What Timothy Leary can teach you about having BIG CONVERSATIONS with your potential fiance

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I'm not yet an Offbeat Bride — right now I'm an Offbeat Girlfriend Intending to Propose at Some Point Yet to Be Determined. I've been dating my beau for about six months, and a few weeks ago it just clicked with me that I want to marry him. But we haven't yet had any conversations about married life or other big deal-breaker questions like kids and money.

I know we need to have those conversations before I pull out a ring and pop the question (and yes, I plan to use a ring), but I'm at a loss for how to do so without seeming like I'm going through a laundry list. How can I do this right?

SilhouetteAww, congratulations on perhaps finding an awesome partner, and double congrats on your plans to propose. SQUEE! Exciting.

So, the only way big conversations are going to feel like you're “going through a laundry list” is if you bringing them up one after the other after the other in a short period of time. Do not rush the process of getting to know your partner. I know it's exciting to feel like OMG THIS IS IT, but take it from me: I knew pretty much within a week of making out with Andreas that I wanted to be with him for the long haul — but we didn't get engaged for six years.

There's an impulse to seal the deal NOW when you feel that rush of OMG THIS IS IT endorphins — but take your time in getting to know your partner, and the Big Deal talking points can arise naturally over the course of months or even a year. Or, heck, if you're crazy slow-pokes like us, even five years — although I'd argue that most of our Big Conversations happened over the course of the first couple years.

When you take your time, you can let these Big Conversations arise organically — ie, you have dinner with a shared friend who's having problems paying their student loans, and then on the drive home you start talking about your own finances and how you both feel about consumer debt, budgeting, and saving.

But sometimes, some things just don't come up naturally in conversation. You have to plan it! In that case, it's a delicate game of set and setting — which is actually a Timothy Leary concept that's usually applied to drug use. But, uh, it's perfectly applicable for Big Conversations too!

Here's the general idea: The set is the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood or expectations. The setting refers to the physical or social environment. In other words, make sure you're both in the right set/mindframe to have a big conversation (is anyone stressed? rushed? irritable? hungry? feeling insecure) AND you're in a good setting (not going to be interrupted, not shouting over loud music, not going to be overheard, etc).

My favorite settings for Big Conversations:

  • Long drives
  • Relaxed brunches (dinner feels too serious!)
  • Walks
  • Cuddle sessions that are NOT foreplay or post-coital

Before launching into a big discussion, test the waters — “Is now an ok time to ask you a big, sorta philosophical question?” Be ok with it if your partner says no sometimes. Remember: there's no rush. If you get a no every time you ask to talk about bigger issues, then you may have a communication issue there that you'll want to address before thinking about getting engaged.

If you're mulling over what topics to discuss, there are entire books dedicated to that subject, so it's a bigger issue than I can get into in a blog post.

But I will toss it out to my currently married readers: what topics do you wish you'd discussed before getting married?

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Comments on What Timothy Leary can teach you about having BIG CONVERSATIONS with your potential fiance

  1. I wish we had talked more about how much time we would spend with our families. Before we got married it wasn’t a big deal if he spent time with his family every weekend, and I went occasionally. After we got married he assumed that I would go with him every weekend, and I assumed that things would stay the same as before. It is something we have compromised and worked on, but it would have been nice to talk about each of our expectations before the wedding.

  2. Agree 10,000% about getting to know your dude over time… let these questions come up, and come up again, because sometimes people’s first reactions aren’t where they end up. I’ve been with my guy for more than 5.5 years (we’re marrying next month), and it’s been a delightful and educational journey..

    • Totally! I knew pretty early on too…(in fact I didn’t pursue him till I was pretty sure already, but that’s for complicated reasons that are irrelevant to this discussion)…but he’d had his heart broken in a previous very long term relationship in which they had discussed marriage so I knew I had to be patient and wait till he was ready. We’ve been together 7.5 years and just got engaged last month. There’s still things we’re discovering about each other but all the big questions have come up and been hashed out long ago. Not saying you should wait that long, just sharing my experience 🙂

  3. My fiancée and I have both agreed that we actually will never lead into a question with something like “Can I ask you something?” or “This is pretty heavy–is this an okay time?” We both freeze and feel terrified for that split second between the lead-in and the question. When, in fact, talking about these “big issues” is always not at all scary for either of us. If we find ourselves treading emotionally wrought waters, we just calmly ask for a rain check and come back to it later.
    The important thing to know in initially talking about BIG ISSUE is that you don’t have to come to an agreement, compromise or decision. You don’t need to agree, you don’t have to find common ground. Not yet. Just finding out where you each stand and letting that sort of marinade in your minds is key. Then, later, you can revisit.

    • I want to second this. My husband and I started dating at 16. He didn’t want kids, I wanted five. He wanted to go ahead and get married, I wanted to wait until at least 21. He hated organized religion, I couldn’t imagine a family with out passover seders and binai mitzvot. But we were sixteen, so it didn’t really matter.

      Two years later, when we graduated from high school and surprisingly stayed together, we revisited everything. After all, if we were going to actually stay together long term, we needed to know if it could work. He was willing to accept at least one kid and “see from there” and he’d spent enough time at my family gatherings to determine he could be comfortable participating in Jewish family life.

      People change. And people who mesh well tend to shift toward the middle and compromise almost with out realizing it. So feel free to bring up some curiosities (rather than a scary “Can I ask you something” you could segue with something like “So I realized we’ve never talked about how we feel about ____”), but don’t be broken hearted if his answer doesn’t match yours right off the bat.

      • “And people who mesh well tend to shift toward the middle and compromise almost with out realizing it.”

        I totally agree with this. My fiancée and I have done this time and again. The other day I was talking about something, and he just cocked his head to the side and said, “I thought you said before that you didn’t want to do that?” I just sort of stopped and realized that I know I’d always felt that way, but at some point, I’d changed my mind. Without knowing it, without ever thinking consciously about it. It was something he wanted, but I had been against.

