There are certain questions that are perfectly appropriate—and even important—to ask at a certain point in a relationship:
Is marriage something you definitely desire some day?
Do you want to have kids? How many?
What values would you want to instill in a family you were raising?
What’s your philosophy when it comes to spending and saving, and preparing for the future?
But asked too soon or too late, questions like these can cause all kinds of relationship and personal problems. So, here are some suggestions for determining when and how to raise the big questions.
When Should I Bring up Questions about the Future?
Not too soon
Clearly, there’s a problem with asking the big questions too early. You might scare the other person off if you begin addressing the “serious” issues before you’re far enough into the relationship. If he or she think that all you want is a marriage partner—any marriage partner—instead of the right person to be happy with, then they might not hang around long enough to find out what a great person you are. If you have an instinct that it’s too soon or that you two aren’t quite in the same place in terms of emotional investment in the relationship, then wait.
Not too late
This point isn’t quite as obvious, but there’s also such a thing as waiting too long to have the big discussions. After all, you don’t want to fall in love with someone, get extremely serious with him or her, and then find out that you two aren’t compatible on what matters most to you. In fact, it’s actually irresponsible to wait too long before tackling these issues, because that leaves both of you open to experiencing all kinds of unnecessary hurt.
When your instincts and common sense tell you it’s time, it’s time
Unfortunately, there’s no magic time line for when it’s right to take on the serious issues. We can’t tell you to wait three weeks (or three months) after you’ve begun dating, or to wait until you’ve been on 19 dates. All we can suggest is that you consider the circumstances and how the other person might feel about your bringing up such issues at the time. It’s important to listen to your instincts and use your best judgment. For example, if you’re a 35-year-old woman and you know you definitely want kids, then you may not feel like spending time developing a relationship only to find out that he’s not interested in raising a family. So, in your case, certain questions may need to come up earlier. In contrast, kids may not be the issue for you at all. In that case, there’s no reason to rush to get this issue on the table.
It really depends on circumstances, but a good rule of thumb is that you want to address the big questions when you feel you have a good sense that things are getting more serious for both of you. Don’t wait until the relationship is already serious, and don’t do it when you’ve been on only one or two dates. But when you can tell that the relationship is definitely progressing, that’s probably a good time to bring up the issues. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be waiting for “the perfect moment” to bring up the issues you care about. This aspect of your relationship can be an unfolding process over time, so allow the questions to arise in a way that’s comfortable for both of you.
How Should I bring up the Issues?
Allow the topics to come up naturally
Do your best to avoid forcing the conversation. Instead, let it happen naturally. For example, you may be interested in how many kids the other person wants. When you hear about his or her siblings and you learn that he or she came from a big family, you might ask something like, “Do you enjoy being in a big family? Does it make you want a big family of your own?” The more seamlessly you can allow information to simply emerge as part of your normal conversation, the less pressure your partner will feel.
Don’t make the conversation too heavy
When you do ask your questions, avoid making things feel too serious. It’s not that the discussion has to remain ultra light, but especially if it’s early in the relationship, you may not want to say, “We need to have a serious talk about how we’re going to save for our retirement.” Instead, you can simply introduce the topic by saying something like, “I don’t like how much of my paycheck goes toward my retirement, but saving is kind of important to me.” The other person can then respond in a way that feels comfortable.
Focus on exploration and listening instead of testing and judging
The last thing anyone wants is to be the object of an interrogation. So, avoid grilling your partner and instead view your conversation as more of an exploration. You’ll both enjoy the discussion a lot more if you focus on learning about each other instead of having to administer or pass some sort of test.
Again, there are times when you can be too revealing too early. But once a certain amount of trust and intimacy has been established in your relationship, it’s important that you show each other who you really are and what matters most to you. Assuming that you feel the time is right to talk about the future, be as sincere and straightforward as possible. Granted, you might discover that there are some significant differences that raise serious doubts about whether the two of you are compatible enough to build a future together. But if that is the case, don’t you want to know it sooner rather than later? And what’s more, you may actually find out that you two are even more compatible than you ever knew!