The future is littered with prizes, as Scar so eloquently said in The Lion King. But when you don't know what those prizes might be, especially in romantic relationships, talking to your partner about the future can feel a little scary. It's easy to get spun out about the what-ifs and what-might-bes of life. So what should ask your partner if you're scared about the future?
I'm all about being honest and upfront, but I'm also very clear that there's a time and a place for relationship talks in general, much less discussions about the future — and the time and place varies from relationship to relationship, which is where things get tricky. As tempting as it may be to attempt to plan every tiny detail of life and find out exactly what is on your partner's mind all the time, I try to live in a slightly more in-the-moment manner. Future-tripping sucks and makes exactly no one happy.
"Wondering what's next in your relationship is a perfectly normal experience," marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin tells Bustle. "In fact, to some degree or another, we are always having an internal dialogue about what the future of our relationship might look like." Just because the experience is normalized in your head, though, doesn't mean it feels easy to bring it up with your partner.
"Taking that inner conversation out of your head and making it happen with your partner can feel scary, especially if you aren't sure what their answers will be," says Boykin. Don't worry: Here, Boykin outlines the best way to check in with your partner about the future without making such a talk feel scary.
Remember It's A Process
"The 'where are we going' conversation shouldn't be a one-time discussion, but rather an ongoing process of assessing and sharing your hopes for the future as well as your feelings about the current state of things," says Boykin. "I suggest starting with asking your significant other how they feel about your relationship today. What's working really well in their opinion, and what might need some tweaking?" Rather than springing a spontaneous and serious Talk with a capital T on your partner, allow this to be less of a fact-finding mission and more of a conversational slow-dance.
Don't Be Sneaky
Be straight-up, Boykin says: When you bring this stuff up, don't try to furtively slink your questions in through the back door. Instead, be honest. "Ask them how they feel about discussing the relationship and future goals," she says. "For some people, especially a lot of men, 'relationship talk' can sound intimidating or even suffocating. If that's the case, stop using the word 'relationship,' and just ask them what you need to know." This is about understanding what your partner wants, and communicating your desires. Try not to go in with a objective; instead, be curious about finding out more about your partner — and yourself.
There are tons of questions applicable to finding out more about your partner's hopes for the future. And though it may seem intimidating to bring them up, "the truth is that these kinds of questions are part of getting to know someone, whether you are focused on the future of the relationship or just enjoying the moment," Boykin says. "I suggest making your first goal to understand their dreams and goals and share yours." Though it may seem near impossible to find the time and energy for such a conversation, just do it. I would add a caveat: Be sure enough time has lapsed since you started dating. Though the right amount of time to wait for such a topic to be appropriate varies, these questions probably shouldn't come up on the first date. (Though some would disagree with me.)
Ask Specific Questions
Boykin doesn't mince her words, but instead offers several questions to bring to your partner:
1. "Where do you see yourself living/working in the next few years?"
2. "How important is marriage to you? Do you see yourself being married, or is it optional to a happy, long-term, committed relationship?"
3. "What do you love about your life right now? What are you willing to sacrifice to keep it?"
4. "Do you want children? What if you couldn't have biological children, what would you do?"
5. "What is your biggest life goal right now? What does it mean to you?"
Listen To Their Answers
If you ask your partner if they want children and get a resounding "no," pay attention. "Their goals and dreams will give you insight into what they want, so that you can assess whether or not that lines up with what you want for yourself," says Boykin. "If you see yourself with kids in a house in the suburbs in the next five years and their professional goals include a demanding job with lots of travel and an apartment in the city, then you know that you need to have a deeper conversation about your long-term life plan, because it may be time to call it quits." Though it may seem easier to bury your head in the sand and "see what happens," it's unlikely that your partner is going to change their mind about big life goals on a dime.
Don't Be Cagey
When you ask your partner what they want, you have to be prepared to disclose your desires too. "The key is to share as much as you ask," says Boykin. "Don't turn it into an interrogation or interview where you just ask a lot of questions about future." This isn't just because it's fair, but also because a successful relationship is all about both partners weighing in. "Relationships are a partnership, and so figuring out where you are headed needs to be a team effort," she says. "They should have as much interest in your answers as you do in theirs; if they don't, take note, because that's information about where things are headed just as much as any answer they give."
"Ask one or two of these questions per conversation, and focus on getting to know each other's values and vision for life," Boykin suggests. There's no rush to the finish — you can let this unfold over the course of time. "The answers you need about where the relationship is going and how you fit into their life will come naturally out of the process," says Boykin. So trust it, and enjoy — if you're anxious about the future, that probably means you want one with your partner, so listen closely and keep an open mind.
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