        A big part of that, I think, is experiencing life together. Seeing your S.O. in different life situations and getting to know the ins-and-outs of their standpoint can completely alter your way of thinking about what a life with that person would look like. It’s a part of your own personal growth as well as your growth as a couple. Because we’re all always still growing!

        • This has happened to me several times!! I thought I was being wishy-washy, so happy to hear it put in this perspective!!

    • Agreed on this.

      It’s a much smaller deal but the other week my boyfriend suddenly came out with “Can I ask you something? Would it be ok if we met up with someone at *gig*?” (sounding nervous) where normally he’d just say “X is going to meet us there”. (Even if I have no clue who X is.)

      It turned out he wanted to make sure I was comfortable with it because the ‘someone’ was an ex-girlfriend (ended welll a long time ago, both moved on completely) but even so I was completely fine with it, what made the conversation awkward was the big “I am going to ask you something you might not like” entry into the conversation.

      • I know! Even in that split millisecond between intro and question, I’m like “OMG he’s going to ask me if I can make the house payment” or “He’s going to ask me if it’s okay that he invited his parents and the house is a wreck so we’re going to have to clean for a million years!!”
        And, really, it sort of makes the question a little suspect. You’re suddenly irrationally suspicious of why they’re asking, like, why? Is there some REASON I would mind–even though you aren’t actually suspicious of your significant other at all!

        • ahaha- that reminds me of how my dad starts money conversations with “Can I ask you a personal question?”

    • Agreed. My fiance didn’t want any kids when we first started dating. I knew that I wanted one child, and that not getting the opportunity to experience that would be a dealbreaker for me.

      We talked about it. A lot. It was essentially therapy, for both of us. And eventually he came to realize that the reason he didn’t want kids was that his parents were truly terrible parents, and there was no partnership, and there was very little joy in their experience of child rearing because they didn’t create any for themselves.

      Once he realized that he was not his parents, that we had a much more collaborative partnership, and that raising children cam with great joys as well as great burdens, he decided that he definitely wanted to be a father to our child someday. Really it was the fact that he could do wacky science experiments with them and turn them into baby nerds that swayed him. And I sobered to the harsh realities of child rearing instead of my solely rose-colored-glasses view. It’s our differences in personality as a couple that helped us both reach a middle ground on that, and so many other issues.

      • exact same thing with me only roles reversed, I was set on not having any kids (I thought I would be a terrible parent) FH wants kids very much and while I’m still a bit nervous on the idea he brought me around with the promise of making our child a super geeky, super cool kid.

  4. This is a great post! I have been personally polling my married friends with the same question of “What kind of things should we get talking about?”
    And while the honey and I are both OK with having these big conversations, he’ll often just out of nowhere after dinner say, “When do you think we should buy a house”. Short stammer from me, and then I usually ask for a bit of time to think. Then, we sort of work our way into the full blown convo.

  5. My partner and I have been together for about a year and a half and, like you, I know I want to be with him forever. For us, the topic of getting married came up when I first started having visa problems. I’m American living in the UK, he’s English. After those problems sorted themselves out we decided that, while we definitely want to get married someday, right now isn’t the best time, I’ve just started my PhD. I would say, echoing people above, that if you’re sure about him, make sure the time is right to start the discussion, but also to let the conversation come up naturally.

  6. Lol, I thought you were going to suggest taking some hallucinogens beforehand. Definitely a deep conversation mode…but you may not remember it later. And it might not make sense. 😉

    • Heehee – this made me cackle! I can’t honestly remember the last time I had a serious conversation on hallucinogens… it usually denigrates into impersonations of HedonismBot within a matter of minutes.

  7. I just want to agree wholeheartedly with the point about big topics coming up organically. We’ve had so many talks about how we want to raise our kids (someday) after seeing badly behaved kids at the supermarket!

    I’m not married yet, but my list of things to talk about in some kind of marriage-prep setting is: divorce, general conflict resolution, household management, financial roles (ie, who brings home the bacon), family/holidays, life goals.

  8. I was at that point to when I first started dating my fiance. About 4 months in, it just suddenly clicked, and I was thinking,
    “I’m totally gonna marry this guy.”

    I got excited. REALLY EXCITED. But I had to force myself to calm down so I didn’t jump on topics like babies and houses and OMG MARRIAGE, and proceed to freak him out.

    The topics came with time. We’d just be talking, then all of a sudden we’d get onto talking about housing. A year later, his sister-in-law was pregnant and we started talking about kids.

    It’ll all come organically. I’ve been with my fiance for almost 5.5 years now. We got engaged at 5 and a couple of months.

  9. Though we’ve already talked about it Fiance and I are going through a bunch of the big topics again so we’re both on the same page before the wedding.

    Cheesy as it sounds, we got one of those workbooks for engaged couples (I don’t know the name of ours, but it’s good. I’ll find out when I get home) and will get a bottle of wine and go through a chapter or two.

    • We’re reading 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do” by David & Claudia Arp and Curt & Natelle Brown. I live in TX for about 6more days, and he’s in VA. We’re doing each activity over the phone. But, we’ll be driving cross country in my move to VA an stopping at Diners, Dives and Drive Ins restaurants and redoing each date. I’m almost as excited about this journey as he is. =D

  10. Well, my sit. is different, so maybe I can be helpful (or Not helpful, lol).

    My bf HATES questions such as these. It is not that he doesn’t want to be w/me or not see a future together, his personality is just 100% of the “wait and see” variety or “why are we talking about this, we’re not facing it right at this exact second.” Plus I think some men are just less inclined to have these sort of conversations…they’re not really going to say “goody!” to a book about “difficult conversations before you get married for life,” you know.

