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, etc. Both dialogue and love take time. It requires our willingness and generosity to listen and learn from one another. It is about learning to listen actively and opening 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 conflict, but the price is very high. The other spouse will feel hurt, frustrated, and resentful; sooner or later the relationship will deteriorate and these feelings will surface very strongly in the form of blame, lack of collaboration, and unhappiness.
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 children 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: “I am upset with you. You should help me more at home. Why don’t you do the washing up or set the table?”
This is the opposite of destructive criticism (“You can never get things right out here,” “You never lift a finger”), personal disqualifications (“You’re useless and irresponsible!,” “You are a loser and a failure!”), even worse, insults (“You are a self-absorbed homewrecker”), 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 ordinary life. Otherwise, it is never too late to talk and seek compromises so you can both live happily ever after. Consider this piece of advice:
Time. Give it plenty of time. It takes a long period of time for a relationship to mature.
You will need to 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 holiday?
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 will administer it. 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. A man’s house is his castle. 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 partners are very messy, their stuff is all over the place as they have no ability to stick to a system, their mates may feel uncomfortable in their own home.
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 will you use? If you can’t have children, will you adopt them and how many? What school do you want your child to attend? What are each of your responsibilities in their care and education? If you have different belief systems, for example, 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 your cards on the table, the better. Discuss all these important things with love, humility (to accept mistakes and learn from them when necessary), sincerity, and respect. Before living together or getting married, it is crucial to talk openly and honestly with your partner, you should both discuss sensitive topics, and agree on the key aspects of the relationship.