When you’re first getting to know a potential love interest, it makes sense to keep the conversations light and fun: What’s your favorite band? Have you watched Stranger Things? Do you think Donald Trump was born from the ashes of an actual trash can fire? But, once you’ve swiped left, had some great dates, met the family, and decided there’s a future together, it’s time for some serious #realtalk.
To make a relationship last, you need to know more than what’s in your bae’s Netflix queue and whether or not they like guac on their burritos. “I see so many couples who come to therapy with no idea that their partners expected certain things,”says psychologist Jeanette Raymond, PhD. “And it disturbs them to discover that they may not share those expectations and don’t want to or can’t meet their partner’s expectations.”
It’s not always easy to bring up serious conversation topics, but knowing where each of you stands on important issues can stave off a lot of conflicts down the road. Here, 7 conversations you and your bae absolutely must have if you’re thinking about taking your relationship to the next level.
1. How you feel about marriage
No one expects you to rush into happily ever after, but if one of you wants a lemon chiffon cake at your wedding reception and the other person doesn’t even believe in marriage, well, that might be an issue. Differing views on marriage aren’t a surefire relationship killer, but Raymond says whether or not you can make it work depends on what your expectations for your relationship are, and how they play out. She cautions, “If one [person] wants emotional closeness and companionship while the other wants the house, yard, pool, social life, and all those trappings, then it won’t work harmoniously.”
2. How to achieve equality within your relationship
If you decide to live together, you have to be intentional about establishing your roles within your household. If you don’t, you’ll end up frustrated and screaming over who cooks the most or who does the laundry more often. “[Couples] need to talk about being equal, which is hard because it’s unlikely that their parents modeled equality,” says Raymond. Rather than having expectations you haven’t communicated and then getting mad when your partner screws up, she says each person should communicate what they “really want from one another on a moment to moment, day to day basis.”
3. The dreaded money talk
Finance isn’t the sexiest subject, but if you plan to split bills and expenses, it’s something you’ll need to talk about over and over again. “Money is often used to exert power, especially if one earns and the other doesn’t, or if one earns a significantly greater amount than the other,” explains Raymond.
Some people are more prone to being selfish about spending, or even try to “buy” their way out of conflicts with expensive gifts. If you want to avoid trouble, it’s important to chat about things like budgets, whether or not you want to share a bank account, and your expectations for how money will be spent before it becomes an issue.
4. Rules for socializing
Obviously couples don’t get to tell each other how to live. If someone is trying to cut you off from your social life, that’s abusive and shouldn’t be allowed. But, it is reasonable for couples to talk about how your independent social lives fit into the context of your relationship. “A simple example would be saying, ‘I expect you to check with me before accepting invitations to your parents’ on the weekends,'” Raymond notes. Other examples would be boundaries for sharing intimate details about your relationship with other people or the frequency of boys’/girls’ nights. You shouldn’t be holding each other hostage, but you should be respectful of one another’s needs.
5. The details of your upbringing
It’s impossible to date someone without learning at least a little about their beliefs, values, and family, but once you get past a certain point in your relationship, the basics aren’t enough. “[Couples] need to discuss their own experiences growing up—the worst and best things— and what was ‘normal’ for them,” explains Raymond. “They need to talk about their experience of an absent father, arguing parents, alcoholic mothers or whatever… So many couples assume that they share the same experiences but that is so wrong.” Once you understand where each person is coming from, it will be easier to find the middle ground.
6. What you need and want in bed
Maybe you’ve banged a million times, or maybe you’re still waiting to do the deed. Either way, if you’re going to have sex with someone longterm, you need to be prepared to explore and discuss all the, ahem, ins and outs of your sexual compatibility. How do you both feel about porn? Do either of you have secret fetishes? Does anyone want more or less of a particular sex act? Everyone has expectations when it comes to sex, but your partner reading your mind and magically knowing what you want shouldn’t be one of them.
7. How often you need “me” time
No matter how much you love each other, life can’t be an endless Netflix and chill session. You need space, they need space, and each of you should communicate your needs in a way that makes you both feel heard and respected. As Raymond points out, it’s perfectly acceptable to say something like, “I expect you to let me go for bike rides when I need to de-stress without you feeling abandoned.”
At the end of the day, strong relationships are really just based on good communication and getting real AF with each other, even when it’s hard. “Many partners don’t feel they get what they want [in their relationship] simply because it comes in a different package, so they don’t recognize it and then the one giving it feels unappreciated,” says Raymond. “Getting down to what you really want and how you want it is key.”