    It’s been a long process. I will try to point out, as the situation is appropriate, things like “good thing we planned ahead for that situation” or “too bad, if we had talked about it earlier, we could have prevented such-and-such…” etc. (We do actually have fun conversations too, ha!).

    After a couple of misunderstandings, and me saying “this is going to keep happening to us unless we talk about things beforehand. It’s like preventative maintenance for your car”….he has consented to go through a similar book to the one above. I just ordered it so we’ll see how it goes….

    I do think that going through a book of questions might be good, it establishes the book as the “neutral 3rd party,” instead of being the “girlfriend who keeps bothering me about these hypothetical future situations.”

    Just wanted to leave that for anyone for whom that might be helpful. I wish he would understand, I’m really…NOT trying to be annoying, I just see the immense value in talking about these situations BEFOREhand, before feelings are hurt, and so we can create realistic expectations.

    • I think this will be really helpful to you, and beneficial to your relationship. Good move. 🙂

    • JB, your comment is very helpful! I sometimes have a tendency to take it personally when my partner doesn’t want to talk about our future. We’ve been together 2.5 years, and we both knew early on that we’d be together forever. We relocated to a new city and moved in together after dating for 6 months.

      Part of our “offbeat-ness” is that we’re both not sure how important marriage is to us. We definitely believe that a piece of paper or a ceremony won’t make our relationship stronger or more committed. On the other hand, the legal protections that come with that piece of paper (hospital visitation, child custody if one of us dies, etc.) matter a lot to me. And the public commitment appeals to me, too…partially because I get irked when people call him my boyfriend instead of my partner.

      I think the neutral third party helps, and I’m getting better about really listening to his opinion instead of just trying to get him to agree with mine :/….that gets better with practice :).

  11. Oddly enough, it was those big discussions that clued us in that we were planning on getting married. Within 2 weeks of starting dating, we were looking at house plans and figuring out what changes we wanted. We’d always been upfront about how many kids we wanted that sort of thing. Most of those big issues? We’d at least discussed if not come up with a working compromise within 6 months of dating. 2 years later, our friends and family clued us in that they were waiting for us to be engaged.

    • That’s what happened with us – we naturally came to these topics and realized, suddenly, that it meant we were ready for forever together before either of us realized it.

  12. My husband and I started doing The Commitment Conversation (http://www.equalityinmarriage.org/cc.html) before we moved in together (4 years ago) and then we do it again every year.

    It talks about how to bring up the conversation as well as very open ended questions.

    However, I, also, want to stress that these discussions should be ONGOING. Things change, people change, life changes and you want to make sure that you are both on the same page or at least know what page the other person is on.

  13. Sean and I took one big road trip as our first date, moved in with each other when we got home, and then got married 3 months later. Nearly four years later–we’re still awesome, and have handled any Big Questions as they have arisen. Getting married so quickly is definitely not for everyone, but we both knew we wanted to, so we went for it. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that you and your partner or spouse are going to be continually growing and evolving. If you know, accept, and love this, everything else is infinitely easier. We are both different people than we were when we met–we are similar, and have many of the same values and core, but have also both grown. We talk ALL THE TIME, which helps us like crazy. If something is big enough to be upset about, or to even spend tons of time thinking about, we talk it out–even if it turns out to be silly.

  14. I’m lucky and while most of the conversations have come up organically, I raised the issue of there being some things we should talk about and my FH said to just ask. We have had tough talks occasionally, and learned that we need to talk through it, but we always need to keep things open. I need to remember that sometimes the first conversation leaves me upset and even if I think I want a conclusion, I have to leave things open.

    Organic conversations are great, but if you need to know something, raise the issue. It depends on how you talk with your partner, but you have to be able to talk with them somehow.

    As for conversations, I am glad we have talked about kids, marriage, our families and how we want our relationship to be different, parenting, time, household chores, willingness to move. We’ve covered his past and my past, conflict resolution strategies, unexpected pregnancy/abortion. My FH has a bad habit of avoiding conversations he is worried about, and we’ve talked about that.

    Another option is to do counseling together of some form. It can be a retreat – religious or not – or counseling with your officiant, or counseling with a secular counselor or therapist. We have agreed to see a counselor together just to make sure there isn’t something we should have talked about. Neither one of us comes from good family relationships so we want to make sure we have good strategies for not following those patterns.

    • “My FH has a bad habit of avoiding conversations he is worried about, and we’ve talked about that.”
      Oh I totally do that. How did you address it? I really want to fix this as it has caused some complications in the past.

  15. I admit I did rush into talking to my partner about these kinds of things it’s only been seven months. It was my own fault of being scared, I was with my ex partner for four years and we had this all planned but he never made the move for it and with in three months of breaking up he had someone new and had already moved in with her. Luckily my new partner has been wonderful and we have discussed it all it’s just a matter of time when we decide to jump ahead and get engaged and I’m quite content with that 🙂

  16. Our situation was a bit different, as we were engaged within two weeks of meeting (although we didn’t get married for four years). My personality type is also really blunt, so the majority of those convos were discussed in those first two weeks and weren’t at all organic… but that is me! I don’t just let things happen lol!

    We also did premarital counselling, and that was just like a refresher course before our marriage. I would say it was pointless, but I have seen so many couples not do premarital counselling that really should have, so I suggest it to everyone.

    ANYWAYS, back to the topic, what is the one thing I wish I had discussed with my husband before we married? If we have children, where do you envision yourself living? I sort of always planned on living downtown, whether we had kids or not. My husband always planned on eventually buying a house which basically equals millions of dollars (not going to happen) or the suburbs (me thinking ewwww!).

    This topic isn’t necessarily resolved, but I think it will just play out organically with whatever God throws at us. It also may not be much of a topic for the non-offbeat since most people eventually move out to the suburbs. Or if you both love the suburbs it isn’t an issue. But it is the one thing my hubby and I should have discussed.

