflix and chill: the retirement edition?
While you don’t have to map out your entire life, having some general guideposts for the future — and making sure your plans more or less sync up with your S.O’s — is definitely important, said Anderson.
“When a couple is together, their lives are connected for better or for worse,” he said. “Don’t just ask about what your goals are together as a couple, ask about what each others’ goals are individually.”
6. What’s your relationship with money?
A 2013 study found that couples who argued about money early on in their relationships — regardless of their income, debt or net worth — were at a greater risk for divorce than other couples. To avoid becoming part of that statistic, discuss your finances, Davin said.
“Oftentimes, if couples do talk about money, they talk around it; it’s a very difficult and oftentimes sensitive topic to discuss,” Davin said. “Create the necessary dialogue with specific questions: What is your relationship with money? How were you raised with money (meaning, what is your parents’ relationship with money?) What did they teach you about money? How will you manage your money?”
Once you broach the topic, expect to revisit it. “Have enough time carved out because this is often a dicey subject,” Davin said.
7. Do we have compatible argument styles?
The honeymoon stage won’t last forever. At some point, you and your partner are going to get into an overblown argument and you’ll find out how you each approach fights. When that time does come, it’s imperative that your S.O. is willing to handle disagreements in a healthy, constructive way, Whetstone said. If not, they better learn how to fast.
“Dig deeply to find out how you’ll handle disagreements involving each other and also potentially children,” she said. “The most important thing about choosing a mate is making sure you are compatible on the front end, meaning before marriage is even on your radar.”