They say ignorance is bliss, but if you're getting serious with a new partner, there are some things you really need to talk about right now.
The early days of a relationship can fly past in a flurry of lust, laughter and fun. By the time you surface for air, you're six months in and officially 'attached'. Which is wonderful, of course. But it's at the 'getting serious' stage that you also need to start planning for a future together, rather than just letting it happen. Being spontaneous is fine in some areas, but a recipe for disaster in others.
If you're in a committed and hopefully long-term relationship and you haven't discussed the following four key issues, now's the time to do it. Here are the conversations you need to have with your partner right away.
At some early-ish stage in your relationship before getting hitched, certainly, and probably before moving in together too you need to talk money. No, it's not very romantic, but it is very necessary. According to one recent study, one in four couples argue about money, so it's best for everyone to be open and honest from the start, and clear about your respective financial situations.
Getting a large debt out into the open is better now than later, when you might be planning to buy a house or have a baby. Money can be a sensitive subject, but according to social psychologist Dr Alicia Renedo: "For women it is natural to want openness about money in a relationship." In other words, if you approach it with tact it's a conversation she'll be happy to have.
So what do we mean by tact? Most importantly, remember that you're talking about your mutual financial situation ("Can we afford to do this?" "Should we save for this?" "How much have we got in savings?"), emphasising the sense that you're in it together.
You don't have to come to any major conclusions during the money conversation: the important thing is that you have it at all. But relationship therapist Elly Prior says what you're looking to find out is if you're happy with how your partner spends her money (and vice versa of course), that you agree on some basic financial goals, and that based on those factors you'd be happy to share your financial assets with her. If you diverge on any of those fundamentals, it's not a deal breaker but it might be better to take a step back from any serious decisions on your future together, at least for the moment.
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In those early, gleeful weeks of a relationship, very little gets in the way of hot dates or long, leisurely mornings in bed. But that might not be the case forever, and you both have to get some idea of what your relationship will be like when the fires of new romance are dampened down. One way to do it is to talk about work. You're going to have a very different kind of relationship with a career-driven workaholic than you would with someone who values work life balance above everything.
How much time you spend together, and how much you spend apart, is very much dependent on your mutual attitude to work. You'll have some inkling, of course. "If someone is clearly ambitious and right from the start makes choices which are more focused on work than the relationship, then there is a message there," says Prior. Choose to ignore such messages at your peril. Instead, talk explicitly about your mutual ambitions, and what it might mean for your life together.
But remember, there is no right or wrong here. You may value your career, while she has a more relaxed approach to work. Both positions are perfectly valid and you should approach the conversation with that in mind. The first thing you might learn from such a conversation is if there are any nasty surprises in store. Does she think she'll need to move town for her job, for example?
"Because in that instance if you are wedded to your family and friends or your home and don't like moving around, then you need to be sure what your partner's expectations are," says Prior. This conversation is largely about preparation. If it turns out she values work life balance and you are anxious to climb the corporate ladder at all costs (or vice versa), you'll both have to be prepared to compromise. In your case, it means making sure work never comes before scheduled time together.
OK, so you're a free market capitalist and she believes in re-nationalising the utilities. You can probably both live with that and differences of opinion like it as long as neither of you are too evangelical about it.
On the other hand, you don't want to fall in love only to find that The One has views you find offensive. Areas like race, religion and abortion can be a powder keg waiting to blow your perfect romance right out of the water. Still, it's best not to approach a conversation on values, ethics or politics directly. You certainly don't want her to think she's being sounded out for views you find distasteful. A few general chats in the pub should be enough to gauge her mindset.
Prior says what you're aiming to find out "is whether you're happy with your partner's values and beliefs", and not necessarily whether you agree with them. "Just that they're going to be manageable for you in the long-term."
Most of the time people with strong and controversial views are happy to spout them. If she has very firm opinions you'll soon get to know about them, and the next move will be up to you.
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She really wants them, and you really don't. She hates the idea of kids, and you can't contemplate the idea of life without a family. "Either way, this can be an absolute deal breaker," says Prior. "I have seen too many couples that got married hoping that a partner would change their mind at some point and they didn't."
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You may have an inkling of her position already, but this really is the time to get everything out in the open. "Start with saying: 'Now that we are thinking about getting serious (or moving in together or whatever it might be), I am really interested in your thoughts about a few things that really matter to me'," advises Prior. Make children top of the list.
Really, there's no wriggle room here. If you are poles apart, it might be best to get out now before you get in too deep. Of course, you may be at a stage in life when strong opinions one way or the other are yet to form. Even so, if you're getting serious you at least need to know that she has not made a firm decision either way.
If you're both undecided, it's still good to talk things through. If you're on completely different pages well, it's best to know now rather than a year or two further down the line, when you're emotionally entwined more tightly than today. You don't have to have these conversations tomorrow, or all at the same time. But you do need to gauge her thoughts on these important issues before you entangle your lives in a more serious way, by moving in together, getting engaged or even trying for a baby.
Because remember, tactful, respectful, open communication is the key to all good partnerships.
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