    • I’m much the same actually. I knew I wanted to get married, I knew the kind of man I wanted to marry and I talk a lot about all sorts of stuff. So when FH asked me out, he knew that I wanted to get MARRIED, not DATE (which we only did for 2 months). Because we are both incredibly intentional and forward thinking, we made time on our dates to discuss such things. Now we’re reading a book for engaged couples which is very helpful for thinking of questions and topics we hadn’t already asked.

      I’m the kind of person who, whilst making dinner with FH will, out of the blue, ask him if he’s ever considered adopting instead of having biological children and what he thinks about my desire to do that. That’s “organic” for me. If there’s something on my mind, I have a very hard time shutting that off. But that’s one of the things FH loves about me :). I”m also the kind of person who values commitment. So that FH was willing to commit to me from the start has given us a safe relationship to raise sticky topics in. Even though sometimes we disagree and fight, we fight for our relationship first.

      If you have a hard time raising these topics, maybe getting a book to read together would be helpful.

        • oh yay! Someone else who has this kind of experience! I was chatting about this with FH last night and was a bit concerned that I was so very odd for having this perspective 😀

          • No, I definitely have this outlook too! I mean, yeah, I want to see how my potential FH acts in different situations (family gatherings, stressful times like tax time, etc), but I just date- I only want to be with the person I want to marry.

            I don’t even know if that made sense, but basically I agree with your entire first comment!

  17. I think it’s a good idea for the couple to know how much personal space/”alone time” each person needs. If one or both partners is an introvert, this is important.

    It took me about 6 years to just know when my husband wanted to be alone. It took a year or two to figure out that I needed to ask if he wanted to be by himself. It was harder in our first apartment, which was fairly small. Now that we have our own offices in our house, it’s not much of an issue. 🙂

  18. My guy and I have only really been together for 6 months so far, but it’s surprising how many of these big conversations we’ve had that have just come about organically. Take for instance the subject of kids. His parents have three dogs and once he told me he wanted two dogs because three was too many. I made a joke about it being the perfect number of children as well and it launched us into this long discussion about children. I guess even more surprisingly was that we both decided that we wanted two girls, if possible. It really is amazing how these things come up when partners are honest with each other about what’s on their minds. We just kind of talk and it all works out.

  19. I think almost without realising it the ability to talk about anything was always one of the things I looked for in a relationship. If I couldn’t talk to a guy I knew it wasn’t going to work out. (Or in one case if I could talk but would never get a straight answer.)

    I met my FH through ‘debates’ online (which ranged from casual ‘what if’s’ to borderline flame wars) so one of the first things we learned about each other was how to have big conversations. (Or really minor ones that seemed big because everything does online.)

    I like the organic approach but if I want to know something I will address it directly, but phrased as a hypothetical rather than something that needs to be worked out because our whole relationship hinges on coming to an agreement. “What do you think of this idea that if you’re going to have kids you should do it before you’re 30?”

    As other people have said it’s also important to remember that people change their views over time (in the above example apparently 30 doesn’t seem nearly as old at 26 as it did at 21!).

  20. Well, I’m not married to my fiance yet, but I have been married before. I wish my ex and I had discussed not only if we both wanted children, but WHEN. I had always imagined myself being a mother before the age of 30, while my ex wanted to wait until we were in our late 30s/early 40s. It ended up being one of many deal-breakers because I felt I couldn’t afford to wait that long-I’d end up resenting him if I was unable to conceive at that point because I’d always be thinking “this might not have happened if we did this 15 years ago!”

  21. I’m 17 years into my second marriage (the first one lasted 15 years), and here’s my short list:

    1) Pay very close attention to how well you communicate, regardless of topic. Do you get truth? Do you get comments that are intended to manipulate your emotions? Or that are what they think you want to hear? The ONLY acceptable answer is TRUTH – the good, the bad, the ugly! You can’t even begin to know where compromise might be necessary if you don’t know what the real deal is. That was, ultimately, the deal-breaker the first go ’round.

    2) Children – not just how many or when, but methods of discipline, expectations on chores, dating, milestones, etc. It is VITAL for parents to present a united front and be consistent for the kids to be emotionally healthy and “normal”. They can’t meet expectations that change from one parent to the other and/or from one time to the next.

    3)That pesky money thing: It is possible to live happily ever after with someone whose views on money are COMPLETELY alien to your own, but this is good information to have beforehand to avoid friction down the road. Plan out how to accommodate the differing views. If one is a spender and one a saver, for example, allot “community” funds that go specifically to community expenditures – bills, home improvements, etc. – and then allot “his” and “hers” to do with as they will – spend or save.

    4) Intimacy: While the relationship is new and fresh and exciting, you think it will always, always be that way (and it can be, more or less), but having babies alters things, age alters things, “life” alters things. It would be advisable to chart out how you plan to deal with life changes as they come so you’re not completely thrown for a loop when they do. Again – communication is key.

    There are certainly other things that are “big conversation”-worthy, but the ones outlined here are the major issues I’ve seen in my own relationships and in those of my friends/relatives.

    • Number 3 is excellent advice!

      This is the system we arrived at by trial and error. I’m not so much a saver as a planner, I’ll have a mental list of stuff I want and allow myself to spend so much at a time. FH is a spender who sometimes doesn’t think. He forgets that if he’s bought gig tickets this month that money isn’t still there to buy DVDs.

      So we each have our own accounts and pay a fixed sum into a joint account to pay the bills whatever’s left is ours to spend. It not only avoids any resentment about who gets to do what with the left over money, it makes sure the bills actually get paid!

