Grown-Up Relationship Talks
November 27, 2016 11:30 AM   Subscribe

In response to my last question, there was a reference to "grown-up relationship talks." I'm not sure what this entails. Looking for examples - whether from personal experience, movies or books. A certain degree of detail is helpful, as it the point in the relationship when it seemed appropriate to have a given sort of talk.
posted by bunderful to Human Relations (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Supposedly these can be enjoyable and easy and not sickeningly terrifying. Please explain.
posted by bunderful at 11:39 AM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

The book How to be an adult in relationships (often recommended here) might be useful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:10 PM on November 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

In my experience, this refers to saying your feelings, basically. Like, "I'm interested in getting more serious, but I'm worried that you want to adopt a big dog and I don't want to live with a big dog." I try to do this pretty much whenever I notice myself stressing out about something relationship-related. The dog example came up for me a bit after six months into dating, but it varies so much between relationships that there aren't good rules. Like, you might want to say "I'm looking for a longer-term relationship rather than casual dating" on date one or two, since that's important to you, and then you could talk about what that means (dating more than a few months) your date can ask questions and say whether they want the same thing. Use "I" statements, don't imply someone is bad for not wanting to / being able to meet your needs, try to bring it up early enough that you're not resentful.

It's sort of a check in to make sure you both have the same understanding of what's going on in the relationship and where you're headed, rather than using signals or picking fights about something else or all the other ways people avoid talking about stuff. It's slightly scary to me, but much preferable to worrying about whether X means we should break up. (I still stew some, but at least now I know what I should be doing instead.)
posted by momus_window at 12:12 PM on November 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

The reference was, I believe, to a talk about where the relationship is headed -- are we having fun together, do our values match, do we have similar goals for this relationship, etc -- that most couples will get to within 3-4 months of regular dating. Often this also includes a discussion of exclusivity or to what degree openness or poly situations are acceptable to both people, and lays down ground rules for that.

In any relationship you should be having these discussions regularly to check in and make sure you're both still on the same page. If something changes for one of you (you are ready to be exclusive, you are ready to talk about moving in together, you are ready to open up the relationship, etc), that person has a responsibility to bring it up with the partner.

You say that even after 2-3 months you are still not comfortable enough to let your guard down . . .that can be a big impediment to successful "grown-up relationship discussions" because you aren't in a place of trust, openness and honesty with the other person. The key to having these discussions work is that you ned to be willing to be vulnerable, and prepared to not hear what you want and still maintain a reasonable level of emotional balance while you work things out between you. These discussions can be very enjoyable when you're both on the same page, however, and if you aren't, its better to figure that out quickly.
posted by ananci at 12:19 PM on November 27, 2016

I think the way to have these conversations in an enjoyable way is just to talk about the things you want out of life. If you want dogs, and see a dog, you can muse "someday I want a house full of dogs". Or walking past a place - "someday I want to live in a neighborhood like that". Or when thinking about your career. Just kind of these gentle, dreamy musings. It also opens up the other person to start those musings themselves.
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

I do this. We call them "walk and talks" and did them weekly for a while, until schedules got too hectic. Now we do them monthly.

I think it would have been hard to start them had we not gone to couples counseling beforehand. Counseling was a huge help in learning how to communicate because you have a referee. Two people can have the best intentions and still not make nearly as much progress as fast as when you add that third person into the mix, who can say, "Partner A, you are saying this, but I am hearing this (rephrase)" and I'm like, YES, counselor, that is exactly what I really mean, etc.

A lot of people I know have "family meetings" or even "roommate meetings" or heck, you can even include legit "workplace meetings" in this category too, I guess. It's very similar. A bunch of people sharing the same space and goals check in with each other about problems before they become bigger problems.

I also want to echo momus_window in that most of it essentially is talking about feelings. Some of it may be logistical things you forgot or didn't make time for during the week- E.G. "I keep forgetting to schedule that thing with your sister-in-law and when are we going to hire the roofer?" but a lot of it is "I feel good this week overall. I had one bad moment/day when I felt sad/distant/tired. I am worried we may get into a rut and feel terrible that I don't have the energy to address it. What do you think?" Etc.

