How To Talk About Your Relationship's Future

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: how to talk about your relationship's future.

Q: “My girlfriend and I have been together three years now, and I'm pretty sure this is it. I know we both like to daydream and play things by ear, but sometimes, I wonder if we should be mapping out our future more as a couple. We're both 26 — how far ahead should we be planning? When should we decide if we want kids, or whether to get married, or where we should settle down? I don't want to plan my whole life, but I also want to live intentionally. How can we talk about the future of our relationship and make sure we're on the same page?”

A: Thanks for the question! Relationships are all about balancing the present with the future. You’ve got to have some idea of the direction that you’re heading (and that you’re heading in the same place), and you’ve got to make space to just be in the moment and enjoy it. Being too rigorous can make for an awfully boring life, and being too in the moment can prevent you from achieving your bigger-picture goals. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but here are eight tips for mapping out your relationship’s future in an intentional and balanced way.

1. Start With Praise

A lot of people can get intimidated by talking about the future. So intimidated, in fact, that they forget what these types of conversations actually mean. You’re not trying to talk about your future to torture your girlfriend or make her freak out. You want to talk about it because you want to spend your future with her! Does she know that she’s “it” for you? If not, I’d highly recommend starting there. Say something like, “You’re my person. I can’t see my life without you. The idea of thinking about spending our lives together makes me so freaking happy.” Something simple like that opens up the doorway to talk about your future in a joyful way, instead of a pressure-driven one.

2. Talk About How You Talk

Talking about the future can bring up fears, insecurities, and anxieties. Just as important as talking about the specific details of your future together is talking about the best way to talk about the future. You mentioned that you and your girlfriend are both daydreamers who like to play things by ear, so it’s sounds like you probably have similar communication styles. Still, it’s worth asking your girlfriend questions like, “what’s it like for you when we talk about the future?” and “what’s the best way for us to talk about our future?”

3. Get Clear On What You Want

From there, it’s time to spend a little time thinking about what you’d like out of your lives and your relationships. You already mentioned most of the biggies in your question — do you want to have kids? Do you want to get married? What places are you interested in calling home? What do you want to do with your careers? Do you have any financial goals?

These are huge questions, of course, but 26 isn’t too early to start thinking about them, especially given that you guys have already been together for three years. Use those daydreaming tendencies to picture different lifestyles for the two of you, and see what feels like it fits. You may find it more useful to think in multiple timelines. Where do you guys want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years? Sometimes changing the scope of your focus can bring more clarity. When you talk about it with your girlfriend, start with general questions like, “what do you picture when you think about us in the future?”

4. Think About Setting Yourself Up For Success

Planning your future isn’t just identifying what you want; it also involves figuring out how to get there. With the stuff you know you want, start having conversations with your girlfriend about how the two of you can get there. Say something like, “I know we’re both daydreamers, but I want to make sure we set ourselves up to keep living the kind of life we want to live.” This process can help really big lofty goals feel a bit more tangible.

For example, let’s say the two of you dream of eventually owning your own house. What do you need to do now to preparing for that? Maybe it makes marriage seem more appealing because the tax breaks can give you some money to put into savings. Or let’s say you love your life as it is now. What would you need to do to ensure you can maintain your lifestyle?

5. Identify The Unknowns

Of course, there are probably going to be lots of things that you aren’t clear about yet. You might not be sure if you want to get married or not, or where you’ll want to live at every stage of your life. It’s helpful to simply name the things that you’re unsure of. This can make talking about the future less intimidating, since you’re acknowledging that you’re not mapping out every tiny little detail.

6. Plan Check-Ins For The Unknowns

Let’s say you guys just aren’t sure at the moment whether or not you want to have kids in the future. You don’t have to make any concrete decisions right now; you can prolong decisions you’re not yet ready to make. Ask your girlfriend, “I know we’re not ready for this yet, but when do you think would be a good time for us to talk about this more seriously?” So for example, you might be able to agree to check in about it in one or two years.

7. Have Lots Of Smaller Conversations

It would be way too intimidating to sit down and have a huge pow-wow about your entire future. It’ll be much easier and less intimidating to have multiple conversations about it. Try to weave the future into your conversations on a regular basis. If you see a gorgeous house for sale while you’re walking down the street, ask your girlfriend, “what do you think it would be like to own our own place one day?”

8. Be Flexible

Life can have a funny way of knocking our plans off course. Even if you guys are on exactly the same page about all your major milestones, life rarely goes as planned. You might both feel like you want to get married, but realize it’s not that important to you once you get into the nitty gritty of wedding planning. One of you may change your mind about kids. You may get a great job opportunity to live and work abroad. That’s part of the balance of being in the moment and planning ahead — recognizing that things can change at any moment. Throughout your conversations about your future, make it clear that your plans are never going to be written in stone.

Best of luck!