    • Oh I totally agree with number 2). Simply saying ‘right I want to have the first of our two kids when I’m 27’ doesn’t say a lot! Your own upbringing, what you wish was different about your own upbringing, things you’ve learned from family and friends, things you know know you wont allow/do with your own kids are just a few things of many that effect raising children (I imagine, we’re not there yet :))

      On the topic of big questions, I think the ‘softly,softly’ approach might work for some but one thing my fiance knows, is that he NEVER knows when I’ll bring up serious topics! But that is fine, because that is me, and we can handle it because we know eachother well enough. We know we may change our minds, meet in the middle or just hold our ground firmly and we know that we’ll have to work around that. When we first started dating about 3 months in he asked “So, how long do you think people should wait before getting engaged”, at that time I froze and muttered “2 years is more than enough”, and realised that he was just as blunt as me. Oh and we got engaged 2 years and 5 months after meeting, thanks to our laid-back lazy jeweller relative taking his time and finding the ‘perfect’ place to do it ;).

  22. My boyfriend and I have been together off and on for about eight years, and I think every time these questions have come up they’ve been very organic. We’ll start talking about kids when we’re at family gatherings, and see his cousins with their new babies. Or about money because we’re moving in together and want to know how the other handles debt, savings, etc.

    I think what I’ve realized is that the “big conversations” really don’t have to be that big. We could be flipping through the channels, landing on “19 Kids and Counting” and one of us remarks, “I could never handle that. If I ever wanted more than one kid, I would adopt.” And then we’re off into talking, hitting some points like about how many kids or how we want to raise them, but never needing to make concrete decisions. You get a better sense of the person when you don’t put them on the spot. We haven’t discussed everything yet, but I know we will when the time is right. We’re in no rush.

    • “You get a better sense of the person when you don’t put them on the spot. ”

      Oh I completely agree. If I am put on the spot like that I tend to either answer rashly with an over-exaggeration of my initial feeling about it, or say whatever I think they want to hear. Then later I get frustrated because they don’t know the truth but feel awkward about bringing it up again.

    • I think it’s the opposite for us. A casual comment while watching TV (for example) from one of us is usually a surface-level reactive statement, a knee-jerk reaction to the positive or negative aspects of whatever we’re watching. I think my partner and I both come from a more thoughtful and centered place when we approach questions solely in the context of what’s right for us. It’s when I put my partner on the spot that he stops and truly thinks about how he feels (and why) and can give me a nuanced answer, and it’s the same for me.

  23. Ariel, the book you link to on Amazon has a distinctly conservative Christian perspective (in the intro it tells me to “stay out of bed” with my boyfriend!). Do you know of any similar books that might better fit a liberal secular couple?

    • YIKES! Clearly I didn’t read the book description that carefully before linking it. I don’t have any specific recommendations, no — and I’ve removed the link to that book!

  24. May not be a great suggestion for all couples, but my boyfriend & I are pretty laid back about our relationship as it is: we often play “question” games. I ask one, he answers it, asks it back to me, I answer it. He asks one, I answer it, I ask it back to him, he answers it. Or whatever we want to do.

    Quite a few of the topics mentioned here have come up during our game.

    • My partner and I actually both got enthused by the idea of marriage nearly a year into dating. We also did / still do the question game (kind of like Truth or Dare but without the Dare, which tends to pull you out of profound conversation territory and more into look-what-I-can-do-with-my-legs-behind-my-ears territory). The conversation came about naturally and mutually.

      Being freshmen in college at the time of our first marriage talk, we knew it would be premature to make that commitment so early on and also knew that with two years left of school there was a chance we’d change our minds. We decided we would reassess things after college, three years later. Here we are now, five years in, engaged to marry next year, and every day we continue to learn more about ourselves and our values. The JOURNEY, not the DESTINATION, right?

    • My boyfriend and I have been avid question-askers ever since we met. Usually I would email him some questions, he would respond, I would respond to his responses….back and forth. He would email me a new set of questions, I would email him a new set, etc. We’ve been doing this for over 2 years now, even though we live together. It lets us tackle any major questions/conversations, as well as silly, random questions.

      We are hardly in the same room at the same time due to his work/sleep schedule and me raising our sons, so emailing our questions to each other is our method of keeping the communication open when we can’t talk directly to each other.

      We do the same thing via text, if a question pops up and we want to ask.

  25. Don’t be alarmed if you find out your guy doesn’t have all the same plans or views that you do. Although my FH and I were immediately attracted to each other and felt like we had known each other our whole lives, we quickly discovered within the first 2 weeks that we had differing, if not opposing plans. He, having already been married briefly, had been left with a bitter taste in his mouth toward a future marriage commitment and a family. I felt strongly that I wanted to be married before we moved in together. We both agreed that we would like to adopt a child, but for different reasons.
    I had to make the decision whether to cut my losses early and move on or to invest my heart, time, and memories into the chance that our common experiences together may end up influencing what we want out of life. While I can completely understand why someone would cut and run early while little is invested, I am so glad I stuck it out to see what would happen.
    Over the next 2 years we both have changed our minds a lot, with me moving in 13 months into our relationship without feeling guilty or coerced and him deciding that he would like to be legally attached to me forever. I am saying all this to underscore the point that people change their minds and if you don’t agree on major things but are in no hurry to say “I do”, you can give yourselves time to see if you can reconcile any major differences. About 18 months into our relationship, I had to be honest with him that I’d had a change of heart and wanted to try to have a baby one day (instead of or in addition to adopting.) I had to be honest with myself how important this was and that was a pivotal point in the relationship. He decided after much thought that he could work that idea into his vision. We have become stronger as we have continued to communicate our expectations of our life together. Take your time and remember that above all, just be true to yourself.

  26. Totally agree with what others have said about not getting too disappointed if his answers are not what you want to hear. I’ve been with my fiance for 6 years. In the beginning I got the “this is it” feeling too, but then we did start having the conversations, and more and more we discovered how different we are! Eventually it pushed us so far apart that we broke up.
    That period gave us both a chance to think about what we really wanted and what was really important, and we both came back into the relationship willing to compromise. We are now engaged and have agreed on and bought a house together (NEVER thought that would happen!).