Oh, one more thing- we are obviously already in a committed relationship. I didn't read your prior question but if you really mean talks prior to a certain level of commitment, that's a very different matter. Because essentially, until you're engaged/married/living together/agreeing to buy a house/whatever, all prior talks will be focused on "are we going to commit or not." I mean, you could still have the talks while purposefully agreeing to avoid that question, but the whole thing sort of presupposes a genuine long-term goal from both parties.
posted by stockpuppet at 12:55 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

(I appreciate all the comments. Actual examples would still be nice. Like "Bob: xxx xxx xxx Pat: xxx xx xxx Bob: xx xxx xxxxxxxxx!")
posted by bunderful at 3:45 PM on November 27, 2016

Say, for example, other-goldfish wishes to adopt a wolf-pack, and I do not. Or: I want to move in together with other-goldfish, but she won't move in unless she can bring her wolves. Dealbreaker. Call this situation X. The script that follows is drawn from life, rather than ideal adulthood.

feral: Hey it seems like you might be pissed at me about X.
other-goldfish: No no I am not pissed. Of course not. It would be totally irrational to be pissed at you about X.
feral: Yeah, but ... I get that X sucks ... I can see why you might feel that way ...
other-goldfish: Yeah actually I do feel that way. Even though it's irrational.

Enjoyable feelings: like a knot coming undone. So there is relief, and also a kind of puzzle-solving exhilaration, the kind that makes you want to go on and solve more of the puzzle.

After this, conversation can proceed in various directions. For example:

feral: well I'm glad we had this little talk
other-goldfish: me too. I guess that's what was bothering me.
feral: X is annoying alright.
other-goldfish: yep.
feral: maybe X would be less annoying if Y also happened.
other-goldfish: yeah that's a good idea.
feral: let's make Y also happen.
other-goldfish: yeah ok.

Enjoyable feelings: coziness, hope.

feral: thanks for admitting that.
other-goldfish: so are you going to fix X?
feral: No. That is not my job in our division of emotional labor (or whatever).
other-goldfish: HMPH.
*feral scootches closer on sofa*
other-goldfish: Hmph.
feral: You get it though, right.
other-goldfish: yeah I get it.
feral: There is a new episode of Elementary.
other-goldfish: I'll put the frozen food in the oven.
feral: You are a domestic goddess.

Enjoyable feelings: clarity, acceptance, noms.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:01 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it looks like in the context of your question, people were talking about what I call "state of the union" talks. Basically, the thesis of these discussions is something along the lines of "where is our relationship at and where is it going." A cutting-to-the-chase way of getting into one of these talks is asking the question "Where do you see us in [x time period]." Note that if X = a long time from now, you're telegraphing that you likely expect your relationship to survive that long.

I think State of the Union talks are a good thing to have on a semi-regular basis, even if you have a very stable relationship.

On a smaller scale, I think of grown-up relationship talks as no longer expecting your partner to intuit what you're thinking and act accordingly. It comes hand-in-hand with listening to your partner when they voice preferences/annoyances/etc. It stems from caring about your partner and wanting to make them happy. For example, if Partner says "hey can you fold the towels like X? It bothers me when you fold them like Y." Partner has done a Good Thing by voicing her feelings. Since it costs you little to do the X fold, you should do it because you want to make Partner happy. If your response is to get annoyed and to want to spite your partner by continuing to fold towels like Y, reexamine your relationship.

But sometimes the "ask" is bigger; maybe Partner says she wants to move to New City, which would either significantly increase your commute or require you to get a new job. My Relationship Rules don't require you to automatically agree, but they do require you to have a grown-up decision about your respective goals and wants to see if you can reach a compromise. This discussion should happen without any screaming or yelling, and without either partner feeling bad about voicing what they want and care about.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had a great grown-up relationship talk with my current partner, Lee, just a couple of weeks after we started dating. Backstory: Lee had an unbelievably old phone that would die after just an hour of use, and a new battery was en route from China but didn't arrive for weeks, so Lee's phone died just before dates and Lee was hard to find. One day I got Lee a free admission into a cool project I had worked on, but then Lee didn't call me afterwards for hours, and basically got in touch only just before a planned late date that night, which I thought was disrespectful and made it seem like Lee was more into a hookup than a partner. At this point we'd been out about 7 times over a few weeks and we had connected really well- the relationship had felt accellerated, so not hearing from Lee all day after my event felt weirdly cold and hurt my feelings. I was kind of mad and not sure if I was being unreasonable so I responded by withdrawing.

