When it comes to relationships, what are your deal-breakers?
It might be feeling certain where you want to live, hobbies you want to pursue, career goals you need to support meeting, or the kind of family you want to have.
Now, what about your partner? What are their non-negotiables?
While it’s totally normal to disagree on certain things (read: sailing around the world with seven children), having an open and honest conversation with your partner about each other’s needs and wants in life is crucial in order to make a relationship work.
So, we sat down with relationship therapist Lissy Abrahams and asked her to share some of the most important things you should know about your partner.
In no particular order – and the order will be determined by the age and stage of the couple – Abrahams said there are five key things you should be able to answer about your romantic partner.
1. How do they deal with stress, sadness, fear, or pain?
One of the most crucial things you should know about your partner is how they deal with painful and upsetting life experiences.
Establishing how your partner copes with difficult emotions – because everyone is different – will help you better understand how you’re able to help each other when stressful things arise.
“We all have differing capacities for how we tolerate upsetting experiences or physical pain. In general, our ability to tolerate these states stems from whether our parents soothed us in childhood,” said Abrahams.
“This soothing, across many aspects in childhood, becomes internalised and forms the basis of learning to tolerate distress as adults. We take this ability to cope into [our] relationship with our partner.”
Abrahams goes on to say that people who can tolerate these feelings are often able to manage unsettling experiences better and understand that difficulties come and go.
While they can still become upset, distressed, or feel pain, she said they tend to be able to work things out themselves, or talk to their partner, or seek wise counsel from someone in their community or a therapist.
“The important thing is that they are not fearful of thinking about these emotional states. They want to understand them so they can recover,” she said.
The other side of it? Those who struggle with difficult emotions.
“The big difference for those who can’t deal with these feelings or pain is that they need to do something in the external world to make the feelings go away.”
“These solutions are a way of trying to cope with the pain, but they never actually resolve it. Often, they just make things worse.”
So, you’re going to want to know if your partner can sit with difficult feelings or not. If not, what do they do?
“Do they instantly blame you? Block or push back your ideas? Do they become sulky or whiny? Do they isolate themselves from you or become punishing?,” said Abrahams.
“Do they turn to drugs or alcohol to ease emotional or physical pain? Do they use porn, gamble, or shop excessively to avoid feelings? What about emotional eating or highly rigid restrictions on food?”
This is a really important one to be able to answer, as it can harm a relationship when we can’t manage difficult states inside of ourselves.
2. How do they like and not like to be touched physically or sexually?
Partners can have very different views on intimacy – like how often sex should happen, and their expectations and fantasies around sexual activity, including touch.
“Each partner in a relationship likes to be touched differently. At the beginning of our relationship, we often care a great deal about whether our partner enjoys our touch,” said Abrahams.
Think back to the beginning of your relationship when things were new and exciting. Over time, we might not care quite as much about what our partner likes and doesn’t like – which is a bit sh**ty.
“We need to keep caring because this journey is an ever-changing field,” said Abrahams. “Our partner will change across the relationship. We need to understand how they like to be touched physically and sexually at different ages and stages.”
3. Do they want children or not?
This one? This is important. While you might be fooled into thinking most couples will suss this out early on in a relationship, sometimes it doesn’t happen.
“Each partner has their own thoughts about whether they want to be a parent of not. Don’t make any assumptions that your partner’s viewpoint. Make sure you ask the question: Do you want children? Yes/No,” said Abrahams.
“If they say no, don’t think you will change their mind later. They might, yet more often they won’t. I’ve seen many relationships destroyed by this assumption.”
“If you both want children, how many do you both want? There will be problems if your partner wants many more children than you, or vice versa.”
Not only is it important to know whether or not you both want children, but you also should also have a broader idea of what happens if it isn’t possible.
Struggling to have children can take its toll on any relationship, so you don’t also want to realise that your partner isn’t on board with other avenues you’d be open to, like IVF or adoption. While opinions may change over time, it’s still important to discuss it early so you know where each of you stand.
Both want to have children? Cool! The next thing you should know is how your partner would want to raise them – because this is just as important.
“You also need to see where your partner sits in their assumptions about how raising children works,” said Abrahams.
“Who will potentially pause their career to be the primary carer? You will need to see how well you can navigate these conversations together. The stakes are much higher having these conversations when the child has already entered the world.”
4. How does your partner relate to money?
Your partner and money. What does that look like?
“We all have a relationship to money,” said Abrahams. “This relationship plays itself out based on the stories in our head about money. Is money the root of all evil or does it make the world go round? Our stories can be contradictory, incoherent, and both conscious and unconscious.”
You’ve heard it a million times before, but one thing most experts will agree on is that the greatest thing couples fight over is money. For this reason, Abrahams said it’s really important to understand your partner so that you can protect your relationship from being spoiled by money issues.
And there are a lot of different questions you should ask yourself about this.
“Does your partner fear not having enough money? Or fear losing money? Or continue to feel shame around being a child who didn’t have enough money? Do they comment on your spending too much? Do they throw money around and squander it? Or do they restrict your freedom due to a lack of money? Or do they use money to try to control you?”
“Money issues can be fraught in relationships. Try to understand how your partner relates to money and the stories they use to describe their relationship with it,” said Abrahams.
Importantly, she also suggests speaking to your partner about their feelings around debt, mortgages, savings, spending, and separate or shared bank accounts.
“Ensure you work with them to understand their relationship to money.”
5. Do they have any unfulfilled dreams that they haven’t shared with you?
Everyone has dreams and desires – and they can look totally different for each of us.
“Some partners have a secret desire for the road they haven’t taken. It’s normal to some degree as we always say no to one path when we go down another,” said Abrahams.
“Find out whether there are paths that can be made room for so your partner can have as rich and fulfilling a life as possible. For example, one partner may be desperate to have a stint living overseas.”
“If this is possible to work into your lives, then see if it can get off the ground. Some of these may be less possible – like one partner joining the air force – but you can attend air force shows together or watch documentaries or movies together with such themes.”
Knowing what these are will give you a good idea of your future together and what works for both of you.
“It’s important to ask your partner how important these dreams are to them, and also whether you, as their partner, could help the dreams become a reality.”
And there you have it! Some of the most important questions you should be able to answer about your partner.
How did you go? Did you nail it? Knew you would. You and Jaryd are great together.
For more from Lissy Abrahams, read her e-book on what makes a couple a happy one.
Lissy Abrahams is a leading individual and couple psychotherapist who has dedicated her career to helping hundreds of clients navigate life’s obstacles and challenges. Lissy studied psychology in Sydney and then completed her Masters at the internationally renowned Tavistock Relationships, a unit of the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology in London. Here, she worked therapeutically with couples, as well as lectured and tutored trainee counsellors.
Lissy founded and manages the Sydney-based therapy clinic, Heath Group Practice, and works therapeutically with clients around the world. She has published academic work and launched a successful online course to help partners stop fighting and communicate respectfully.
Lissy believes we all have the capacity to improve our lives and relationships with the right knowledge and practical strategies. Her mission is to help as many people as possible transform their lives by creating happier and more loving relationships.
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