    There are a couple of thing for me (like, not wanting children, EVER) that were absolutely non negotiable. Everything else that I thought was important, turned out not to be so when we realised we really fricken love each other!! 😀

  27. In our case we decided we would get married within a few of months of meeting, and then had a looooong engagement which has allowed us to have all those big conversations at a leisurely pace.

  28. I think that is such a cool way to have thoughtful “grown up” conversations in a hectic life. My best friend and her husband had to live long distance the year before they became engaged and they had a similar weekly email ritual that they both looked forward to immensely. They took turns asking each other questions and were able to really think about the answers without feeling the pressure to answer immediately.

  29. While my partner and I are really pretty open with conversations and good about taking the other person into account regarding opinions, sometimes I’ll completely shut him out over something big. At that point I remind him I need “time to process” how I feel or think about moving bases/having kids/holidays with family/deployment overseas before I can participate in an actual conversations about it.

    Now we’ve talked about anything and everything before and after commitment, but sometimes I just have to see what I think about something. Like old-school film, I need time to process and develop an answer. 🙂

  30. This blog and these comments have been extremely..EXTREMELY helpful for me. I’ve been a lurker on here for months… perhaps unrightfully so… I have a BF a wonderful, talented, respectful, spoils me rotten for certain man who fits my life values in every EXCEPT ONE… at the 7 month mark I wanted to have a big conversation… things have been perfect I knew he is IT… we were snowed in in each other’s arms… He told me he didnt believe in marriage. Does not believe in the paper the ceremony the whole shebang but would happily cohabitate. As the survivor of 2 previous cohabitating relationships I know that I do NOT want to do that again. This is a deal breaker for me. I told him I would give him 6 months to really re think and re evaluate his value on this and if he felt the same way I would…very unhappily… have to part ways.
    Since that time I am scared to even bring it up and talk to him the one other time I tried it turned into a smashingly bad fight. I feel like I dont know what to do or how to make this rational again…

    Besides this one thing he is amazing… we are amazing together. I know that this issue he has is some baggage left over from an abusive fiance he had in the past… I do not know how to restart this conversation or help him heal and move forward with me. I desire the happy union of marriage so much and it was only here on THIS blog that I thought a wedding and a lifestyle conducive to who I am is possible as the whole wedding factory for the most part is barfable. Seeing all tehse smiling people here make me so happy and also sad too that I am not among the ranks… and also officially the last person from university (who is not alternative life-style oriented) who has never been married… its really starting to get to me…. sorry for rant ladies… this whole thing is just…. such a source of hurt and I dont know what to do (besides dump him while it sounds easy… what a tool dumping a perfect man with this one issue, too?) alas… alack….

    • Solipsikat – Sorry if you didn’t want advice and you were just ranting…but your post reminded me of a line from a song by Bright Eyes –

      “So if you want to be with me
      With these things there’s no telling
      We just have to wait and see
      But I’d rather be working for a paycheck
      Than waiting to win the lottery”

      I guess it comes down to how you feel about him and it seems that you love him very much. My parents are always telling me that you can’t change anyone, you can only change yourself. So going on in your relationship, knowing you may not change him, you have to ask yourself – am I being true to myself? How long do I want to do this?

      My fiancee had some serious cold feet issues, some of which stemmed from his parents’ recent divorce, and some from crappy exes. So I can understand how you’re feeling, like “dang it I didn’t do any of this to you!” I guess if I were you I would just keep loving him and tell him how important it is for you to talk about this issue. Good luck!

      • I totally picked that song for the obligatory/obnoxious slideshow of pictures of us growing up and then together as a couple for the currently non-existent rehearsal dinner.

    • I think that seven months is pretty early for many people to even bring up the topic of marriage, much less hear a statement that essentially kindly says “you have six months and then there will be an ultimatum”. Some know within a month or two (my current partner and I) and some don’t know for years (my sisters and their husbands took more than five)! Is the relationship healthy? Are you having fun? Do you feel safe and respected with each other? Do you share similar values? These are the important questions to ask this early, especially if one person isn’t as ready as the other to discuss another level of commitment.

      From what you’ve said here, you sound perfect for each other, and I mean ESPECIALLY because the issue of marriage is forcing both of you to confront past hurts. You had bad experiences cohabiting without marriage. He had an abusive ex that he had intended to marry. I mean, really, in terms of the potential for a relationship that can create deep, deep trust out of some pretty wounded places, it doesn’t get any more puzzle-piece perfect than this. 🙂

      This is a beautiful opportunity for you both to participate in a very awesome, healing experience if you can look past the ‘issue of marriage vs. cohabitation’ and truly see each other and hear what the other person is saying.

      For each of you, it sounds like the issue isn’t really at all about the formal institution of marriage, but each needing the other partner to help find ways to learn to trust each other and know that this is totally unlike what you’ve been through before.

      I also had an extremely abusive ex-fiance. I deliberately avoided dating anyone who could potentially be marriage material for more than ten years. I simply didn’t allow the idea of a permanent relationship to have any space in my life because I was trying to prevent myself from feeling so trapped ever again. I had a lot of healing I needed to do.

      While you certainly can’t go into a situation thinking you can change him and it sounds like you know this, what you CAN do is suspend your judgment of the situation and give both him and you more time to feel safe with each other ‘as is’. Maybe eventually he’ll feel safe enough with you as a result of feeling no pressure that he’ll realize that what he’s afraid of happening won’t happen here. But maybe also you’ll realize that the wonderful relationship you have with him isn’t remotely like the others and you won’t need the formality of marriage to announce what you’ve already found to be true.

      Good luck. 🙂

      • While I agree with the prior commentors, I was wondering if you could negociate? I live in South America, and we have intermediates: “civil union”, “cohabitation certificates”… not quite a marriage license, not quite a “sexual roomates r us” situation!

