The only things you need to talk about with your partner are the things you believe you can’t talk about.
July 10, 2022
For the first time in eleven years of writing and posting Seedlings (almost) every other Sunday morning, I’m going to take a brief summer break. I’ll see you again in September!
I hope you enjoy today’s Seedlings. I’d love to hear if it was helpful. Also, if you have ideas on what you’d like to explore when I return in September, please leave a comment below or shoot me an email.
Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have. — Kevin Kelly, author and founding Executive Editor of Wired Magazine.
Telling the truth is more challenging than you might think — do it anyway.
The following idea (today’s subheading) resonates for me, personally and professionally, when working with couples. Unfortunately, although it seems simple, It’s one of the hardest things in the world to follow through on:
The only things you need to learn to talk about with your partner are the things you believe you can’t talk about.
“I can’t tell them that — it will hurt their feelings.”
“I can’t say that — they’ll get angry.”
“We’ve tried to talk about it but end up in a fight every time.”
“It’s too embarrassing to admit to them.”
Eighteen questions to ask yourselves before making a long-term commitment.
I have a list of eighteen potentially loaded topics that I explore with clients, asking if these are things they can comfortably talk about with their partner: sex (likes and dislikes), parenting approaches, financial management, work ethic, etc.
I’ve also used it with myself.
The aim of these questions is not to eliminate partners, although that can happen. Instead, the goal is to put your cards on the table so that you can work through your differences before they become barriers to emotional intimacy in your relationship.
Rate your partner on a scale of one to ten for each category,
1. Accepts responsibility for own actions. Rating _____
2. Respects your opinions and feelings. Rating _____
3. Tolerates differences between the two of you. Rating _____
4. Tells the truth. Rating _____
5. Follows through on commitments. Rating _____
6. Respects your freedom of movement and right to socialize. Rating _____
7. Respects your privacy and your property. Rating _____
8. Accepts things about you that you can’t control (e.g., your emotions or wishes) or that are none of their business (e.g., your looks or weight). Rating _____
9. Is willing and able to express their needs and desires appropriately. Rating _____
10. Has sexual attitudes and expectations that are compatible with yours. Rating _____
11. Has attitudes about children compatible with yours (number, timing, discipline, etc.). Rating _____
12. Has attitudes about drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, etc., that are compatible with yours. Rating _____
13. Demonstrates responsible money management. Rating _____
14. Has religious and cultural beliefs that are compatible with yours. Rating _____
15. Does their share of the work. Rating _____
16. Gets along with your family, and you get along with theirs. Rating _____
17. Is respectful of your career and work ethic. Rating _____
18. Cares about physical health and takes care of self accordingly. Rating _____
Add anything else that’s important to you.
When you’ve finished, ask yourself a few questions. Was your partner willing to do this exercise with you? If there are topics where you have wildly different ratings, can you talk about them? Are you both open to negotiating and working on areas that will strengthen or improve your relationship?
If you are concerned about a particular area, straighten things out before making a long-term commitment. Please don’t assume that things will change for the better on their own. You probably already know that it doesn’t work that way.
The goal isn’t to have identical ratings. What’s important is that you’ve discussed things you think you can’t discuss.
And if you think you know what your partner’s thinking without needing to hear it from them, think again. I barely know myself on some days, much less have anybody else’s number without asking them for their perspective.
Lay your crazies out on the table as soon as possible.
Alain deBotton, a British philosopher and author, offers a brilliant first date suggestion if you’re looking for a long-term relationship.
Instead of asking the mundane, predictable questions like what are your favorite foods/movies/travel destinations, you cut to the chase and lay your cards on the table.
“Here are my crazies. What are yours?”
Think how many bad relationships you’d have avoided if you’d told the truth!
Let me be clear. First dates aren’t the place for a three-hour bashing of your parents or all the ways the world has disappointed you. They’re to offer insight into your unique self, including your quirks that might or might not fit with somebody else’s.
Often, the biggest challenge is to clarify what you do and don’t want. That’s not easy. We’re pretty good at knowing what we don’t want but not very adept at clearly articulating what we do want. I spent many years on and off Match before I met my partner. And I think it worked because I finally figured out how to say what I do and don’t want, which allowed me to be pretty honest about my crazies.
My partner knew right from the get-go that I’m not particularly eager to cook much anymore, especially if someone expects it. It turns out he loves to cook, and I love being a sous chef. But if I’d partnered up with someone looking for a cook and chief bottle-washer, they’d have been sorely disappointed at some point down the road. And I’d have been resentful.
At the show, I don’t share my popcorn — ever! I grew up with a friend who seldom bought her own and ate half of mine! I suppose that could have taught me generosity, but it simply taught me to ensure everybody gets their own if they want it.
My primary love languages (from The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) are words of affirmation and acts of service. I feel loved when somebody says nice things about me or takes the initiative to lighten my load. I met one guy who was appalled that I wanted words of affirmation — he thought that was ‘needy.’ Guess how many times I went out with him?
I’m a book addict. That shouldn’t be a problem. But although someone might think I should go to the library, get used books, and think twice before purchasing yet another book, I don’t do any of those things.
None of that is crazy. But here’s stuff that might make someone else’s head implode, depending on their family’s attitude toward books. Especially if one of their parents was a teacher. I write all over my books and fold down the edges of pages. They often sit in lopsided piles around my workspace chair, not arranged artfully on a shelf. Instead, they are treasures I handle, devour, and re-read until they fall apart.
The other potentially annoying thing about my reading habits is that if I’m not engaged relatively quickly, I jump to the end. If I’m still not grabbed, I don’t continue reading. I donate the book. My mom, an avid reader from cover to cover, would not understand how I could live with myself if I didn’t read it all.
Life’s too short!
Summing things up.
My clients often live together for twenty years without sharing some of their most important parts because they fear disapproval or, on the other hand, they think their way is normal, so there’s no reason to discuss or negotiate around it.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is no normal. Instead, there is getting to know and accept our unique, quirky selves and lead with that.
- Tell the truth to yourself about what you do and don’t want.
- Ask the hard questions.
- Lay your cards on the table as soon as possible.
I’d love to hear if you found this helpful. And I’m wondering, which questions were the hardest to explore?