Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body. […] When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born. But dialogue can restore a dead relationship […] it can bring a relationship that has died into being once again. There is only one requisite for these claims for dialogue: it must be mutual and proceed from both sides, and the parties to it must persist relentlessly, Reuel L. Howe, The Miracle of Dialogue, 1963.
We all need relationships full of dialogue. Communication must be smooth, sincere, constant, effective, and cover all our aspirations, interests, worries, fears, and subjects, and deal with them in a sensitive, mature, and proportionate manner. Both dialogue and love take time and effort. They require respect, our willingness and generosity to listen, learn from one another, and compromise. We need to learn to listen actively, show empathy, build bridges of understanding, and open ourselves up to each other.
A common mistake is that one partner stubbornly imposes his or her point of view, he or she takes most of the decisions or always does things his/her way (“Because I say so! And that’s that,” “Where a captain rules, a sailor has no sway”). It may seem that progress is made and there is no more conflict, but the long-term price to pay is very high. The other spouse will feel unhappy, hurt, and frustrated; sooner or later the relationship will deteriorate and these feelings will surface very strongly in the form of blame, lack of collaboration, anger, and resentment.
It is also a very serious error when we use our children to take sides as shields or weapons. Remember that there are times when the couple needs privacy and our kids should not be present, for example, when they are sleeping or at school. By doing so, we will avoid worrying, frightening or saddening them and you will both be able to solve your differences without involving anyone else.
When you need to put things straight, make sure to use constructive criticism and offer ideas and strategies to move forward, e.g., “I am upset with you. You should help me more at home. Why don’t you do the washing-up once a week with the children or set the table before meals?”
This is the opposite of destructive criticism (“You never get things right,” “You never lift a finger”), personal disqualifications (“You’re useless, worthless, and irresponsible!,” “You are a loser and a failure!”), even worse, insults (“You are a self-absorbed homewrecker,” “You are a selfish, arrogant, and insensitive bag of shit”), mockery or sarcasm. This way of talking leads the other partner to retort in a defensive manner, give you the silent treatment (the cold shoulder), show you contempt or indifference. Thus, any possibility of dialogue and conflict resolution is lost, and ultimately the breakdown of the relationship will occur.
There are some things that you should consider and talk about before living together or getting married and getting to the nitty-gritty of life. Otherwise, it is never too late to talk, discuss, and seek compromises so you can both live happily ever after.
Time. Don’t rush things and give the relationship plenty of time to unfold. It takes a long period of time for a relationship to grow and mature.
You should talk about these topics: How will you organise and combine your agendas? What activities will you do together and what activities will you pursue separately? How will you organize your holidays? Where will you go on holidays?
Money is always a very sensitive issue. Furthermore, it is more complicated when one partner is a spendthrift, he/she is unemployed, or his/her income is significantly lower. It is important to discuss who and how the money will be managed. How do you share money with your partner? Should you merge your finances or keep them separate? You need to agree on a unified financial plan with long-term goals: Will you buy a house or rent? What kind of mortgage or rent payments? Where will you live? How much money should you spend on your wedding? How do you split expenses with your partner?
Space. You should discuss about domestic responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, ironing, etc.), private and public spaces as well as how you will manage common areas. For example, some people are very messy, their stuff is all over the place as they have no ability to stick to a system, their partners may feel uncomfortable in their own homes.
Besides, you should follow this advice to the letter: Whatever you do, do not live with your mother or father in law unless they are not able to live alone. This coexistence is likely to be a source of numerous conflicts.
Children. This is a particularly relevant and important issue to deal with before living together because having children is a major life change event and a huge responsibility: Do you want to have children? How many kids? When do you want to have them? What contraception method are you going to use? If you can’t have any children, will you be willing to adopt them and then, how many? What school do you want your child to attend? What are your responsibilities in their care and education? If you have different belief systems (let’s say that you are a Christian and your partner is an atheist), will your children receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion?
Family: How will you care for your aging parents? How much time will you share with your “extended” family?
Project: Do you want to have kids and raise a family? Do you want to get married or do you want something more casual? What are your goals as individuals and as a couple?
The most important idea is that the sooner you put all your cards on the table, the better. Discuss all these important topics with love, humility (to accept mistakes and learn from them when necessary), sincerity, and respect. Before living together, getting married or a forever commitment, it is crucial to talk openly and honestly with your partner. You should both discuss sensitive and important topics and agree on all key aspects of the relationship.