‘Where’s This Going?’ How To Know When It’s The Right Time To Discuss The Future With Your Partner

Cara Croke asks when to bring up what's next without jumping the gun.

The beginning of a new relationship can be one of the most exciting times ever. That time when you can enjoy really getting to know someone, while revealing to them your best qualities and relishing those few carefree months that come along with new love. As time goes on, the relationship will inevitably begin to get a bit more serious, leading you to think about where it might be headed. It might start with considering your partner before taking a new job, or by making small life decisions together rather than separately, to eventually asking yourself: “is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with?” or, more importantly, “will this person be the perfect parent to my dachshund puppy?”

Discussing the future can be a scary time in any relationship because you’re hoping that your partner wants the same things you do. Topics that tend to come along with the territory of being in a serious relationship are those of marriage and kids, two things that, for some, are classified as massive deal breakers. Nobody wants to spend years with a person to find out that their ideas of the perfect family differ to yours. So at what point do we start having these necessary conversations to save ourselves time and avoid some potential heartbreak in the future?

Dating and relationship coach Annie Lavin says that conversations about marriage and kids usually don’t come on the table until the people in the relationship have reached their late twenties. In fact, in 2017 the average age of men opting into heterosexual marriage was at its all time highest at 36.1 years of age, and women at an average of 34.1.

“A lot of research shows that people are waiting until much later to consider having children or marrying”, says Annie. “It’s almost like your early twenties are, and rightly so, for establishing yourself and having freedom, before things become a little more serious as you gravitate towards your late twenties. This is around the time when you might start to question the career path you’ve chosen, the partner you’re with, and whether or not you feel like they’re ‘the one’. I think it’s then that you start asking questions like ‘do I want children?’ or ‘do I want to settle down?’”

A lot of people tend to meet their partners during the formative years of their lives, in college or even at school. Being so young, it’d be unrealistic to consider having ‘the talk’ about kids or marriage then. But what happens if we fast-forward 10 years and you’ve found yourself in a serious, long-term relationship and have never had a discussion with your significant other about what the two of you really want from life?

Annie explains that it’s important that you pay attention to what your needs are today, what your needs are in your relationship, or even what they are this year to avoid potentially wasting time with someone who isn’t on the same wavelength as you. “When you’re in a long-term relationship you could almost have an annual chat and ask; ‘what are our goals and our hopes for the year ahead?’ If you co-create that kind of dynamic or environment early on, you should be able to discuss the topics that are coming up for you.” Having the hard conversations early on and regularly enough will definitely help keep you and yours on the right track.

Sometimes it can seem like people are born with a clear-cut idea of what they want from life; you’re either born to be a mother, or don’t see children in your future at all. However, Annie says it’s perfectly normal to be undecided about these things, regardless of your age. “Indecision is okay. You can’t be anywhere other than where you are. If you’re at the point where you’re undecided about what you want, telling your partner this is the most honest thing you can do. Your partner is within their full capacity to make a decision once they know you’re undecided, but if you’re staying as close as you can to your honest-self then that’s really it.”

If you find yourself in a situation where you and your other half realise you both want different things in the future, finding the solution comes back to knowing yourself and your needs and whether or not they are negotiable. “There’s value in spending time working with a professional to become clear on your needs in relationships to know what is negotiable and what is not”, says Annie. “It is so important to do this work in advance of creating a long-term relationship with someone who may want different things to you.” Marriage can often be negotiable, but from Annie’s experience, deciding whether or not to have children generally isn’t, so this is something you want to make clear before starting a life with someone. Unfortunately, no one ever said having conversations about the future was easy, but by thinking things through and figuring out exactly what you want prior, you’ll both be able to walk away with clarity. In the end, regardless of how you both decide to proceed with your relationship, in hindsight, you’ll be glad you stayed true to yourself.

So how early on should you bring up your plans?

It’s common enough to feel like time is ticking on finding ‘the one’ – lots of women in their thirties start to panic about time in relation to fertility, and need to sift through the time wasters as quickly as possible to find a person who wants the same things you do. But you also don’t want to freak out a potential keeper by asking them their five year plan after five minutes. So after how many dates is it acceptable to talk about your needs in life, without scaring your possible love interest off? Annie says that it all depends on how high in your list of priorities those needs are.

“If it’s non-negotiable for you, then it is your responsibility to discover whether the person you’re dating is interested in having children and getting married. I wouldn’t suggest that it’s something to bring up on the first date, but within the first three dates a conversation around a person’s likes and dislikes should, or may organically, happen.

“There are ways to discover if someone is interested in having children or not without necessarily asking ‘do you want to have babies together?’, it can be something as simple as ‘do you have any nieces or nephews?’ Once the topic is on the table you can simply ask the question and then watch for their response. Generally speaking, people who are not interested in having children usually make it known.”

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