Forget “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” For your relationship to last, you have to talk openly and honestly about weighty issues early on, and often.
It might not be easy to ask, “Will you go therapy with me if things ever get bad?” or “What counts as cheating in your book?” but discussing these issues in advance will give you a leg up should you ever encounter them later.
What else should you know about your partner before getting serious? Below, therapists share six questions you should be able to answer about your S.O. a year or so into the relationship.
1. What does “monogamy” mean to them?
You can never be too sure of what “monogamous” means to the person you love, even if you connect on every other level. Get down to the nitty-gritty with your partner so you know right off the bat what sort of behavior is off limits. (For instance, is sharing details about your relationship with a co-worker kosher, or is that entering emotional infidelity territory? Is it cool to “like” other people’s thirst pics on Instagram, or is that huge no-no?)
“You may think you have a good idea of your partner’s views after a year of dating, but don’t take that for granted,” said Marni Feuerman, a psychotherapist in Boca Raton, Florida. “Get specific information about how they view commitment and all that it entails. You don’t want to be surprised by anything. And don’t minimize or deny [beliefs] that don’t line up with your S.O.’s.”
2. When you get into an argument, how does your S.O. process their feelings?
Arguments are par for the course in a relationship. It’s healthy to have them, in fact! What isn’t healthy is committing to a partner who doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to process their feelings. See how your partner responds to feeling hurt or angry, and if they mishandle it, ask them if they’re willing to work on it, said Isiah McKimmie, a couples therapist and sexologist in Melbourne, Australia.
“It’s one thing to know our partner at their best, but to understand them when they’re hurt is something else,” she said. “Do they move away from you when they’re hurt, become defensive or change the subject? Knowing how they respond better equips you for recovering from arguments.”
3. How compatible are your sex drives?
It’s natural for sex drives to ebb and flow through the years, but there needs to be some core compatibility when it comes to your libido ― or at least a willingness to compromise. Otherwise, you may find yourself on your way to a sexless relationship. (You wouldn’t be alone; it’s estimated that as many as 15 percent of married couples have not had sex within the last six to 12 months, according to The New York Times.)
“There’s a lot of room for dissatisfaction when there is a mismatch in libido,” Land said. “Many couples are afraid to address this question head-on because people can easily be hurt if they know their partner isn’t on the same page. But it’s a topic you should never shy away from.”
4. What helps them feel loved, supported and valued?
There’s a reason Gary Chapman’s 1992 self-help book The 5 Love Languages is a best-seller: Taking the time to learn and genuinely understand your partner’s primary love language ― how they give and receive love ― can improve communication and strengthen your bond.
For instance, if you’re unaware that your partner’s primary love language is words of affirmation, you probably don’t realize how important little pep talks are when they’re stressed. And if you don’t remind them that you’re always in their corner, cheering them on, they might start to feel undervalued, McKimmie said.
“Often, when couples show up to therapy, one partner is voicing that the other doesn’t make an effort for them,” she said. “Often, that partner is, but they’re just not doing it in a way their partner can understand. They just have different love languages. The way we intuitively show love isn’t always the way our partner understands love. You can never assume you’re giving your partner what they need.”
5. If things get rough in the relationship, are they willing to go to therapy?
It’s a rare couple that can withstand life’s big struggles without outside help, be it a mutual friend who’s willing to be their sounding board or a therapist. Before getting too serious, try to get reassurance that your partner is on board with getting help, should you need it, Feuerman said.
“You’ll want a partner who’s willing to see a professional and doesn’t ignore or deny that a problem exists,” she said. “It’s really sad to get a call from one partner and hear their partner refuses to come in. Unfortunately, getting help for mental health-related problems is still stigmatized.”
6. Career-wise, where do they see themselves five years from now?
Hopefully, your partner takes a long view of their career and where they want to be five or 10 years from now. And if things are getting serious between you two, ideally you have a good grasp of their envisioned career track and how you fit into that.
“You should know if your partner wants to make VP of her company or go back to law school,” Land said. “Your life can change pretty dramatically if your partner ends up totally shifting careers or gets a career that greatly impacts their finances or quality of life. As with all these issues, make sure you’re always in the know.”