The talk was a bit nervewracking in terms of content but it was such a relief! The environment helped keep the tone gentle: we were sitting side-by-side facing the same direction (on my porch sofa on a lovely summer night) and we were very quiet and respectful and gentle in tone, so that made it better. And Lee was great about gently nudging for more information from me and generously presenting relevant information from a personal point of view. Lee handled it so well:

LEE- Is everything okay?
ME- Why do you ask?
LEE- You seem... physically kind of stiff and distant, and unusually quiet.
ME- Well to be honest I was kind of hurt when you didn't call to say you liked the event, and I thought it was kind of rude you only called me late at night. I'm not really into that hookup vibe.
LEE- Ah. I loved the project- I'm sorry I didn't call. I really liked it. My phone was dead all day.
ME- It seems like your phone is always dead.
LEE- Well it literally always is... have you looked at my phone? (pulls out phone, it's dead)
ME- That is a shockingly old phone.
LEE- I know. Batteries are hard to find, I ordered one a month ago. I'm sorry I'm hard to get a hold of sometimes. I have three more months before I can get a new phone.
ME- OK thanks for explaining.
LEE- Was that all it was?
ME- Well I was kind of wondering about the hookup vibe thing. I don't mind if you want to date other people, but I'm not interested in being a hookup.
LEE- Hmm. (pause) Ok let me be totally honest. I have been dating a few other people.
LEE- Is that ok?
ME- Yeah, I'm not mad about it, you can totally do whatever you want, but it doesn't feel great to me either.
LEE- Well I actually wanted to talk to you about it. I went on a date with someone cool yesterday. They were funny and attractive and smart. Ordinarily I would have liked them. But during the date I caught myself wishing I was with you. I realized I really like you. I've dated a lot and I know what I like, and I am really interested in pursuing something serious with you.
ME- ...oh.
LEE- How do you feel about that?
ME- I love how honest you are, and I was actually feeling the same way, so I'm really happy to hear you say that. I like you too.
LEE- I'm looking for a serious partner and I think you're a great contender. I like everything I've seen about you so far. I would like to date you exclusively and see where it goes. I actually already cancelled a couple other dates I had planned. If you want to date other people that's fine by me- I don't want to dictate your behaviour- but I wanted to put my cards out and say I like you and I think we have potential, and that's where I am.
ME- I wasn't looking for anything committed when we started... but I actually really like you too and haven't dated anyone else since we started seeing each other.
LEE- This is making me happy.
ME- Me too.

Cut to: Present day, we've been together 2 years and now live happily together and are planning a future. But when we first started dating, I was a bit ambivalent about getting into something, so if Lee hadn't laid it out so straight I might have backed away when we hit a bump. Lee took a big risk being so open and vulnerable and honest but that honesty earned my honesty in return, and we both really palpably relaxed and warmed up once that talk had happened. It was a really special moment and it really made me trust and respect Lee.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Usually it happens when something changes or should be clarified. I'm the type of person who likes to have complete clarity all the time, but I've learned there are rhythms for this--you don't have to know exactly what's happening at every moment, but if you have a good enough idea, that will get you through to the next milestone, where you may get more personal or add more commitment. The key things are to respect the other person by giving them the information they may need to make a decision; be clear with what you think and want and can offer; respect that their answer is their answer, and you don't get to argue the point; and let it be relaxed and nice. Be happy in the fact that you are honoring each other by being clear. It is good to have the conversation in a warm setting where things are already going well.


The most common conversation I have, as a single person dating people, is within the first few dates. It flows from the general rhythm of asking each other questions and sharing about yourselves.

[fun times, conversation flowing, and then a pause--a good moment to start a new topic]
Him: So, why are you on ___ dating site/dating app? or What are you hoping to get from __ dating site? or What are you looking for in a relationship, just generally speaking? or How has ___ website been working out for you? Have you had good experiences on there?
Me: Thanks for asking. I'm looking to meet people and see if there's potential for something long-term. I'm not in a hurry, but I'm more interested in a relationship than something casual. What about you?
Him: Cool. Yeah, me, too. I'm looking to settle down eventually. Not in a rush but I want the relationship to be going somewhere, you know?

