It’s important to enjoy the one-on-one time you get to share with your partner, but there are times when you may want to venture into less idyllic territory. According to experts, there are some key uncomfortable conversations that all couples should have to build a successful relationship.
“Couples tend to avoid difficult conversations by describing themselves as ‘avoiding conflict,’ ultimately leading to a buildup of resentments,” Dr. Tabori Ildiko, an LA-based clinical psychologist tells Bustle. But in order for your relationship to truly grow and flourish, you have to talk about the difficult things as well as the things you love about each other. If you’d really like to keep these conversations conflict-free, be intentional about not placing blame on each other. Instead, pay attention to how your partner is feeling as you dive into tricky topics together and be supportive or comforting as needed.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Carolina Castaños, deeper conversations like these can come up when you’re dealing with a stressful or painful situation. If that’s the case for you and your partner, make sure to wait for a time when you are both calm to dive in, she tells Bustle. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re having trouble navigating a certain conversation alone. It’s crucial to understand the impact that you have on your partner and how awareness of it can benefit you and people who are close to you. “Sometimes we need help to look inside and realize what is happening with our feelings,” Dr. Castaños says.
Here are some expert-recommended conversations to have with your partner to keep your relationship going strong.
1. Past Hurts, Disappointments, And Traumas
You may be familiar with the rule to never talk about your exes on a first date, but once you’re in a committed relationship, that no longer applies, Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, a relationship therapist in NYC, tells Bustle. In order for your relationship to grow deeper, it’s important to talk candidly about the most difficult parts of your past, she says. It can be hard to share stories about your painful memories, but creating an open dialogue early on can make this a little bit easier.
“If there is a feeling that you will really be listened to without judgement you are more likely to bring it up,” Ross says, “so tell your partner you really are available to for difficult conversations and will listen and not offer interpretations or suggestions.” Instead of offering unsolicited “solutions” for something your partner is struggling with, be sure to listen closely and remind them that these stories are safe with you.
2. What You Each Need Sexually
“Sex is an important part of a relationship, and although many people wish their partner would just know or figure out what they want, that is an unrealistic expectation,” says Ross. If you and your partner are sexually active, sleeping together is a primary source of connection between you, Ross says. While it will likely become more comfortable to talk about what you want in bed the longer you are together, if it’s not addressed openly and made a priority, you and your partner might assume you aren’t sexually compatible when you’re actually just not being direct.
3. What Counts As Cheating
For some people, flirting with someone else might seem like cheating. For someone else, kissing other people may be totally fine. Instead of waiting for one of you to cross a line, go ahead and have a clear discussion about where your boundaries are as a couple, Robyn Vogel, MA, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor and couples coach at Come Back To Love, tells Bustle. “Decisions about boundaries are important,” she says. “They provide couples with a guidepost for their relationship.” That way, if you ever encounter a situation where one of you breaks one of these standards, you won’t have to argue about whether or not it was inappropriate.
4. What Makes A Relationship Good
It may seem totally unromantic, but having a conversation about what each of you specifically wants in order to continue the relationship is important for securing a stable future, sex and relationships therapist Cyndi Darnell tells Bustle.
Don’t use Jim and Pam from The Office or Elio and Oliver from Call Me By Your Name as your standards for true love though. Darnell says that it’s important not to compare your own relationship goals to fantasy, but to instead look at couples who you admire in your own community. Ask, “what makes them great?” and, “what qualities do these partners embody that you actively see in their relationship style?” Darnell says.
5. Discussions About Finances
It’s been said that you should never talk about religion, money, or politics in polite company. When it comes to your relationship, that rule couldn’t be further from the truth. Sex and relationship therapist Candice Cooper-Lovett, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle that finances are definitely something you and your partner should touch base on. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to do that, try creating what she calls “pulse check meetings.” Whether you want to set aside time once a week or twice a month, Dr. Cooper-Lovett says that scheduling an intention space for conversations about what’s going well and areas of growth and improvement can be helpful for bringing up difficult subjects with your partner.
6. Whether Or Not You Want Children
If you and your partner aren’t on the same page about whether you want a house full of kids, no kids at all, or something in between, you could end up with a lot of built up resentment down the line, certified love coach and relationship expert Jacqui Rubinoff, tells Bustle. “There are already enough challenges that come up in relationships as it is, so you want to make sure your core fundamental values are aligned so you can go through life on the same team,” she says.
This may seem like a scary topic to bring up, especially if your relationship is still pretty new, but Rubinoff says that talking about this soon is much better than waiting until you’ve been together for a long time to broach the subject. “You can casually bring it up over a glass of wine at your apartment or somewhere comfortable,” Rubinoff says. Just make sure that you are both relaxed and have each other’s full attention. “If you are meant to be, it should go smoothly if you are both on the same page.”
7. Family Dynamics
Even if neither you nor your partner have family members living nearby, opening up about your family histories is important to growing as a couple, Cora Boyd, a dating coach in Seattle, tells Bustle. “Your relationship with your family is hugely formative for how you approach any kind of intimate interpersonal relationship,” she says. Talking about family politics can be complicated, painful, or even embarrassing, but opening up about them helps you both know each other more deeply. In order to do this effectively, be clear about why you want to talk about it at the beginning of your conversation, Boyd says. This helps you and your partner start on the same page and keep the line of communication open.
8. Religious Beliefs Or Non-Beliefs
“Even moderate faith will play a part in you or your partner’s daily life,” certified relationship expert Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. It’s definitely possible to have a healthy mixed-religion relationship, but being open with each other early on is key to avoiding issues moving forward, she says. If you attend religious services, set aside time for prayer, or just feel that spirituality is an important part of who you are, be intentional about sharing that with your partner.
“When talking about something that you and your partner will potentially disagree on, it’s important to not just disregard what they’re saying,” Mahalli says. “You need to validate their point of view. That doesn’t mean that you agree but acknowledging that you see where they’re coming from can lay the foundation for open communication.” This conversation can even present the perfect opportunity to talk about your individual journeys before you met, so that you get even closer than before.
No matter how uncomfortable it might seem to really get into a convo about cheating or potential kids, the momentary awkwardness could really pay off. Once you’ve broached these sensitive topics, your relationship with your partner is sure to be deeper than ever.