Any relationship is a form of agreement between two or more people. The deeper the relationship, the more things you will need to agree on for your relationship to stay positive. Some relationships, like marriage and having children together, are more important than others. They have a huge impact on our lives and our futures. I call them love agreements.
Love agreements will change over time. Just how they change will depend on the circumstances. Each person changes within themselves and their agreements with each other change accordingly. For couples, it is very important for each side to make sure they are “sailing in the same direction”. While each of them may change in different ways, together, they want to be going the same way. If one wants to sail north and the other’s greatest desire is to sail south, then their relationship will suffer. One or both of them will have to compromise.
When we talk about relationships, the word compromise pops up as a desired outcome. I think compromise is important, but I also believe that some compromises cannot last for very long. They are often the source of conflict and can cause much heartache.
One of the best things we can do to protect from this outcome is to make sure we step into each relationship with our eyes open. Let me explain what I mean. In my relationship coaching sessions, I frequently meet couples that have reached a point in their relationships where they are in endless conflicts with their partners. They think they cannot overcome the issues by themselves. They usually come to me when they think they have reached the absolute “end of their rope”. Often times, one or both of them feel cheated. They say things like, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into”.
On further inspection, it turns out they knew perfectly well what they were getting themselves into. It’s just that they were able to compromise in the beginning. In fact, what they are not happy about are their own compromises. For example, marrying someone who travels for living means you will have to travel too. When you are prone to feeling lonely without your family around though, this is a formula for disaster.
The problem with these couples was not that they did not know what they were getting themselves into. It was that “love” made them ignore their partner’s shortcomings. They loved their partner and thought, “That is not too bad. I can compromise because he/she is so great”. Looking at our example, she knew he was going to travel for work. She knew she would have to move as well and that she would be away from her family. She knew this when she met him and she knew this every day of the first 3 years she traveled with him. What she did not know (because she was not a fortune teller) was that 12 years, and 3 children later, she would reach a point where she could not compromise anymore.
Every person in a couple should know the other person extremely well before deciding to be together, to move in together, to get married or to have kids. Some things are too late to find out after you have kids and some compromises do not last forever. I want to share some tips on getting to know your partner.
Find the MUSTS
On our journey of getting to know our partners, there are some things we can expect and some things we cannot expect:
- We cannot expect to know everything our partner thinks, wants, loves or hates.
- We cannot expect that he/she will think, want, love or hate exactly the same things we do. We are two different people, not clones.
- We cannot expect that what our partner thinks, wants, loves or hates at the beginning of our relationship will be exactly the same 5, 10, 15 or 20 years later (I can tell you from experience that these things can change a lot in 32 years of a relationship).
What we can expect, and what is the most important part of this journey, is to find each other’s “musts”. Musts are those things that we think we cannot compromise on. I had a client once who was looking for a guy that would be OK with her having a successful business. She did not want to stay at home and let him be the “man of the house” who provided for the family. This was her “must”. She was (and still is) a stunning and gorgeous women. She got a lot of attention from guys but she did not rest until she found the one who matched up with her “must”.
“Musts” are the breaking points. The things we cannot live without. Often they are not logical and can take over our lives. They can ruin our relationships when we need to give them up.
Over the past 32 years of my life with Gal, and through many sessions with relationship coaching clients, I have come up with a huge list of questions that are extremely important to discuss with your partner before you think of a future with them. This list will allow you to find out your partner’s “musts” and give you an opportunity to share yours.
Rules for finding musts:
- Search for them. Do not try to hide them. The more you talk honestly about them, the more likely you are of having a good relationship or saving your relationship in times of trouble. Search for your own “musts” and your partners “must”.
- Do not judge a “must”, yours or your partner’s. They are not supposed to be rational. They are based on upbringing, events in life, education, fears and feelings. Don not try to analyze them. Just accept them. (I once had a client who was 37 years old and looking for a partner. Her must, was that he did not have a beard. I thought beards were something you could change in a second, this was not a reason to reject a guy. But it did not matter what I thought. She ended up judging men based on beards because of her life experience. Our “musts” are much stronger than we think it is).
- Sometimes talking about them changes the intensity of our “musts”. Thinking something and saying it are two different things. If it is really wacky and completely irrational, often just saying it out loud will make us realize how silly it sounds. On the other hand, it can also help us articulate just how important it is to us. Talk about your “musts”.
Gal and I have been together for 32 years. Even before we first become girlfriend and boyfriend, we used to walk home from school together and talk about many things. We knew a lot about each other long before we were a couple.
Eden was born 9 years after we started going out. Before she was born, we spent hours talking about our future life together, our kids, our financial aspirations, work, and philosophy. By the time she was born, we had already rehearsed our attitudes and parenting philosophy. Parenting her was the easiest thing in the world.
We could not predict the future and we did not know where the wind would take us. When we talked, we focused on the major things. We each knew the most important thing the other person expected from us. This helped us minimize the conflicts between us. It did not mean we did not have conflicts, but knowing each other better meant we could get over them faster.
This list is very important to use at different relationship milestones:
- Before moving in with someone.
- Before marriage.
- Before deciding to have kids.
- On anniversaries – People change. Gal and I moved in together more than 27 years ago. He is not the same person today that he was back then. And neither am I. It is important for us to update each other about who we are now.
- When experiencing relationship conflict – Well, if we did this before we got into conflict, we could probably avoid the conflict all together.
Join me next week for the list of questions about relationships, everyday life, family background and friends.
Till then, find your partner’s musts.
This post is part of the series Know Your Partner:
- Know Your Partner: Musts
- Know Your Partner: Questions to Ask
- Know Your Partner: Appearance, Work, Money and Health
- Know Your Partner: Education, Leisure, Holidays and Birthdays
- Know Your Partner: Home, Food, Telecommunication & Pets
- Know Your Partner: Beliefs & Attitudes
- Know Your Partner: Attitudes About Gender and Sex
- Know Your Partner: Parenting