Sometimes we elaborate but usually this is enough to just get the gist that we are both, broadly speaking, looking for the same thing. It doesn't imply any commitment to each other. I'm figuring out that it's a good sign if we keep talking about our hopes for the future rather than sharing stories about awkward experiences via said dating app--those "Oh my gosh, but TOP THIS" conversations are fun but it's better, imo, to keep it focused on you guys and what you're moving toward.


We then keep going out and talking about ourselves, our lives, what we want generally, etc. Sometimes kids and family plans come up. Like:

Me: So you wrote in your profile that you're interested in moving back near where you grew up. Tell me more?
Him: Yeah, I love the land and I want to buy a farm there. I'd be open to living within a few hours of my hometown, but much farther than that... meh.
Me: Oh, so the city we live in now, what do you think about that?
Him: Nah, it's just not something I'm interested in. I really don't like the city.

Later, with that guy, this conversation:
Me: So, I think you are really awesome and I've enjoyed hanging out with you. And... I think you're cute--
Him: You think I'm cute? :) :)
Me: --yeah. :) :) I have a few hesitations, though. For one thing, I'm not sure I want to live in the country. It's something I see myself being interested in, but I don't want to commit to that definitely being the only option for where I'd live. But I heard you right, that's the only place you want to live when you're done with school? And it has to be that specific place?
Him: Hmm. Yep, that's the plan.
Me: I also value flexibility and adaptability, so even the idea of picking one place to settle down--whether it's the country or the city--is just, like, hard to wrap my mind around.
Him: I'm looking for somebody who has the same passion I do for living on a farm. It's not something I'm open to flexing on. The person I dated previous to you wasn't interested in country living, and it was really painful when we finally visited my family back home. She realized she didn't have any interest in it. That's when I decided to be up front about this.
Me: Got it. Well, I've got some thinking to do. :)
[move on to different topic]

This guy didn't really ever ask me any questions about myself or my dreams or thoughts, and that (plus the country thing and the flexibility thing) was a reason we didn't continue. I would gauge our transparency with each other to be pretty adult, and we were really civil and respectful or one another's preferences and very much knew what we wanted, but I would have preferred more give and take in the conversation.


After that you have exclusivity talks, which I have done a few ways.

Me: Hey, can I talk to you about something?
Him: Yeah, what's up?
Me: Well, we've been hanging out a while... :) :) and I'm really enjoying it. I want to keep getting to know you. But I wanted to let you know that I did meet someone around the same time I met you, and we've been going out. I don't know what will happen between you and me and I'm excited to figure it out. If we do decide to just see each other, definitely I would only date you. But in the meantime, I wanted to let you know. What do you think about this?

When I had this conversation I was open to the possibility the guy would request that we be exclusive. We had gone far enough that it seemed important to bring it up and let him have all the info, so he could make his own decision. I actually had the talk with both of the guys and learned a good lesson: everyone is different and it's important to draw on a script if it helps you, but then be responsive to the person. The first of the two guys here was, like, "Yeah, naturally, cool." So when I went to the second guy I expected the same response, and was a bit more brusque, and he was really surprised and seemed a bit hurt; if I could do it again I would have taken it more slowly and perhaps asked for his thoughts on exclusivity and dating more generally, and then moved into my specific point.

Some other exclusivity talks:

Him: I had fun tonight! Want to get together later this week?
Me: I did, too! Yes, definitely! Let's meet up again.
Him: What are you doing Thursday?
Me: Oh, well, actually, I have another date... [awkward pause] Since it's still pretty early on for us, you know...
Him: Oh, totally. Yeah, I get it. I'm not ready to be exclusive either. What day works for you?
Me: Saturday?
Him: Awesome.

Me: Hey, this is going to be a little random, but just wanted to clear it up: when I first start dating someone I usually assume we're not dating exclusively. Where do you stand on exclusivity?
Him: [gives his answer]
Me: [responds with how that sits with me]
posted by ramenopres at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ramenopres, that's so perfect. I had no idea people could talk about things like that. Thank you!
posted by bunderful at 5:39 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

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