  31. I’m lucky because I was able to ask my fiancee some of those big questions that scare men off from the very beginning- even when our relationship was a spring fling with no plans for the future. We were raised in two dynamically different countries, so anything I asked him was out of sheer curiosity rather than a litmus test for his worth as a potential husband. “In Japan, what do people think about _____?” I found out his views on fidelity, long-distance relationships, womens rights, marriage, children… nearly everything that would freak a lot of people out within days of kinda-sorta-dating. It ended up making me fall for him, and I feel so confident about the life we’re going to build together.

    If you’re scared to ask, maybe you could put a spin on what I did? If you want to know your boyfriend’s opinions on something, do some wikipedia searching and read him a little factoid like, “Did you know that in (some country) they do (some thing)? What do you think about that?” If he thinks you’re asking him a loaded question and gets uncomfortable, you can easily drop it. And hey, you’ll at least have learned a new fact!

  32. The guy and I have been together since high school, so while we feel like we know each other inside and out, I for one (and he agreed) felt that we needed to really talk about the things that seemed like “far away, grown up things” when we first started dating: kids, lifestyle, careers, money. What we do is go on a date devoted to a topic. We try to hit all of our favorite places or introduce each other to something new. Then when, we’re both relaxed, we talk and just see where the conversation takes us. This weekend, I’m taking The Guy to the zoo…where we will discuss how we deal with conflict.

  33. I would also, before proposing to him, see how he feels about you proposing to him. Make this a before you become engaged conversation too.

    I had a conversation about that with my soon to be fiance and he was very clear with me that he would hate being proposed to by a girl. He said that it’s a sweet notion, but out of all the things guys get to do that is the one thing that they would like to do, that if I were to ask him he felt like I would be taking away some of his masculinity. While I admire your guts to do it, I would never be able to do it myself even if we didn’t have that conversation, I would make sure that your fella would be okay with it before following through. I know not all guys feel this way, and your guy might think it’s awesome. Maybe bring it up casually. Fib about it and say you know a girl at work that just proposed to her boyfriend and see how he reacts.

  34. It’s definitely good to let those questions rise organically–otherwise one of you might end up feeling cornered or overwhelmed. Getting to know your potential partner over time is really the best way, I think. It doesn’t have to be years and years. I’ve known my husband just under 2 years and we were married 3 weeks ago. Both of us knew practically from the very day we met that we were made for each other. Everyone around us confirmed it all the time. But we still took our time and decided and discussed things on our own schedule. The result is that we’ve both continued to be deliriously happy, even in the midst of figuring out the difficult stuff. When you wait till you’re both ready to discuss certain things, you’re more likely to both be on the same page (or at least in the same chapter).

  35. Money. That seems like an obvious one, but we never really addressed it – we both made assumptions about what the other person wanted. So on the plane ride to our honeymoon when I brought up us getting a joint account and he froze and said he wasn’t ready to make such a big commitment, things got a little ugly.

  36. One way–probably THE way–that I know the guy I’m dating is the ONE is that these big topics do come up organically. Sometimes we happen into them unexpectedly. Other times I’ll know there’s an issue we have to talk about, plan my points, practice my lines, think about his possible responses…and then it just comes up some other way in some conversation. The best part about it is that it’s stress free. We’re 43, have both been hurt before, have 1 child from an earlier relationship, 1 mother dying of cancer and 1 blind father, and other set of parents alive & kicking & opinionated, so we have plenty to work through. But we really do care about each other and both really want to find the things that work for both of us–really have each others’ interests at heart–so we can talk about these things in plain language, and with very little emotion. That’s especially good in our case because we’re long-distance, so it would be a long time before we could kiss & make up if we did fight.
    Good luck, and enjoy the relationship!

  37. First off – congratulations on being in love! Now, why would you rush to pop the question? If you’re spending the rest of your life together, what’s the hurry?

    I told my future hubby that I loved him over lunch on our first “official” date… I wanted to marry him from the first time we met (when we were 11) – however, I waited through 14 years of being bff’s and 5 years of dating. There is no hurrying the growth part of the relationship.

    Now, after several years, we have touched on just about every subject there is – and we have actually been through a number of “difficult moments” (moving, selling a house, losing a job, etc.). At this point, we really know how the other reacts – no just how they “plan” to react in given instances. There is no substitute for time.

  38. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about two weeks now but we’ve known each other for little less than a year. Our “serious” talks are very nonchalant and laid back. If we were to get married, it would already be a blended family. We’ve already been divorced (both of us to our respected ex’s) and alot of the normal questions that pop up in the beginning of a long haul relationship are kinda expected.

    The one thing I’ve noticed, and it really doesn’t bother me though, is the comparison of ex’s in these conversations. What do you usually compare to when you have your serious talks?

  39. My partner is of the wait and see persuasion, but I like planning and knowing what’s goin’ on. We tend to have the big conversations by accident – we see a nice house and that leads to a “when to buy” convo. It works pretty well – funnily enough I’m putting off getting engaged while he wants to do it now 😛 I think talking about the big stuff is less nerve wracking when it happens incidentally, instead of a scheduled, structured way.

  40. I’m far from being engaged, but I just wanted to say that I read through all the comments and agree with so much that was said. My boyfriend and I have only been together for a couple of months, but we’ve already had some pretty important conversations – namely about kids and our stances on marriage in general. Those are important things to consider right off the bat if you’re really serious about someone.

    I want to emphasize the necessity to be completely open and honest when discussing *anything,* especially the big issues. My boyfriend and I are both fairly guarded individuals, so we tend to hold back a lot of our opinions out of fear of hearing something we don’t like. We’ve both called each other on this and it’s something we’re actively working to change – and with a lot of success so far! The openness is bringing us closer together, even if we disagree; if nothing else, it allows us a glimpse of each others’ minds, and I fall for him harder the more I learn. It’s better to hear a truth that you don’t like than a lie that pleases you, but damages your trust in the other person.

