You’re in love — deeply, passionately, crazy in love. You want to move in together. You are sure you want to share the rest of your lives. You want to marry.
Stop! Before you reserve the moving truck or buy the ring, take the time to discuss the issues that can make or break your relationship. Love really isn’t enough. Once the pheromones calm down, once you get over the intoxicating time of new love, how you handle these topics will decide whether you will have lasting love. It’s essential that you are on the same page, or at least in the same chapter, when it comes to your feelings or convictions about each one.
Fidelity. Do you have a common understanding of what being faithful means? What would each of you consider to be “cheating”? Is it okay with you if your partner has friends of the other gender? Where is the line between being a friend to others and doing things that will jeopardize your relationship?
Sex. Few couples keep up the frequency and intensity of new-love sex. What is a comfortable rhythm for each of you? When and how and how often do you like to have sex? If you like it in the evening and your partner only wants it in the morning, it can be trouble. How adventuresome or athletic are you each willing to be? How generous are you in satisfying each other?
Money. This is even harder for many couples to talk about than fidelity and sex. What are your attitudes about who should provide for the family? Who should pay the bills? Do you have similar ideas about what should be mine, yours, and ours? Have you been honest about any debts that you are bringing into the relationship? Are you on the same page about how money is spent and how much should be saved? Who is going to take responsibility for such things as insurance, taxes, and retirement accounts?
Work. What is the role of work in each of your lives? Are you in agreement about how hard each of you should work and the choices you should each make about bringing in the money? If one or both of you is in a high-powered career, what are you each willing to sacrifice to make it possible? If one of you out-earns the other, does it matter in terms of decision-making? Will the agreement change if you have children?
Leisure time. What are your ideas about how much of your leisure time you spend together and how much you spend with your individual friends? Is it okay with each of you for the other to go out for a guys’ or girls’ night out? Do you have strong feelings about what can happen then? What do you like to do together that will ensure that you will continue to have some fun as a couple?
Health and fitness. Related to the use of leisure time is how you each regard the importance of the basics: getting enough sleep, eating well, getting in some exercise as part of your routine. Are you in agreement about bedtime and about nutritional choices? Are you supportive of each other in building activity into your lives? Do you have similar views about getting to the dentist and routine doctor visits?
Social media and gaming. What is the place of video gaming, texting, and computer surfing and chatting in your lives? Do either of you have strong feelings that some sites or games aren’t appropriate? How much time can be devoted to gaming and screen time before it becomes a threat to your relationship?
Church, charity and volunteering. Do you share religious or spiritual beliefs? If not, do you respect each other’s? If you have children, will there be issues about which religion they will be raised in? Do you agree about how much time and money should go to charitable work and volunteering to better your community?
Kids. Are you on the same page about having children? If you are going to have kids, do you have similar ideas about when and how many? How about discipline? Do you share an approach to child-rearing? And how will you each distribute time for childcare, carpools, kid activities, and family time?
Relationships with in-laws. How much time do you think you should spend with relatives? What occasions are non-negotiable events for each family? Where do you set your boundaries? Are relatives welcome to drop in any time they please or do they need to have an engraved invitation three months in advance to visit you?
Chores. Arguments about who cleans what have pulled many couples apart. Do you have similar ideas about who should do the laundry, the food shopping, the cooking, the cleanup after dinner, and the general straightening up of the house? Who is supposed to take care of the trash, the yard, the snow shoveling? It’s easy to fall into stereotypical roles that neither person likes. Do you have shared standards for how clean is clean enough?
Partying. Are you in agreement about the use of alcohol and recreational drugs? Gambling may also fit into this category. How much, if any, is okay? When do you think someone has crossed the line and it is a problem? What will you do if that happens?
Conflict. How do you each handle conflict? Do you have the tools you need to negotiate differences? Do you avoid conflict? Blow up? Stomp off? How should your partner handle it when you are upset or angry?
Planning for the future. As heady as the present may be, if your relationship is to last, the two of you also need to be on the same page about where you think you are headed. Do you have similar goals? Are you mutually committed to those goals? Of course, goals may evolve and change but it’s important to have some idea of what you both hope for the future.
Don’t assume that of course you and your true love are in agreement just because you are in love. Once the wonderful haze of new love settles into daily loving, these are the issues that can become deal breakers. Better to talk about them before making a commitment than to find yourselves astonished, angry, and saddened by huge differences that can’t be resolved. Serious discussion now can prevent a painful breakup later. Even more important, conversations about these issues can help you get to know each other better and to lay down a united and strong foundation for your relationship.