We all bring expectations into our current and future relationships, and it's important to recognize and discuss these expectations.
Past histories and future expectations play a much more significant role in relationships than most of us realize. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment, frustration, and resentment, but open and honest conversations can head off a lot of these feelings before they even begin.
Gary Chapman’s wildly popular book The 5 Love Languages details five different ways people feel loved. The 5 love languages include gifts, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation. Understanding your love language, as well as that of your partner, allows for a much deeper understanding of how to adequately serve the other. Knowing that receiving gifts was low on the priority list for my husband enabled me to quickly understand that little gifts, however thoughtful, would never be appreciated in the ways that I wanted them to be. My husband isn’t ungrateful, it just wasn’t the primary way in which he felt loved. The point of my gift giving was ultimately for him and not for me; while I enjoyed giving the gifts, I was glad to learn about more effective ways to really make him feel loved and appreciated.
Understanding your love language, as well as that of your partner, allows for a much deeper understanding of how to adequately serve the other.
Negative Communication Patterns
We all behave a certain way when confronted with conflict, and the way you and your partner respond to those situations has a big impact on the overall health of your relationship. Generally, most people fall into one of four patterns during tense situations; withdrawal, escalation, negative interpretation, or invalidation.
Those who withdraw tend to avoid conflict at all costs, leaving issues unresolved and allowing feelings of resentment to grow. Escaladers are typically more vocal, argumentative, and are reluctant to let things go. Negative interpretation occurs when one or both partners have their own preconceived notions or interpretations of situations or assume that their partner’s opinions are inherently negative. Invalidators fall into patterns of saying hurtful things to emphasize their point and convince the other that they are right.
It's essential to honestly evaluate which pattern you fall into, as well as how your partner tends to behave.
It's evident that none of these are good patterns of behavior, but are nonetheless often times our knee jerk responses. It's essential to honestly evaluate which pattern you fall into, as well as how your partner tends to behave. Doing so enables a deeper understanding of your tendencies, as well as better ways to handle one another during times when emotions are heightened.
Finances are a huge point of contention for many couples and look different for everyone. While many specifics won’t be worked out until marriage, discussions about money are critical while you’re still dating. Knowing spending and saving habits should help you make a more informed decision as to whether or not your partner is someone you can sustain a life with.
Whether or not you are a spender or a saver, financial habits determine the overall lifestyle you have or envision having. Conflicts about money are one of the most cited reasons for divorce, and having constructive conversations about short and long-term financial goals early on will help eliminate strife later on down the line.
Discussing expectations regarding kids may seem like a no brainer, but it's another area that leads to huge contention later on. Often times partners may differ in their ideas regarding children, and go into marriage assuming that the other will change. Thinking that someone will change their stance on any topic is never a good tactic, but it's especially unwise when it comes to feelings on kids. Discussing and being honest about when and how many kids you may or may not want to have should be a conversation taken seriously before pursuing marriage.
Thinking that someone will change their stance on any topic is never a good tactic, but it's especially unwise when it comes to feelings on kids.
No one goes into marriage expecting divorce, but unfortunately nearly half of marriages end this way. While there are many steps both before and during marriage that can help prevent divorce, having an initial conversation about how your partner feels about divorce could alter your decision to proceed with marriage. Perhaps you think that under no circumstances would you ever get divorced, while your partner thinks that it's a viable solution to serious marital struggles. Reconciling your beliefs on divorce is essential, and quite honestly for some couples could be the difference between a marriage that lasts or fails.
Although past decisions are not an easy topic to dive into, it's especially important to discuss your previous relationships and sexual histories with one another. Knowing whether your partner has had zero sexual partners or 10 can have a lasting effect on your relationship and future marriage. Both of your views on sex and the place you feel it holds in relationships will undoubtedly have an impact on your current and future relationship.
Both of your views on sex and the place you feel it holds in relationships will undoubtedly have an impact on your current and future relationship.
Religion and Politics
While many relationships where individuals have differences of opinion regarding religion and politics are successful, these areas can be long-lasting sources of strife and division. Reconciling different beliefs regarding religion and politics takes work and effort, and if a reconciliation of differences is to occur, open and honest dialogue (that can often be confrontational) needs to take place.
Depending on how important your political and religious beliefs are will determine whether or not you can make a long-term relationship work with someone with whom you fundamentally disagree. Beliefs also tend to be reinforced over time, and what can start out as a small difference can easily turn into a huge point of contention for you and your partner. It's important to honestly assess your own beliefs and the conviction with which you hold them; politics and religion often drive how you view the world and determine what you find valuable. Again, while there are certainly couples who can and do agree to disagree, exploring whether or not you and your partner are able to do this is absolutely critical.
It is important to honestly assess your own beliefs and the conviction in which you hold them; politics and religion often drive how you view the world and determine what you find valuable.
Families of Origin
The families we grow up in absolutely play a role in shaping who we are as adults. The patterns we saw from our parents, the relationships we had with our siblings, and the habits of our childhood have a permanent impact on our adult lives. Detailed discussions about more than just cherished memories will provide insight into deeply ingrained patterns and expectations of both you and your partner in regards to communication styles, holiday traditions, vacation plans, dream homes, and so much more.
Open and honest communication is essential for relationship success, and the deeper you and your partner are willing to go the more you will understand about one another. This deeper understanding will allow you to love your partner better, but also holds the potential to prevent or minimize even the most challenging aspects of married life.