    I also want to add that, thanks to the comments here, I’m feeling much less jittery about bringing up some more big issues with my boyfriend. It’s been very inspiring to read through everyone’s experiences – I’m feeling much more courageous and optimistic now. 🙂

  41. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and a half and while we’re not engaged yet, I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen. We’ve had those conversations pretty naturally. Like other people said — we’ve seen commercials for “19 Kids and Counting” and he’s asked how many kids I want. Or I’ll be talking about a weird baby name I read in the paper (we both work there and I put together the birth announcements) and we’ll discuss possible baby names. Questions about what we’d do at the wedding itself come up when he comes home and catches me watching “Bridezillas.” I’ve mentioned how much I loved living in a particular city and he’s said that he liked (or disliked) the place in question. There have been a few bigger conversations we’ve had on long car rides or whatever — usually initiated by him — but most of that stuff has just kind of come up. I’d say bring it up the same way — wait for a commercial or bratty kids in the store or something and just casually mention it. If you go to a wedding together, use it as a reason to mention what you might want, etc.

  42. The kid thing comes up easy. Just walk through the park. It’s good to watch a person interact with children before you consider marriage. Just like you would their family. As I found it, being around kids generally opens the subject in a pair that’s dating.

    I don’t see it as a deal breaker. Anyone can want children in the future or not want them. I think the best thing is finding a person who is open to the possibility.

    The best policy is to be open with someone your thoughts and feelings. Those big questions need to be asked. Even open the conversation asking about their views on marriage and if that person would like to be married one day.

  43. I think this is more than just an issue between pre-married couples but one which you need to revisit with your married or non-married partner over time. We revisit some important discussions like children, long-term career goals and how many cats/guitars are too many on a regular basis.
    You cannot spend too much time discussing money! It’s amazing the different attitudes and beleifs we have to money and it will take years to nut out where you’re both coming from.

  44. I’ve been with my partner for over four years. We know we’re getting married. My health has just made it sit on the back burner for a while.

    We “click” so completely, that it’s hard for us to bring up serious, hardcore conversations when there’s so much awesome other stuff to talk about! Like Martin Scorsese and The Middle East touring and X-Men: First Class and the new Graveyard album and and and..

    However, since we’re not good at talking about serious things, we tend to write them. Several times now, we’ve written each other epic letters, which has started us really getting to know each other and then led into us talking things out. My surgery, his work, kids (or rather, a definite lack thereof!)… We try not to leave any stones unturned.

  45. My husband and I (just got married) have been together for about 3 years. We’ve always had the kind of relationship where we just talk about whatever comes to mind. I think early on we discussed what we wanted in life and from a relationship. As our relationship developed those conversations came up. Like finances–we moved in together and that was something we had to work out. We decided to try one thing to see if it worked out then revisited the topic and made some changes. I definitely agree with earlier posts that you should not be upset if you don’t agree on something from the beginning. We revisit everything several times–not arguing, just to see where the other is on the issue. John didn’t want kids in the beginning and I wasn’t sure. Now we agree that we want one and have set a time for us to start considering having a child. You just have to keep the lines of communication open and create a comfortable talking environment that doesn’t include consequences for disagreement.

  46. Topics my fiance and I have discussed that I highly recommend:

    How many kids, when, and how we dicipline them. This is easiest to discuss while watching Supernanny! We have had serious discussions about spanking vs non-spanking and if our teenagers are going to get jobs in high school.

    Where you want to live: My fiance just came back from his 10 year high school reunion all gung-ho to move back to his hometown. While I would love to be around his family when we have kids, moving there would mean I would have to completely change careers. This led to a very serious conversation in the Culvers where we stopped for ice cream on the way home from the airport.

    Not just how you manage your money, but how you bring money in. I’m all for pulling a paycheck with a health plan and 401k, especially with wedding planning and possible kids. He would rather be self-employed, and has a bit of career ADD. This is not a bad thing, but it makes me nervous as hell. Definately something to talk about before you legally tie yourself to someone!

  47. Speaking of drugs, do drugs! If you’re into the sort of thing, have an ecstasy night/day. Make plans to devote several hours to just being together while rolling. Go for a walk, cuddle, etc and most importantly, do what ecstasy was first used for, talk with your barriers down! MDMA makes those on it prime candidates for good conversations and removes much of the stress and fear involved. Oh yeah, and it’s great for bonding.

  48. i am about to finalize my divorce and the biggest thing i wish we would have discussed before marriage is children and what do we do if we cannot conceive since we were planning on living simple and on minimum wage we never thought how hard it would be to be pregnant. i loved him but the fights about the babies we lost together due to miscarriage tore us apart and drove us apart now we cant stand eachother. it doesnt seem like something that you wish to discuss before marriage but the more random conversations you have about life and the things that can go wrong helps that much more. say you want to have the finance talk… dicsuss it if how to become steady and how to keep your income and life style you enjoy as well as what happens if you end up really hurting for cash i kno it doesnt sound fun but trust me i was young when we got married and it was hard to realize that we werent right for eachother because the things that we went threw we werent strong enough to do together. you need to find that one where you can talk easily and you dont feel prssured or scarred of the answers because that person isnt gonna be right for you if you cant even have the rough talks. dont put them off even if you arnt looking forward to them none of us ever are. if you wait till your married to have the tough talks you just might be having to make the toughest decisions alone.

  49. I definitely have to say that letting the conversations evolve is really great. Being able to learn those things in a natural course is so much better than being blatant. My boyfriend and I have been working on this lovely little thing for 9 years, 8 of which we were best friends. I would say 90% of the conversations came up by themselves and the rest were mutual curiosities. Take your time, and enjoy each other. It’s so great to learn as much as possible before marriage. (I’m so excited waiting for the proposal I could die! He’s teasing me with the fact he has the ring and the date and keeps deterring me! 😛 )

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