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Published February 13, 2013, 11:40 PM

Couple questions: Strengthen your relationship with open discussions

FARGO - Everyone deserves a loving relationship, says Tina Johnson, a Fargo clinical social worker who specializes in marriage counseling. “Within these relationships, we can thrive, overcome our problems, be creative and be productive within ourselves and for others,” she says.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Everyone deserves a loving relationship, says Tina Johnson, a Fargo clinical social worker who specializes in marriage counseling.

“Within these relationships, we can thrive, overcome our problems, be creative and be productive within ourselves and for others,” she says.

Loving relationships are built on conversation. We talk about our hopes and dreams, our likes and dislikes, and our pet peeves.

Deeper discussions bring us closer. So tonight when you sit down for a special dinner, set your phones aside and give each other the gift of gab for Valentine’s Day.

Talking about issues that don’t necessarily come up in day-to-day life helps couples learn more about each other, decide whether they’re a good long-term match, suss out any potential conflict and strengthen their bonds.

“We don’t have to have the same opinions about things as our partner does, but we do need to know their ideas so we can determine if we can work together or not,” says Karissa Schmoll, a marriage and family counselor with The Village Family Service Center in Moorhead.

She says discussion topics depend on your level of commitment.

“If your partner is a potential life partner, there are certain things that should be discussed fairly early in the relationship to avoid any surprises down the road,” she says.

Here, Johnson and Schmoll draw from their experience helping couples to share questions to consider.

Deal-breakers

We all have deal-breakers, or issues we absolutely can’t work with in a relationship, Schmoll says.

Whether it’s “I don’t want kids” or “I’m not willing to move,” get them out and in the open.

They don’t necessarily mean the relationship has to end, but they do mean there will be some difficult decisions to make in the future, she says.

Conflict

  • How you handle stress and conflict, both as individuals and as a couple, can be revealing.
  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you support your partner when he/she is stressed?
  • How do you act when you don’t agree with each other?
  • How to do you find solutions to problems?

What you want

Partners should be upfront about what they want from their relationship.

“Our answers to these questions don’t need to be the same as our partner’s, but we need to know if we can potentially compromise, or learn to work with our partner’s expectations,” Schmoll says.

  • What does your ideal relationship look like?
  • Which qualities are most important to you in a partner?
  • Do you value monogamy?
  • Do you want to get married?
  • Do you want to live together before marriage?
  • Do you want to have children? If so, how many?
  • How involved do you want to be with extended family?

Home and family

Again, your answers can differ, but conflict’s much more likely if they do.

In her work with The Village, Schmoll frequently encounters conflict over division of labor.

“Often one partner feels as though they are carrying much more of the weight of maintaining a home,” she says.

Going over your expectations with one another and coming up with a plan will help ease any unspoken tension over who does what.

The same goes for parenting, which can divide couples.

“Couples often disagree about how to discipline kids, but it is very important that they are able to come together as a united front from the child’s perspective,” she says.

  • How should we divide the household chores?
  • If we have children, who should work outside the home and when? Both?
  • What kind of parent will you be? What’s your parenting style?

Talking about your “family of origin” reveals more about your views on what makes a happy home and family.

“We should all know where our partner came from, both the family in which they were raised as well as previous relationships,” Schmoll says.

Money

  • Are you responsible with money?
  • Do you value saving? Are you able to save?
  • What types of things do you want to save for in the future?

Reflection

Looking back on how you became a couple in the first place can be especially beneficial for couples wanting to reconnect after time, distance or a rough patch.

  • What circumstances allowed you to meet?
  • What first attracted you to each other? What did you love most about your partner?
  • When was your first disagreement and how did you resolve it?
  • How do you express your love for each other? What would you like more or less of?

No matter the maturity or health of your relationship, Johnson says it never hurts to do a couple check-up.

Ask yourself, “Do I feel happy in this relationship? Is my partner there when I need him/her? Can I trust my partner with my emotions? Do I feel safe? Does my partner respond to me when I need him/her?”

“If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, it would be important to find out the reasons why,” she says.


Common problems

Knowing’s half the battle, right? According to Fargo clinical social worker Tina Johnson, these are the problems that most frequently come up during couples counseling sessions.

  • Communication –differing communication styles, miscommunication

  • Expectations – “I thought things would have been different.”

  • Sex – disappointment of one or both individuals

  • Parenting and intimacy – “How do you do it?”

  • Extramarital affairs or cheating behaviors – “Why did this happen?”

  • Mental illness and/or addiction

  • Setbacks – Managing the relationship when one individual gets ill or loses his/her job

  • Identity within the relationship – individual goals vs. couple goals


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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