How Do I Make My Relationship Last? 11 Ways To Build A Solid Foundation, According To Experts
In order to build a strong foundation for your relationship, it may be necessary to have an awkward conversation or two with your partner. This might include chatting about tough topics like finances, your sex life, and your boundaries. And while it may not be easy to bring these things up, doing so will definitely help strengthen your bond as a couple.
"Being able to communicate about the hard stuff is what separates relationships that last and those that don't," Theresa Herring, LMFT, a Chicago-area couples therapist, tells Bustle. "It is a fundamental skill that all couples need to sustain a long, healthy, and happy relationship."
After all, talking about these things helps ensure you're both on the same page, allows you to make plans for the future, and even creates space to talk about what might not be working, at which point you can try to reach a compromise.
Of course, these conversations don't have to be awkward. You can certainly talk about money without feeling weird, or bring up sex without squirming in your seat. To do so, it can help to chip away at the awkwardness by chatting about these things more often, approaching them at the right moment, and being sure to listen to each other.
With that in mind, here are some potentially-awkward conversations you may want to have with your partner, according to experts, in order to build a strong foundation for your relationship.
1. Talk About Your Expectations
In the early days of your relationship, you might hesitate to talk about anything too serious, like your expectations for the relationship. But this is a topic you'll very much want to bring up as soon as the moment feels right.
"This is a big one that no one thinks about, but everyone has," Christine Smith, MSW, a therapist and mental health coach, tells Bustle. "What does being a partner mean to you? What does it look like? Who is doing what?"
These questions may feel pointed, but they're essential to forming the foundation of your relationship. "Having clearly defined expectations allows everyone to know their role," Smith says.
2. Talk About How You Show Love
"The truth is we all like to be treated differently," Smith says, pointing to the five love languages described by Dr. Gary Chapman, which include words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of services, gifts, and quality time. And while it may feel weird to talk about how you show love, doing so can be quite eye-opening.
"This helps you both be very intentional about the way you show affection to each other," Smith says, "preventing potential frustration of working hard to show your affection only [for it to] not be received in the way you had hoped."
3. Talk About Goals & Changes
While you may fall for each other at a certain stage in life, staying in love means accepting that you'll both change in big and small ways. And talking about that is key.
By laying the foundation and establishing that it's OK to change, you can offer each other more support, and you can also feel more comfortable chatting about things that don't feel right.
"A goal that is extremely important to you might be completely against your partner's belief system," Smith says, "but talking about it allows you to find what is best for you both."
4. Talk About Your Sex Life
"It is [...] important to talk about your sexual relationship including likes and dislikes, personal limits, and fantasies," Nicole Issa, PsyD, a psychologist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. And while it may feel super weird at first, this is one conversation topic that'll become less awkward over time.
"Once the door is open on this conversation," Issa says, "it can be easier to keep revisiting it as your relationship evolves and some preferences may change."
5. Talk About Finances
It's very common for couples to argue about money and all the ways it can impact the relationship, which is why you'll want to talk about things like debt, spending, and financial goals — however tense or awkward it may be.
"There isn't a one-size fits all model for handling money as a couple," Herring says. "So you two need to figure out what works for your unique relationship. The conversation might be a little awkward but it'll serve you in the long run so that you can navigate money issues as they arise."
6. Talk About Boundaries
It can be tough to figure out boundaries in your relationship, but this is something you'll need to do in order to create a sense of security. For instance, as Herring says, you can decide together what you'd like share with others, such as friends and family, and what you'd like to remain private within your relationship.
Boundaries can include other things, too, such as how you define cheating, how much time you spend together versus apart, and so on. It's all about creating the "rules" for your relationship, and agreeing to stick to them as a couple.
7. Talk About Your Social Life
"Couples do not always have the same level of sociability nor do they always enjoy the company of the same people," Michelle Fraley, MA, WPCC, a certified life coach, relationship expert, and professional matchmaker, tells Bustle. And that's precisely why you'll want to talk about things like friends, how often you'd both like to go out, and so on.
"Having a clear understanding of both partner's social expectations and needs will allow [you] to create a social dynamic that works for both of [you]," Fraley says.
8. Talk About Holiday Plans
"Making an assumption about how your partner wants to spend the holidays, without having an open and honest discussion, can only lead to more stress during an already stressful time of year," Fraley says.
Make sure neither of you is jumping to conclusions in terms of what your plans might look like, including where you'll spend the holidays, which family members will be involved, travel, etc. This will set the tone for your current life together, as well as for all the plans to come.
9. Talk About Your Feelings
"For some, just talking about your feelings can be awkward," Issa says. "It can be intimidating to express how you feel about a situation or when your partner does something that you don’t like or that hurts your feelings."
But in order to create a strong foundation, this is something you'll both want to practice. "It is important to remember that if you do not tell them, there is no way for them to know," Issa says. "The good news is the more experience you have discussing your feelings, the easier it will be."
10. Talk About Cheating
"Couples need to define cheating, talk about behaviors that might not be cheating but could still break trust, and their rules and expectations around certain people, such as potential threats to the relationship," Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, tells Bustle.
To make it less awkward, you might try "'hooking' it to something that already exists, such as finding out your friend cheated or you see cheating on a show or a movie," Chlipala says. And turning that moment into an important convo.
11. Talk About Tough Family Issues
"If there is someone in either person's family that you or your partner does not get along with, you should communicate about this," Rori Sassoon, relationship expert and author of The Art of the Date, tells Bustle," especially if you feel they are adding negativity to your relationship."
It can be tough to admit things aren't going smoothly, but talking about it can help. "Communicating about this will strengthen your foundation," she says, "because you won't feel alone with the issue and you'll create teamwork."
Of course, there's no denying these topics can be awkward and tough to bring up. And yet you may be able to see why talking about them can lead to more trust, support, and understanding, and possibly even a stronger foundation for your relationship.