When you're in a relationship, you probably ask each other a lot of questions. Some are about day-to-day life, some are asked in an effort to get to know each other better, and some might be about your future plans, together or separately. In order to build a life together, there are things that you both need to know. Unfortunately, there are some important questions that never get asked in a relationship, according to divorce and relationship experts, that probably should be asked more often.
Asking questions and getting to a point where you know where the other person stands is important for successful and lasting relationships. If you don't explicitly ask some questions, however, you might not actually understand the relationship that you have and what your partner needs and wants, as well as you might think that you do. Going into a marriage or any other serious commitment without knowing for sure how your partner feels about certain things can potentially make things harder for the two of you later on, should that particular thing ever come up. Knowing where you both stand on important issues, how you handle conflict, and how you can support one another can make your relationship — and any commitment that goes along with it — stronger and more stable.
1. How Much Debt Do You Have & How Will It Be Paid?
All too often, couples don't have concrete conversations about finances, especially before making a serious commitment. "[Y]oung couples with student loan debt are failing to disclose the amount of student debt owed and failing to discuss how that debt will be paid (i.e., individual responsibility vs. joint obligation)," James DeStefano, an attorney at Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost, P.C., tells Romper in an email exchange. If you have student loan debt, especially if you're thinking that it'll be something that the two of you will tackle together, it's important to talk about that, rather than assuming that your partner knows. If you're on the same page, it won't be an unwelcome surprise later on.
2. How Do You Deal With Conflicts & Disagreements?
Though you might not think that the specifics of how your partner deals with conflict truly matters, that's not exactly true. "Do you collapse into tears? Do you attack…fight or flight? Do you retreat into silence? Or, are you able to handle and tolerate listening to your partner’s point of view even when they don’t agree with yours," Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, the author of The Self-Aware Parent, a regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star of Sex Box on WE TV, tells Romper via email. Knowing that you and your partner will be able to work through conflicts and that you'll both be able to understand how the other deals with it will help when conflicts inevitably arise.
3. What Can I Do To Make Your Day Better?
"Most people want to get their own needs met and hence are very quick at judging and blaming their partners instead of asking what it is that they can do to improve their partner's life," Irina Baechle, L.C.S.W., a relationship therapist and coach, tells Romper by email. Simply asking your partner what you can do to make their day better or cheer them up when they're down shows that you care and that you're invested in the relationship.
4. If We Get Divorced, Who Will Claim The Kids On Tax Returns?
This question might not be important right when you meet or even right before you get married, but if you have kids or if you're separated or going through a divorce, it's something that you need to more explicitly address. "If both parents claim the children on a separate return, they are asking the IRS to come knocking," Devon Rood Slovensky, of Slovensky Law PLLC, tells Romper by email. "Separated parents should also coordinate on claiming exemptions."
5. What Are Your Sexual Needs, Desires, & Boundaries?
It's important for couples to discuss sex, and many don't. "Many people often commit to relationships assuming they are aware of their [partner's] sexual intentions, desires, and needs," Noni Ayana M.Ed., a sexologist, principal consultant, and founder of E.R.I.S. Consulting LLC, tells Romper by email. "Although multimedia overwhelms us with sexual content and imagery, we still tend to underestimate the importance of healthy sexuality and intimacy in love-based relationships. We assume partners will be monogamous. We assume partners are sexually healthy. We assume partners want children. We assume sex will be often or at least consistent." Making too many assumptions can leave you feeling confused, disappointed, or otherwise unsatisfied.
It's also of the utmost importance to talk about boundaries. "Even such simple questions as 'does this feel good?' or 'is this ok?' while engaging in sexual activity can go a long way towards providing safety within the relationship and giving one another the opportunity to be open about your concerns and desires," Shira Galston, A.M.F.T., a marriage and family therapist, and cofounder counselor, tells Romper in an email exchange. You shouldn't feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about sex with your partner.
