When a relationship seems to be flailing, it usually stems from some lack of communication. Whether you're holding back what's on your mind or ending every night with a crazy fight, sometimes you just need to sit down and have a proper talk. There are a number of conversations that have the potential to save a relationship, and although they might feel uncomfortable at first to bring up, they could really make or break if you stay with your partner — and it could be a worth a try to get everything out in the open.
"Intimacy is the ability to completely be yourself in front of the other person —warts and all," says psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC over email. "If you can’t share those difficult feelings, be vulnerable, and avoid taking any risks, you will never achieve true intimacy. Healthy relationships are ones where partners share intimacy, have one another’s backs, and feel safe with one another."
Everyone's relationship is different and issues can vary, but if you're feeling distant from your partner, certain topics can help bridge that gap and give your love affair another chance. Here are 11 conversations that have the potential to save a relationship.
Issues with sex can create big divides between couples, whether it's about lack of desire or not getting their needs fulfilled. "Physical attraction and intimacy wane over time with all relationships," says Coleman. "However, when the couple makes an effort to keep it alive, there is no reason they cannot have a great intimate life for many years. If they don’t discuss this upfront and if both can’t work towards solutions, this can become a major deal breaker in the relationship. It’s also a classic reason people give for pursuing an affair."
2. Relationship Boundaries
"It is important to talk about the boundaries each of you have in the relationship, so you can be clear about what would make each of you feel unsafe, disrespected, or disinterested," says therapist Shadeen Francis, MFT over email. "To start this conversation, ask your partner, 'Are there things I might do that would make you want to end the relationship?' This might be a hard question to answer, as many of us don’t have experience checking in on our boundaries until we are already upset that one has been crossed."
3. Relationship Needs
Talk about your needs both as a partner and as an individual. "We have needs that we would like to be met within our relationships; for example safety, support, honesty, and fun," says Francis. "These represent the foundations of your connection, and they are our bonding needs. On the other hand, in our relationships, we still require room to grow as individuals. This may look like desired privacy, solo projects, or relationships with friends outside of the relationship."
4. Relationship Fears
It's not easy, but it's important to not only talk about what you are worried about in your relationship, but to make plans to both ease those concerns and plan for how to handle scary situations together, should they arise. "Fear promotes distance and can undermine your journey together," says Francis. "When afraid, people stop being vulnerable and close off from their partners. Anxiety snowballs, and the longer it lingers, the bigger it gets."
5. Fighting Style
There will inevitably be road bumps in your relationship, but figuring out the best way to communicate can help diminish any volatile arguments. "The solution is not to avoid tough conversations, but instead learning to fight fair," says Francis. "What is it that each of you are naturally inclined to do when you have hurt feelings or are arguing a point? Once you know what your partner naturally does to protect themselves in an argument, you can not only depersonalize these experiences, but make agreements to change any behaviors that are too hurtful or unproductive."
6. Spending Habits
It is important to talk about how each of you handles money and how you want to handle it as a couple. "Are you interested in saving, spending and what purchases can you make without consulting the other?" says relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW over email. "With different spending patterns, there can easily be resentment if one person is thrifty and the other is impulsive and indulgent. Agreeing on a strategy will put both of you on the same page, working towards a common goal."
Even if you're not at that point yet, if you're in a serious relationship that could lead to a family, you need to get on the same page. "Whether you want to have children or not and how to parent them is a huge topic that couples needs to discuss, as there is a lot of room for divergent opinions," says relationship therapist Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC over email.
8. Each Other's Family
You and your partner may have different visions of how you want to interact with your family and their involvement in your lives, so it must be discussed. "It is important for you as a couple to come to an understanding of the boundaries that you want to set with your family," says Milrad. "This will enable you to present a united front to your families and support one another in the process."
9. Alone Time
This is a common topic that is not discussed in most relationships. "Society leads us to believe that when you are with someone, you are supposed to be with them all the time — this is as far from the truth as can be," says psychotherapist Shirani M. Pathak over email. "When you are constantly with your partner, you are actually developing an unhealthy dependency on them. It is actually really healthy for you to have your own interests and spend time cultivating them. That might mean having a conversation with your partner about how much 'me time' you need in order to do so."
10. Work-Life Balance
You can have a relationship and a career, but no one partner should feel like they're not getting in the time they feel promised. "Many people wish to have huge careers, and this can mean long hours at work," says psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD over email. "If that's the case, better to disclose the fact that you won't be at home as much so that your partner can learn to not overly rely on your company."
"Housework is another topic to discuss that can save a relationship," says Steinberg. "Knowing that your partner is comfortable pulling his/her weight cleaning-wise is a big comfort to a lot of people. Many people don't want to be a maid at home to a capable grown-up."