You’ve decided you want to be
together forever. Now what?
Whether our relationships are old or new, there a few important topics that I believe should be discussed before long term commitment or marriage. At times, we think we know our partner inside and out. I have outlined four important topics that can be a starting point of conversation to set our relationships up for success.
How do we feel about kids?
Each partner needs to discuss what they are expecting in terms of wanting kids, not wanting kids, or how many kids each partner envisions. Does one partner only one or maybe two children while the other wants four or five? Once you have an understanding what each partner wants, you can discuss whether there is any flexibility in their wants. This should be an ongoing conversation with your partner as road bumps happen along the road, including infertility or that one partner no longer wants more children. What if one partner wants to change directions in their career and be a stay at home parent? These are all important things to not only talk about, but truly understand our partner’s wants and desires.
Conflict and Communication
SPOILER ALERT: Conflict will happen
in your marriage! It is not whether you have conflict or not that determines if
your relationship will last; it is how you handle conflict. It can be easy to
develop poor communication habits with your partner. These bad habits can
include stonewalling, holding onto resentments, or not giving your partner
space when needed to calm down. If you’re developing any bad habits during your
arguments, or are curious about your communication style, then it might be
helpful to explore some resources. The books Hold Me Tight by Sue
Johnson or Seven Principles forMaking Marriage Work by John
Gottman are a great starting place. You can also seek out a great couple’s therapist!
Time together and alone
When you are in the dating stage you often are inseparable and spend a majority of your time together. While this stage you are learning about each other it is also important to understand what time together and alone will look like once you get married. If our partner had weekly outings with friends to the club, outlets, rock climbing, or a weekend trip will this still be ok once we’re married? Is our partner used to going to the gym alone and has been doing this for years? These various activities can be very important for our partner. If we think that after marriage we want them to change or adjust their habits and the way they spend their time then we need to communicate that now. We cannot expect them to just change while we stay at home and harbor resentment. While time together with our partner fosters a healthy relationship, we also need to foster relationships with friends and family. At times, we may need quality time with close friends or other family members too, or even just alone time to be with our self. It is okay for us to want these things as long as it is something communicated to our partner.
How is our partner allowed to talk with coworkers, friend etc.
When our partner is not with us they
will be among other people at work, the gym, and friends. While this time spent
with others is needed there are some important questions to discuss with your
What are intimate details of our relationship how or should be shared with others? How do we talk to others about our relationship?
What constitutes an emotional affair for your or your partner?
While every situation varies for each couple. It is important to understand what ours or our partner’s behaviors might be. The more we understand them and have conversations about what our relationship boundaries should be then the healthier our relationship is in the long run. If you would be hurt if your partner went to lunch with female co-workers then let them know. If it causes hurt when your partner comments on an ex’s post, let them know! Do not let these things fester and build until serious relationship difficulties come up.
Communication with our partner is essential to building a healthy, lasting relationship. When we have a conversation with our partner about the four topics discussed above and many more, we can then avoid resentment, future conflict, and have healthy boundaries in our relationship. If you would like more information about the topics above, a better understanding of your current relationship, or just want to have a safe place to discuss future and/or current relationship goals reach out to me at (801)-944-4555.
If you frequent the many on-line
resources (message boards, blogs, advice columns, podcasts, etc.) related to
dating, specifically dating at a more “advanced” age, you will surely encounter
at least one article about “compatibility” in relationships. What exactly does
compatibility mean? If you read all the advice on the internet, this post
included, then you’ll find that there is a wide array of opinions offered.
Opinions range from the alignment of interests and goals to the notion that
there can’t be any disagreements or conflicts within relationships. However,
according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary compatibility is, “being capable of existing together in harmony”. Dr. John Gottman (2016), the world-renowned
relationship researcher, described compatibility as, “Agreeability and conscientiousness are the
characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.”
These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good
point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may
be wrong” during a disagreement.”
It’s always interesting
to me that couples often fear that they are incompatible if they encounter
conflict within their relationship. Conflict and the ability to address and
resolve it are important aspects to relationships; it says a lot about the
relationship’s strength when a couple or family is willing to confront the
areas of conflict in their relationships. However, there is a myth perpetuated
by society and the media that “healthy” relationships are conflict-free. That’s
an unachievable expectation that can be dangerous to a connected relationship.