6. What Are We OK Keeping Private From One Another, And What Do We Want To Be Open About?
Knowing what you're going to share and what you (and they) will keep to yourselves is very important. "Some people believe that privacy between partners is a high priority, such as keeping emails, texts, financial information, even entire friendships separate from one another," Galston says. "Others feel it is important to maintain transparency, to the point of sharing passwords and accounts, and checking in with one another before spending time alone with someone there could be a potential attraction to. There is no one right answer here; each couple needs to discuss the issue of privacy vs. transparency and decide together what feels right for them, which often means compromising and meeting somewhere in the middle. "
7. Are You Married Or Living With Anyone?
It sounds basic, but if you're thinking about getting more serious with your partner, it's a conversation you might need to have. "You'd be surprised at how many people simply assume another person is single," Kevin Darné, dating expert and the author of My Cat Won't Bark!, tells Romper by email. "Should they discover later on that's not the case the other person is quick to say: 'You never asked me if I was married or living with anyone!'" It might be better to have the conversation and know for sure than be blindsided later on.
8. Do We Want Children And Do We Share The Same Ideas For Raising Children?
You might think that you know exactly how your partner feels about having and raising kids, but, well, you may actually know less than you think. "Couples often believe that they both do or don’t want children just because they’ve had a peripheral conversation about it, but there needs to be explicit, clear questions asked about timing of children — or not — and if so, how a child will be raised," Dr. Jill Murray, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationship counseling, tells Romper by email. "Women, especially, believe that if a man says he doesn’t want children, he will change his mind after marriage. That’s a dangerous belief to have. If a woman wants children in her future, she needs to set her timeline in advance of marriage and be very clear about it. Don’t leave it to chance."
9. Do You Believe In Seeking Outside Help?
This is a question that you might not even consider asking, but one day, it might be valuable information to know. "Many couples sail through the honeymoon phase without ever asking each other about their beliefs regarding seeking help from a third party when times get tough in the relationship," Weena Cullins, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper via email. "It’s important to ask your partner if they feel comfortable participating in therapy or speaking with a trusted person who may help get the relationship back on track if problems occur. Waiting until problems develop may be a difficult time to discover your partner is not on the same page."
Asking your partner whether or not they believe in asking for outside help and if they're willing to do so if necessary can help you be prepared to broach the topic of conversation if you, yourself, want to seek help at some point.
10. What Constitutes Infidelity?
Cheating means different things to different people; there's no one singular definition. That's why it's so important to ask your partner what it means to them. "One partner may consider it fine to hang out alone with an attractive coworker, while the other may feel hurt by that. One might think an on-going email chain with an ex is no big deal, while the other might consider that emotional infidelity," Galston says. "These views are often based on cultural and family of origin differences, as well as past experiences of infidelity. By asking these questions early on and establishing mutually agreed upon and healthy boundaries, couples will be more aware and sensitive to one another's feelings and boundaries, and can avoid unnecessary feelings of betrayal and hurt later on."
11. Are We Getting Married For The Right Reasons?
Deciding to get married is exciting and important and so many other things, but you also might want to think about if you're making that decision for the right reasons. "People get married for multiple reasons that have nothing to do with love and commitment," David Bennett, a certified counselor, relationship expert, and author, tells Romper by email. "Getting married because you feel like you're getting older, because of pressure from family and friends, or even just to have that special day when 'all eyes are on you' are bad reasons to take that step." It's a big commitment and you might not want to take a step like that if you're unsure whether or not the reasons behind it are sound.
12. Is There Anything Either Of Us Is Feeling Resentful About Or Hurt By, That Has Never Been Said Out Loud? Is Either Of Us Still Waiting For An Apology?
Leaving things left unsaid can ultimately make things worse if you blurt them out or lead to resentment if you're waiting for an apology you haven't received. "Couples need to be able to check in with one another and bring up difficult topics without fear of causing a fight," Galston says. "Resentment will fester over time if it is never addressed; it's always better to explain to your partner what you are feeling, and give them the opportunity to understand, apologize, and respond with their own feelings. And if you sense some unspoken tension with your partner, don't be afraid to ask about it. Just make sure to do so in a soft way, focusing on how you feel, and inviting your partner to discuss what happened without feeling attacked."
Asking questions can be scary, but not asking them, assuming that you know the answers, can be stressful and complicated as well. The conversation might be nerve-wracking, but ultimately you'll be better off for having had it.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.