Out of all of my mistakes I made financially, the one thing I did right was addressing hard questions early in my relationship with Andrea.
When jumping into a new relationship, it can be easy to get distracted with everything you like about the person you are dating. But before you get to the point where the relationship starts to get more serious, you should ask core questions that could end up leading to more significant issues down the road if they are not addressed early.
The best case is that you know where each of you lands on specific subjects and both of you are on the same page.
Defining the Purpose
The goal is not to 100% agree with each other. It makes sure there aren't any deal breakers that would prevent you from taking your relationship to the next level.
It's possible that you might not agree with your partner in certain areas. In fact, this could provide some good conversations later.
But there might be areas of incompatibility that you will want to tackle early on. Some of them might be things you are willing to bend on. Others might be deal breakers in your relationship.
If there are areas where either of you is not willing to compromise, it's best to figure them out sooner than later. This idea might mean you both decide that it is best to break the relationship. Or one of you might decide to compromise in a specific area. Working through these questions is a great way to learn more about your partner and make your relationship stronger.
I'm not advocating for a contract type of situation. The goal is to get to know the priorities and what is essential to your partner and make sure there aren't any significant issues. Many couples end up breaking up because core issues can't be resolved as they get older. If you are seeking a serious relationship, you want to make sure this is the person you want to spend your life with. Or if it is not meant to be a long-term relationship, you want to ensure both of you are on the same page.
It's Not Just About Marriage
Even if you are not interested in getting married at some point, that doesn't mean these questions and discussions aren't useful for you. If you want to have a serious and deep relationship with a long-term partner, the ideas in these questions will help make you closer and see where each other lands.
Questions to Ask Your Partner
I'm not a relationship expert, but I have been married for over 14-years. Here are some questions that we talked about early in our relationship:
Do you want to have kids?
Kids are one of those things that some people aren't sure where they land or are dead set on what they want to do.
Maybe you are someone who has kids at the top of your priority list. Not having kids could easily be a deal breaker.
In our case, we initially talked about wanting four kids when we were dating. But after we had two, we decided not to have any more. It was an active discussion as time went on, and our perspective changed as we lived life.
Are you religious?
Religion can be a tricky conversation. You don't necessarily have to agree with your partner 100% for things to work, but they might have a perspective that makes you uncomfortable for different reasons.
Maybe you are an atheist and don't want anything to do with God. And you are dating someone who is a Christian. Even if they are okay with your atheism, how will you raise your kids? Will you go to church together? Will this lead to contentious discussions?
Even if one of you is not religious, you'll want to talk about expectations. Discussions such as fidelity, honesty, and trust are healthy.
What's your view on marriage?
It might seem weird to talk about marriage early in a relationship. But you aren't asking if the person will marry you. You are talking about both of your perspectives on marriage.
Maybe you are passionate about getting married and having a big wedding. But your partner is vehemently against getting married. Marriage may or may not be a deal breaker, but it should provide useful insight into how the future might look and if this could be a problem in the future.
In a perfect world, where would you want to live?
When you are young, you might not have much experience with different places in the world. But seeing your partners perspective in what they are currently thinking can lead to great discussions.
Maybe their dream is to live on a farm. Or live in a big city without a car. You don't have to have all of this figured out or set in stone, but hearing what your partner has to say can be enlightening.
Even to this day, I'm not sure exactly where my optimum residence would be if I could live anywhere.
What are your dreams and aspirations?
Similar to the previous question, this idea is to get to know your partner on a deeper level. If they had full flexibility with their time, what would they do? Do they like to spend a ton of time outdoors? Do they want to travel?
I want to reiterate that it isn't about 100% agreeing with everything your partner wants.
Are you a natural saver or spender?
Finances can be an area where couples struggle. If you aren't on the same page, it can make things difficult down the road.
If one of you is a spender and the other is a saver, you can use that to your advantage in balancing each other out. If both of you are spenders, you will want to think about how to pursue your financial goals together.
This discussion is also an excellent opportunity to see if they know anything about financial independence, whether they maintain a budget, how much they have saved, etc.
Even if their financial life is a wreck, it might not be a huge red flag if they are working on turning things around. This discussion can be an excellent opportunity to show them what you've learned and your goals, and this might be enough to have them think about whether what they've been doing is going to work long-term and what financial path they are on.