How can everyone’s needs
be met if unmet needs can’t be expressed because it is seen as starting a
fight? You’ll notice I changed the wording in my last question from conflict to
fight; I’ve noticed that many times the two words are used interchangeably.
Fight, typically, has a negative connotation that denotes a level of aggression
or force, however. While conflict simply implies a disagreement. Often though,
couples and families see any form of disagreement as a fight and it can feel
dangerous to the relationships. I teach my clients that it’s important to
recognize that you can have a conflict/argument/disagreement and the
relationship can still feel safe. How can you safely have a disagreement? I
believe that if couples can set up a few rules to how they are going to “fight”
that they can maintain safety, not just physical but emotional and
psychological as well. Below I’ve listed a few of the boundaries that I
recommend couples start with while encouraging them to add their own personal
ones that are relevant to their situations:
Use “I” and “me”- if it’s important to you than make sure you are keeping it about who it is important to. “You” statements can feel very blaming.
Keep the volume in check- while some people’s voices get very animated and the volume increases as they get elevated, regardless if it’s from excitement or frustration, it can be very scary. No yelling and screaming!!!
Keep the language respectful. Personal attacks on character, name calling, mocking, being sarcastic, condescending, or patronizing are all ways that can leave people feeling devalued and demoralized.
Telling your partner how they do or should be feeling. Everyone is entitled to their feelings regardless of whether they make sense to others. Use this as an opportunity to be curious about your partner and their experience.
Timeouts aren’t just for kids. A negotiated and stated 20-minute timeout to re-group and calm down can do wonders for a disagreement while reinforcing the importance of safety in the relationship.
Conflict is an important part of relationships, as Dr. Gottman said they introduce diversity and make relationships more interesting. Additionally, they can be used as avenues to deepen our connections with partners by exposing and discussing vulnerabilities. However, for a conflict to be an opportunity to grow it must feel safe for both parties to express those vulnerabilities. Fight for your relationships and connections, not against them!
Conflict is a Normal and even healthy part of life and is unavoidable at times. Conflict stems from differences in values, motivations, or deep personal feelings. Learning to accept or understand the conflict in a healthy way is crucial and can provide an opportunity for growth and strengthened relationships. Mismanaged conflict can lead to chronic stress, feelings of anger, and strained relationships. By learning a few simple Tools for Learning and being real about conflict, conflict will not control your emotions and behavior.
Examine your own expectations and let go of some things so you’ll be your best version of yourself and able to manage family conflict calmly.
2-Don’t try to please everyone
It’s not your job to make everyone happy and meet their expectations of you. Remember “no one died from disappointment!”
3-Schedule down time
Especially if you have family coming to stay with you during the holidays make sure to carve out time for you and for your marriage. Build self-care into the schedule so you don’t get too overwhelmed.
4-Start with your own family then move outward
Ask yourself, your spouse, and your children how THEY want to spend their time, and make that top priority.
5-Just because you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you have to continue to do it
Traditions are meant to create meaning and promote bonding, not bondage. Choose to skip out on some of the expected things. That’s the beauty of being an adult — you get to choose what you want to do.
6-Set expectations ahead of time
If you know that in the past there have been conflicts, address it ahead of time. Where will family be staying? If you’re hosting a party what are your expectations of others?
7-No on can “guilt trip” you without consent
When you’re approached by a family member about an event you’re not attending or why you didn’t spend as much money as someone spent on you, don’t take the bait!
8-Answer those awkward questions with confidence
You’ve go to love those questions like “So your husband’s still unemployed?” or “So you finally decided to come to OUR Christmas party this year?” answer directly and with confidence.
9-Assume other’s best intentions
With so many expectations swirling, too much sugar, and not enough sleep, it’s easy to get offended if a sister in law forgot to give you a gift, or if your uncle makes an off-handed comment about your parenting skills. Assume the BEST instead of the worst case scenario for their motive.
10-Listen to others graciously and do what you want to do
While it’s nice if everyone’s expectations are met, it’s unlikely. Empathize with your extended family’s disappointment that you couldn’t make their party or you chose to opt out of a certain tradition, and then continue with your holiday plans.
Listen to Julie Hanks, LCSW weekly podcast show You and Yourson the Women’s Information Network
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