Are We a Match? Cooperatively Discussing the Basics with a Partner
Updated: Jun 22
Several months ago, I met with two very fine people who were trying to decide whether to marry.
The problem was level of commitment. One wanted an exclusive relationship and the other wanted an “open marriage.” Although they liked each other very much, both felt very strongly about this particular issue.
After discussing all of the possibilities, the couple decided to be “good friends” rather than marital partners. I was somewhat disappointed because I always hope for creative solutions. My strongest feeling, however, was admiration. They both knew what they wanted and were unwilling to deceive themselves or each other. They saw no middle ground.
Level of commitment is only one of the basic issues that couples face as they become serious. There are many other important issues and certain basic questions that couples have to address at some point in their life together. For example:
Do we want to have children? How many? When? What sort of standard of living do we aspire to? Where do we want to live? What sort of relationship do we want with our parents? With our in-laws? With friends? How will we divide the housework? The child-care responsibilities? The role of economic provider?
Many of these questions cannot be definitively answered before the right moment. For example, the decision about when to have children could be very much affected by economic circumstances. Whether a couple has a second or third child will be influenced by how they felt about having the first one.
When couples fail to openly discuss basics, it doesn’t mean that decisions are not being made. Often it means one person is subtly dominating the relationship while the other one unhappily adapts.
Often, couples do not verbalize opinions about basic issues until they begin to experience serious problems. At this point, one of them says:
“I always thought that we would be sharing the child-rearing activities. I’ve been doing it alone for the last three years and I’m angry.”
Sometimes it become a power struggle, for example when the other one replies:
“Well, you never told me that you planned on entertaining your parents in our home every single weekend. Enough is enough already!”
Clearly, there are advantages to discussing basic issues early in a relationship, before they explode into serious problems.
First, discussions help couples explore their compatibility. Occasionally, as in the first example, individuals discover that they each want completely different things out of life. The revelation might hurt, but better that it occurs before, not after, taking the wedding vows.
Probably the greatest advantage to discussing the basics early in a relationship is that the talks brings out the difference. This then provides an opportunity to develop one of the more important prerequisites for a successful marriage - the ability to cope with and cooperatively resolve differences.
For 8 years, Robert Schwebel Ph.D. wrote a weekly psychology column for the Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Star. This article is one of many.