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Marriage is…well, it is a million different things at once. It’s wonderful and heartbreaking and comforting and difficult. It can be invigorating and infuriating, peaceful and tumultuous, good and bad, exciting and dull—sometimes all at the very same time.
It takes a lot of hard work to make a marriage work. During the honeymoon phase, it feels like there is nothing the two of you won’t overcome together, but children and time bring in more demands, more expense, and more stress. As the years go by, our love often becomes more seasoned but less passionate. Somewhere between the trips to dance lessons and weekly shopping, jobs, homework and pets…sometimes it’s just all we can do to make it to 8pm before collapsing in exhaustion. It is easy to forget how important it is to take the time to talk about the things that actually matter.
There’s an old parable about a group of blind men and an elephant. Each man touches the elephant to try to discover what it’s really like. One man touches the head and describes it as a big pot. The next man touches the ear and imagines a large fan. The next man, feeling the trunk, insists the elephant is just like a snake and the last man, holding on to the tail, describes a paintbrush. Without seeing the entire animal, the men are unable to describe the elephant as a whole.
Marriage can sometimes be like that. Without even realizing it, we are living parallel lives—going through the same experiences, but forgetting that without communication and discussion of the whole picture, we might not be sharing the same vision.
Having regular conversations about important topics can not only bring you and your spouse closer together right now, it can help you create a better plan for your future together. There is something powerful that happens when two people begin working towards the same goal! If it’s been a while since the two of you have really talked, these 9 conversations every couple needs to have are a great place to start.
1. The Things That Make You Happy
It seems so simple, but in the busy hustle bustle of the day, we can lose sight of not only our own needs, but also our spouse’s needs. Have a conversation about the things that truly make you happy and discover the same about your spouse.
Do you know the things that truly make him feel joy? Is it a fishing holiday with his buddies? Going to a concert to see his favorite band? (Do you know his favorite band?) Maybe he loves his morning run or a good cup of coffee. Maybe he loves watching the game with the kids.
Whatever it is that makes your spouse feel joy and satisfaction should become a priority for both of you. This isn’t about only the things that you both enjoy, although those things are important, too. Learning what makes another person tick can really help you feel closer, even when you aren’t together. It also helps you focus your priorities to be sure you’re maximizing your joys as much as possible.
Financial stress is the number one cause of divorce, and if you are sharing your life with someone, you MUST be able to discuss finances, debt and savings. Even if you keep your finances completely separate (which is nearly impossible, anyway), they still need to be discussed on a regular basis. In many states, spouses are on the hook for each other’s debt, even if one passes away. You need to know where you stand.
There’s nothing lonelier or more terrifying than hiding a secret, like debt, from your significant other. Finding out that your spouse is hiding a financial problem can be equally awful. Even if you’re both great money managers, there’s a high chance that you and your spouse handle money differently.
Discuss your weekly spending, your plans, previous debts and financial goals. Better yet, attend a Financial Peace University class together—make it a date night.
One super helpful resource you might want to check out is this great FREE eBook from brightpeak financial, called How to Have the Money Talk With Your Significant Other. It is jam-packed with practical tips about how to get the (sometimes uncomfortable) money conversation going (without causing a big fight!)
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Do whatever it takes to find out whether you are really on the same page. What are your spending styles? Is it important to both of you to live without debt? What investments do you have? Be sure both of you have access to any important financial information in case of an accident or emergency.
3. Your Parenting Styles
This is another “can’t see the forest for the trees” conversation. Oftentimes this conversation gets overlooked because we’re just so busy being parents. However, continuously revisiting your parenting styles, objectives and thoughts on things like discipline, education and activities can be so important.
As our children get older, they often identify our parenting styles on their own, and at different times they may choose one parent over the other. It’s easy to start to feel a little left out, but knowing that you’re on the same page about the important parts helps solidify your bond as parents, together.
This conversation also helps immensely when your children attempt to play your styles off one another as they get older. (You know: “Dad will say yes, so ask him first, because mom will say no….”) This is also something that’ll save lots of headaches (and heaven forbid, nose piercings and curfew wars) when your children hit their teenage years.
4. The Things That Bother You
My husband and I fight. I’m willing to bet you and your spouse fight, too. It happens to the best of us. It doesn’t mean we aren’t in love or that our marriage is doomed. It just means we’re two adults that live together—and it’s bound to happen occasionally.
I have discovered that most of our fights come from little irritations that build up over time. We don’t deal with them right away because they seem trite or trivial, or because we just don’t have time. But then, when they happen again and again, that resentment builds up until it finally explodes
That resentment can be poisonous to a relationship, and letting things build up until they reach the boiling point can cause irreparable harm. It is much better to deal with it proactively, before the anger sets in. If something is bothering you, bring it up gently. Tell your spouse how you’re feeling in a non-accusatory way. Don’t let it build. Simply say, “I feel bad about…” and explain.
