Especially if you’re not on the same page, talking about the future can be a tricky subject in a relationship. Some people can wax lyrical and dream big — if a bit unrealistically — about a future together. For others, it’s like pulling teeth. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
I totally feel for you because I am that person. I’ve never sat and planned a wedding in my head or dreamed about a picket fence. My current relationship is my first serious one in eight years and I’ve always been naturally skeptical of commitment. In fact, I have so long been a commitment-phobe that when my girlfriend would talk about the future I would literally play dead. Like, fall to the floor, go limp, and stick my tongue out of my mouth, because I am a pillar of maturity and womanhood. Seriously, I was a disaster. I got better, but it just took some time, a few deep breaths, and a very, very patient girlfriend.
Really, everyone can get there. You just need the right approach. “When one half of a couple want to talk about the future of the relationship with the other half, it can be scary for several reasons,” Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze Of Love tells Bustle. “One, they may not know where the other person stands on the matter. Two, they may not be confident about themselves and what they bring to the relationship and thus they could forecast rejection from their partner. We humans do not like uncertainty and it’s particularly hard if we lack the confidence to boot… There are some ways to approach it that can make it easier.” Here are seven ways to communicate about the future better:
1. Pick Your Timing
You both need to be in the right frame of mind to have a conversation about the future. While sometimes a fight might be relevant to your future, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best time to have a talk. Make sure you’ve both at least taken a minute and calmed down. Though ideally, you’ll come into the conversation naturally when you both have some time to talk and you’re not tired from arguing.
2. Remember You Can’t Read Minds
It might seem obvious to you where your relationship is headed or that kids and marriage are the best things in the world. Remember that these things might not be so obvious to your partner. Everyone thinks differently and has different priorities. Don’t assume you know how they feel — instead make sure you’re an active listener. “Practice active listening, repeat back what you heard and go from there,” Armstrong says. “This is especially effective when talking to a commitment-phobe. They often know they have a hard time committing and they can tend to give ambiguous, broad, or open-ended responses when faced with questions about their intentions. ‘What I heard you say was that you’re not sure where this relationship is going, did I hear that right? I just want to make sure before I respond.’
3. Allow Yourselves To Be Scared
Relationships and the future are exciting, but they’re also big, scary, things. When talking about the future, don’t be upset if your partner says “I’m excited to do XYZ with you, but also a little scared.” It’s natural, it doesn’t mean they doubt your relationship (or you do, if you have the same feelings). Leave yourself room to be intimidated. Just acknowledge it, process it, and move on.
4. Be Realistic
Yeah, you’ve been having problems, but everything will be better when you move in together, right? Or after the wedding? Nope. Be realistic about changes in the future— which can be amazing— can also be really stressful. And they certainly won’t solve problems. Make sure you’re dealing with your problems in the moment before rushing to next steps.
5. Come Into It Sure Of What You Want
Before talking about the future, you need to be honest with yourself. What are the things you definitely want out of life? What can you negotiate on and what is a deal-breaker? You need to have a clear head of your own priorities before you can talk about mixing them with someone else. But you don’t need to put all of it on the table.
“Ask a question before putting your feelings on the table,” says Armstrong. “Sometimes we profess our dedication, love and commitment to someone without fully understanding where they stand on the matter. This can put a lot of pressure on the person or make things awkward, regardless of where their head and heart is. How about asking: ‘Where do you see this relationship going? We’ve dated for a few months and I think it’s important that we check in with each other.’ This is different from: ‘I really like you and I’d love to take this to the next level. What do you think? No pressure though!’ Ugh, yes there is.”
6. Admit Incompatibilities
Just like you have non-negotiables, it’s normal for your partner to have them too. If you see yourself moving in two years to a new city and they want to stay in the same place, that’s significant. If you want kids and they don’t, that might be a deal- breaker. You need to be realistic about where you aren’t compatible. Sometimes it will be something you can work through, and sometimes it won’t.
7. Don’t Take Things Personally
If you want things your partner doesn’t — kids, moving in-together, getting married — try not to take it personally. Although you can feel really vulnerable when you find out your partner doesn’t want the same thing, a lot of times it won’t have anything to do with you. Maybe they just need a little more time to get ready for a big change or maybe their priorities are just different than yours. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but conversations about the future are just as much about compatibility as they are about caring for each other. Don’t take it personally.
Originally posted on Bustle