6 Conversations Every Couple Needs To Have, From A Marriage Therapist
It's often the things that are left unsaid that cause the most problems in our relationships: the expectations that we didn't communicate (which usually lead to disappointment and deep-rooted resentment). The times that we were actually hurt and said it was "fine" (resulting in disconnection and emotional distancing through the years). The lack of shared vision and values (transforming into passive-aggressive or just plain ol' aggressive interactions).
And while no relationship is perfect, and there will always be ebbs, flows, and things to work through, there are certain conversations that will create more ease and lead to healthier and more satisfying bonds. We just have to be brave and willing to sit through the initial discomfort of bringing them to the table.
Here are six types of conversations to start prioritizing today:
The "Are we or aren't we?" conversation
While it's not necessary to apply labels to the relationship, it is helpful to know if you're on the same page. Are you dating casually, exclusively, or looking to keep things open, ethically non-monogamous? Essentially, it's addressing the type of commitment you are seeking. While it's often difficult to determine in the early stages as you're getting to know one another, as things develop, you get a better sense of the type of relationship you want with this person.
And remember, you don't have to settle for breadcrumbs: If you want a committed relationship and the person you're with just wants to keep it casual, you're not in alignment. While it may be painful to detach and move on, you're not remaining in a state of perpetual anxiety and suffering, holding on to the hope that one day they might change their mind and want something more.
The "This is how I feel and what I need" conversation
Stop expecting others to read your mind or just "know" what you're thinking or feeling. Set the relationship up for success by having open and ongoing conversations about individual and relational needs. If you find that some of the needs are at odds with each other, for example differences in terms of need for emotional closeness and intimacy, discuss. Where can you both be flexible, and what needs to be a hard NO?
As a reminder, you are not "needy" for discussing these things openly–you are seeking to meet your unmet needs.
The "How are we paying for this?" conversation
Finances make most people uncomfortable, which is why we often tiptoe around the subject. You will have to rip the Band-Aid off on this one and get on the same page, as a lack of clear communication around money can bring about many issues for couples.
Discuss how expenses will be split on dates, trips, etc. Bring up budgets, debt, and saving goals. Don't assume, unless it's been talked about and agreed upon. Be clear on how you want to spend your money, both individually and within the relationship.
The "White picket fence" conversation
We all have a narrative when it comes to the life we envisioned for ourselves. It usually has a look, a feel, a taste to it. For some, it's the white picket fence: a large and cozy home, a traditional marriage, the standard 2.5 kids, and a peaceful, suburban lifestyle. Others would never be caught dead in a minivan, and marriage and kids just aren't in the cards.
These big overarching themes and stories are at the core of our identity. If these stories and values aren't in alignment, the relationship is in a constant state of friction. Get curious about where you and your partner agree or differ in terms of long-term plans, marriage, kids, and career. Are you looking for a traditional lifestyle or a nonconventional one? Consider where you are willing to accommodate and what are non-negotiables.
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The "Let’s talk about sex, baby" conversation
It's not a matter of how often you're having sex but rather the type of sex you want to be having. It's more about how you like to be touched, what turns you on, and the things you're curious about or looking to explore. At the core, how can you create connection through physical intimacy?
And while we may not want to make our partners feel "bad" about what isn't working in the bedroom, faking it and going along for the sake of not hurting their ego is actually hurting the relationship. It's also important to discuss if there is a (completely normal) mismatch in terms of arousal and desire. Remove the word "should" and focus on what works for you and your partner.
The "Beyond the love bubble" conversation
You and your partner exist beyond the cocreated unit. There is a "we," and there is also a "you" and a "me." Families of origin, friends, social/political factors, work/life balance, and more are all external factors that have a real impact on the internal dynamics of the relationship. While our romantic relationship is important, there are also other relationships that require attention and upkeep. Having open and honest conversations about how time and energy will be balanced between these is key.
How to start having these big conversations:
Release the fear of division.
Fear is often the main reason we don't engage in many of these conversations. We fear that if we bring things up, there's a possibility that the differing viewpoints will create division and lead to the end of the relationship.
The reality is the real end begins the moment we start avoiding and sweeping these hard conversations under the rug. We need to acknowledge the importance of these instead of hiding from them.
It starts by changing our mindset: "This will build intimacy in the relationship, or it will let us know that we're not on the same page and are just prolonging the inevitable. Either way, it's a win, and we get the information we need."
Organize your thoughts beforehand.
Second, we can organize and gather our thoughts so that we feel more grounded and in control. We can write down general ideas or get as specific as we need to feel like we've fully processed, digested, and are ready to discuss with the other person.
Don't wait for the perfect time.
We need to stop thinking of the "perfect time" to have the conversation. Let's be honest: There won't be. We just need to make sure that we have the best conditions for the message to be well received. This means that bringing it up at the last minute, without allowing for proper time to discuss, or right before bed when everyone is exhausted or when the other person is emotionally overwhelmed won't be the best time.
Again, it doesn't need to be perfect—just good enough.
Get comfortable with the discomfort.
Don't back down from what needs to be said because of the anxious butterflies in your stomach. Let them be a signal that this is important and needs to be given space. Allow the anxious feelings to flow in and flow out.
Be curious, ask questions, and listen. We're looking for exploration and understanding. Judgment and thinking that you're "right" and they're "wrong" won't serve much of a purpose.
Remember that what matters is the process, not the end outcome. The boldness to stand up and create the type of relationship you want.
We often hear the phrase "Relationships take work," but I think that this idea of "work" often leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I like this one better: "Good relationships require intentionality; they don't just happen." Having hard and uncomfortable conversations is part of this intentionality.
Give yourself grace as you navigate the complexities of these dialogues. You don't have to bring them up all at once, but if you ignore them for too long, know that they will come up, in one way or another.
Maria Sosa, M.S., MFT, is a therapist, holistic health coach, wellness writer, and multi-passionate human. She has a master's degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University, and she is a relationship expert who has been featured on Refinery29, Bumble, Kossie, and the Emjoy app, and more. She is best known on social media as @holisticallygrace, where her colorful, practical, and compassionate content is a source of inspiration for those looking to thrive and grow in their personal and interpersonal relationships.
Looking to incorporate her love of nutrition into her scope of practice, she received her holistic health coach certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and she is also a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. As the host of the “Mind Meets Body” podcast, Maria likes to explore and redefine health by discussing the emotional, mental, and spiritual components that are often left out of the exercise/nutrition centric mainstream definition.
Maria is originally from Venezuela and currently resides in Miami where she provides professional relationship therapy services for both couples and individuals that are designed to assist through life transitions, setting better boundaries, processing and healing from relationship-related trauma, painful post-relationship journeys, and more.