Do you currently have any debt?
If you end up getting to a point where you get married, having a good idea of your partner's current financial picture can be helpful.
Are they sitting on massive student loans? Or did they rack up large amounts of credit card debt? These things might not be deal breakers, but it definitely can change how you pursue finances together.
It's a Team Effort
When you are on the same team with your partner, it can make conversations easier. Because you know each of you have the best interest of each other in mind. When one of you succeeds, it benefits the team.
It's not about getting your partner to do everything you want to do. You should want your partner to be happy just as much as yourself. This idea might mean compromising on specific areas or doing things that you don't necessarily want to do. This natural “give and take” in a relationship isn't a bad thing, and is an excellent way of showing how much you care for each other.
With that said, there are areas of compatibility that could make it difficult or impossible to get close to your partner. These questions help bring up these possible red flags early, along with bringing each of you closer together. For example, if you desperately want kids, and your partner doesn't want kids, you might want to consider if this is a long-term relationship.
Over time, as your relationship grows, your conversations will change. They might think they want XX now, but end up changing as they get older.
This growth is part of what happens with a healthy relationship.
Each of Us Learns More About Ourselves Over Time
It would be great if we understood ourselves 100% by the time when we become adults. At least in my own life, every year I'm learning more about myself: what I want, what I like to do, and who I am as a person.
When I talked to Andrea about these questions early in our relationship, my answers would be somewhat different than how I would answer them now. In fact, I'm not sure I would even be able to answer some of them 14 years ago. But a lot of the core ideas in what I want out of life have stayed the same.
The most significant difference for me at this point is that I'm learning how much I want my time to be more flexible than it is. If Andrea had this perspective when we were dating, this could have led to some great conversations, or she might decide that our financial goals at that time didn't line up enough.
If I'm honest with myself, I realize there is a lot more I have to learn about what I want out of life. I have a driven personality that is always pushing towards something. If I didn't have a day job, how would my time look? When the girls go to college or graduate college, where would I want to live?
I don't have any definitive answers, and I'm okay with that. Part of the journey of life is figuring this stuff out. And I'm excited to be on this journey with my life partner.
About My Story
I'm a one woman kind of guy. Before meeting Andrea, I didn't date much. We ended up dating for 6-months and got married 6-months after that.
Part of why we went so fast was because we talked about serious ideas like this early in our relationship.
I'm learning that what makes me happy is having a close relationship and bond with Andrea. This idea doesn't mean that we never have any fights or arguments. But we are continually working on our relationship and figuring out how we can serve each other more.
One example of this type of discussions: the other day, Andrea brought up the idea of having a high schooler come in a few days a week during the summer to do fun things with our girls. Go to the pool, do crafts, etc. Right now, the girls stay at home while I work and get pretty bored during the day.
My initial reaction was that the girls getting bored during the summer while we work is part of growing up. It teaches them how to be creative with their time. But it became clear that this is very important to Andrea. During her childhood, she was bored continuously at home during the summer without much she could do, and she wants to provide a more fun summer experience for our girls.
Who is right in this discussion? I think we both have valid points. But since this means so much to Andrea, I think it is something I should compromise on. The girls will still have an opportunity to be bored and figure out how to use their time, and they will have a chance in hanging out with someone fun who they can connect with and partake in fun activities.
This decision does a few things:
- Allows me to show Andrea that her opinion is as important as my opinion.
- Even though I think I have a good point with my perspective, I also understand her side as well. And I could be wrong. The girls have a lot of free time during the day that they end up spending watching tv, video games, etc. This experience should help their mental state of mind during the summer and give them lasting memories.
- It frees us up to focus on our day jobs during the week, without feeling guilty that we aren't giving the girls enough attention. It will cost some money to do this, but we can make up for it by opening up Andrea's schedule a little bit during specific days.
Making Each Other Stronger
I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. And having open and honest discussions with my partner helps accomplish this.
I am forced to think outside of myself and my perspective. Life is much bigger than me or what I think. And there are times when I am wrong or misguided. By doing life together in this way, we will make each other stronger and grow our relationship at the same time. This benefit also extends to our whole family and friends, and we already see the fruit of our labor.