Developing a foundation for a long term, healthy relationship
You are madly and passionately in love, and you have found “the one.” You and your partner have decided to commit to each other through marriage or living together.
In the beginning phase of a relationship, couples can often be shy or reluctant about discussing some important issues because they may believe that it is enough to just “be in love.” However, you can alleviate many future challenges by talking about some critical key issues before deciding to make a long-term commitment. These questions (and answers) can assist in creating a strong foundation that will last throughout the relationship. By being proactive, you can identify areas that may cause stress later on in the relationship.
In the Marriage Preparation course offered through The Family Centre, facilitator Fred Sudfeld identifies that one of the most important areas for creating long-term (and healthy) relationships is to build a foundation of open communication.
First of all, knowing how to communicate effectively builds safety, trust, and respect in the relationship. Can you talk to your partner about important issues and will they be able to listen to and talk about these issues with you respectfully? Are you able to share your feelings without ridicule or judgement?
Conflict is inevitable in a relationship, but it is how this conflict is handled that creates safety and trust. Ask your partner how their parents handled conflict. Did they throw things? Swear? Yell? Withdraw and avoid? Talk to each other respectfully? These are patterns that individuals often learn in their families and may repeat in their own relationships.
It’s important to be able to learn the skill of effective communication so that couples can deal with the ups and downs of everyday decisions (who should do the laundry or pick up the kids from school?). Fred points out that many couples often struggle with these skills which can cause a future break down in the relationship.
Share past histories
Secondly, couples need to share their past histories. Are there some things that have happened that may affect your current relationship? Has your partner struggled with physical or mental health issues? Has your partner been involved in addictions or legal issues? Has your partner experienced abuse in the family or in a relationship?
For most couples, a previous relationship with a partner can influence the current relationship. You may need to talk about your ex. These topics create the opportunity for you to ask your significant other, “So, how has this experience impacted you?” This may be one of the most important questions that you can ask your partner as the past may create challenges for you now or in the future.
Questions to ask
Once a safe space has been created for discussing complex issues in a frank and honest communication style, there may be many topics you wish to address. Here are a few questions that couples should explore.
Of course, asking the age-old question of “Do we want to have a family and what does that look like?” is usually one of the first topics. Many couples are choosing to remain childless, but if one partner expects to have children and the other partner wants to travel and focus on their career, then there may be conflict as these are personal values that should be addressed.
- How will we deal with family issues?
- What role do our in-laws play in our life?
- If we have children, how do we want grandparents to be involved in our children’s lives?
- Where will we live?
- Do we wish to settle down in a small community and stay put?
- Or do we want to move and explore new places?
- How do we build friendships with other people?
- Do we only have mutual friends or are we comfortable having our own friends?
- How do we deal with household chores?
- Does one partner expect the other partner to take care of the home and children or are these duties shared?
- What if one partner wishes to stay home while the other works?
- What are our religious beliefs and if we have children, shall we raise them in a specific faith?
- How will we celebrate holidays?
- And, of course, questions about future intimacy. What are our beliefs about sex? Are we going to maintain a monogamous relationship? How often should we have sex?
- One of the certainties of a long-term relationship is that it will change. How are we prepared to handle this change?
One of the most significant areas that can create stress in a relationship is the handling of finances. This is complex but is often the cause of a breakdown in a couple’s relationship. By openly discussing the value of money, a couple can create guidelines for how to handle their financial future.
Once again, open and honest communication about money can open the door for further discussion because our emotions are linked directly to our spending patterns.
Ask questions such as:
- Will we have a shared bank account?
- Who will be responsible for paying the bills?
- Do we want to purchase a home?
- How much should we spend on a vehicle?
- Do we need to create a budget?
- How do we handle our debt? Should we combine it or are we responsible for our own debt
- Do you use a credit card?
These questions only scratch the surface of discussing future financial decisions.
Build a strong foundation
If you are passionate about building a life together with your significant other and wish to create a strong foundation for the future, focus on building your communication skills and go where it might be a bit uncomfortable. Discuss your values, your past, and your finances. Building this foundation is the glue that will hold your relationship together as you continue to navigate your journey together as a couple. Attend The Family Centre's Couples Classes to get practical tips on developing a strong relationship.
Karin S. Hitchcock, M. C., CCC
Clinical Supervisor, Therapy and Counselling