Many times, little things that drive us crazy and drive wedges between us are not done on purpose. Chances are your spouse may not even realize that a particular thing bothers you so much.
Saying you’re sorry (and meaning it) is the other side of the coin. Sorry can be hard for some of us, because it means we’re “admitting defeat.” In reality, an apology can simply mean that you sincerely feel regret for hurting someone else. It may not change your conviction, but it can soften your approach.
5. Your Goals and Dreams
Family. A house. Financial stability. These things are pretty clear and are usually conversations you have early-on. As years go by and some of these things are locked down, be sure you still regularly revisit your long-term goals together.
Tackling a goal together—planning a vacation, planting a garden or fixing up the guest room—can be great a great way to spend time together and to remember that above all, you’re always a team. You and that guy are still in this one together.
Long-term goals can also be important. At what age does your spouse want to retire? Do you plan to stay in your home when your children are grown? Is there a life-long dream that still needs to be fulfilled? Keep these things in sight and work together to stay on the same page.
6. End of Life Care, Wishes and Plans
After avoiding it for a very long time, my husband and I finally took the time last year to meet with an attorney, create a will, and settle our affairs. I’m not going to lie–it wasn’t fun. We didn’t relish the opportunity to think about our own mortality, or to imagine every worst case scenario. But we did it anyway, because we knew, after recently going through two deaths in our family, that it is important for the people who we will leave behind. And that it is done, I can’t even tell you how much better it is to have that peace of mind!
Death is something none of us want to think about, especially not when we’re with our loved one—but it’s a necessity. Life can be uncertain. Perfectly healthy people have terrible accidents. We owe it to our children and our spouses to have this conversation.
If one of you is incapacitated, what are your wishes for care? What are your burial wishes? Who would take care of your children and your finances in the event that both of you were killed? It may seem morbid, but this conversation will save others from having to make decisions based on speculation at a time of bereavement.
Every couple should also have a will and life insurance. There are plenty of ways to set up a will online, or a local attorney will be able to take care of everything for around $500-$1000, depending on how complicated you need it to be. Talk to your financial manager or your 401(k) investment firm about setting up life insurance, your beneficiaries, and what your other financial needs might be in case of unforeseen circumstances.
This can be one of the most difficult conversations to have, but in the long term it will give you both peace of mind, and protection.
7. Things That Make You Blush
Your spouse should be your confidant. After all, you’ve surely shared plenty of intimate, private and vulnerable moments together. Now I’m not saying you have to share every glaring detail with each other at all times, or that you can’t still enjoy your privacy, but do allow yourself to share things that might make you feel a little embarrassed.
These topics can run the gamut from intimate needs and racy ideas to health concerns or even mortifying moments you just have to get off your chest. Intimacy is about sharing things that can be hard to say, but sharing them can be freeing and solidify the closeness you share. Think of something you’ve never told anyone and share it with your spouse. Chances are, you’ll learn something new about them as well.
8. The Reasons You Love Each Other
Compared to finances and catastrophe, “Why do you love me?” can seem like a trite question—but I promise, it’s no less vital to the health of your marriage. Look at your spouse and think of that guy that gave you butterflies in your stomach when he looked at you. Think of all the ways he’s a great father and how you grin every time you see him take your daughter’s little hand.
Look at his eyes and remember how many times you’ve gazed into them and felt love. How many times have you caught his eye in a crowded room and felt relieved because you were trying to get his attention? Look at his hands and think of how you’ll always love them, even when they’re old with thin skin and blue veins, and how you’ll still long to hold that hand for comfort.
Then tell him all these things. Tell your spouse why you love him. Reminding your guy of all those reasons as often as possible will keep your marriage as strong as possible.
9. Your Faith
Our relationship with God strengthens our marriages and helps give us guidance when facing life’s challenges. I’ve seen many relationships falter because two people didn’t share the same beliefs—or more often, because they chose not to discuss how their faith and relationship with God has changed over time. I’ve also seen many marriages strengthened because the couple took the time to regularly discuss their faith, and of course, because they’ve leaned on each other through tough times when their mutual faith was shaken.
In my own marriage, this has definitely been an interesting journey. When my husband and I met and married, neither of us were practicing Christians. Faith was not at all a part of our life. Eventually we began going to church, but talking about the changes that were happening in each of our hearts was much more difficult. It was awkward to talk about God when we never had before. It has taken us years to learn how to share our faith with each other, and often we are still learning. That said, by allowing our faith to shape and strengthen our marriage, by praying together, attending services or discussing our beliefs, we keep our marriage a spiritual journey and connection, beyond just the physical and emotional.
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Marriage can be hard, there’s no doubt about that. But it is much, much harder when communication is not a part of the equation. Regular conversations about the things that matter most will make all the difference, and if any of these things are topics you and your spouse haven’t discussed lately, make a date and make it a priority–I promise you won’t regret it!