Whether you are the kind of person who knows exactly what they want and when they want it or you just have vague notions of where you see yourself in 5, 10, or 15 years, it is crucial that you discuss the future with your partner. Letting each other know where you stand on questions like parenthood and career goals is the first step to building a happy life together, both now and in the future. But what is the best way to bring up these weighty topics, and how can you discuss them productively and compassionately? Following these tips is a great way to start.
Decide What Your Goals Are for the Conversations
Before you sit down to discuss a topic as significant as the future with your partner, you should take some time alone to figure out what your goals are for the conversation. Think about what thoughts and feelings you would like to express to them and what questions you want to ask them. For instance, you might want to find out how important owning a home is to your partner or to let them know that you would like to start taking fertility supplements for women because you feel anxious about the possibility of infertility and the prospect of IVF.
This exercise can help you focus and ensure you do not leave the interaction feeling like you did not say or ask everything you wanted to. However, it is not a plan to control what your partner says or force the conversation in a particular direction. Remember, these goals should be based on you, not trying to convince your partner to agree with you. It may help to write your goals down beforehand.
Put Your Cell Phones Away
Have you heard of the term “phubbing”? It is essentially snubbing someone in favor of looking at your phone. Whenever you plan to have a heart-to-heart with your partner, or anyone else in your life for that matter, keep your phones and any other electronics switched off or — even better — in another room. Not only will this allow you to give your partner your undivided attention without being interrupted by notifications, but it will also act as a clear signal to your partner that you are invested in the conversation and committed to working on your communication as a couple.
It is easy to ensure your phones are away when you have planned to sit down and talk, but what do you do if the conversation happens organically? If you find yourself in the middle of an important talk about your future with your partner and are aware of your distracting devices’ presence, simply say to your partner, “Do you mind if we turn our phones off while we are having this conversation? I want to communicate with you without distractions.” You will be surprised what a big impact this small step has.
Listen and Ask Questions
Often, when people talk to each other, they only half-listen to what the other person is saying as they concentrate on formulating their response. This is particularly common when discussing emotive topics such as the future. However, not listening carefully to what your partner is saying results in misunderstandings and encourages them to get defensive.
Show your partner that you care about what they say by giving them space to talk and asking them thoughtful questions. Keep an eye on whether one of you is dominating the conversation, and if it’s you, consciously pause, ask your partner a question and give them the space to talk. Not only will this let them know you value their opinion, but it will also encourage them to treat you with the same respect.
Being truly honest can be scary as it leads you feeling vulnerable. Yet, if you aren’t honest with your partner and with yourself about what you want, you have very little chance of achieving a satisfactory outcome from the conversation. This can make you feel frustrated with your partner for not understanding you, even though you have not given them the chance to do so.
Sharing your hopes and fears honestly can bring you and your partner closer together. For instance, if you are considering getting pregnant after 35 but are worried that this might affect your fertility, you might find that your partner has the same fears. Once you have shared your feelings, you can work together to research your options and find solutions that suit you both, such as getting checked out by your doctor or taking fertility supplements.
Create an Open and Non-Judgmental Environment
Making a space where you and your partner can be open about your hopes, fears and feelings lets them know the conversation is judgment-free. Often our initial instinct is to run everything the other person says through a lens of what it means for us or how it makes us feel. While these things are important, the first step to communicating clearly is giving each other the space to be honest without fear of judgment.
This can be challenging, particularly if what your partner is sharing is painful for you, but even just giving yourself the intention of being open and non-judgmental can help make you aware of your words, facial expressions and body language. If you feel yourself getting defensive or judgmental, take a breath before you reply and consider whether what you are going to say will help or hinder your communication.
For you both to be comfortable being honest, this open-mindedness must go both ways. Let them know if you feel that they are closed off to what you have to say. Instead of clamming up or brushing away your feelings, let them know that you want to be honest with them, but you need to know they are open to hearing what you have to say.
Keep the Conversation Going
You are not going to necessarily solve all your differences and make all the big decisions about your future in one conversation. In fact, if you have not discussed these issues in detail before, the goal of your initial conversation is likely to be about sharing and understanding what your current visions for the future are.
Once you have started a dialogue about your future, it should be easier and much less scary to broach the subject in the future. Periodically check in with each other about where you stand and make sure you both feel comfortable bringing up topics in the future, whether those involve marriage, children, homeownership, travel, or career goals.