We're often told that, in relationships, it's important to have certain conversations to be sure we're on the same page as our partner when it comes to big-ticket issues. Do you want kids? Do you believe in marriage? Do you see yourself living abroad at any point in your life? And it's true. Deal-breakers are super important to hammer out before a relationship gets too serious.
But do we always have to sit down and have a long, drawn-out, serious conversation about these things? No, actually, says Jane Greer, PhD, New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. "Being able to tune in to your partner with a certain empathy and awareness for what's important and meaningful, while paying attention to what they place a premium on and what their values are. is so important" she says.
In other words? Shut up and listen to what they're saying, instead of attacking them with a list of your must-haves, or a job-interview like slate of questions.
"We tend to get caught up in our own needs and our own wants, that we don't really pay attention to what our partner is actually saying," Dr. Greer says. And it's in those early conversations that you can decipher what he or she truly values, without explicitly stating what they want. For example, let's just say your date mentions that his grandmother just passed, and that he wishes she'd had the chance to be a great-grandmother. There's a lot you can gather from that sentence. "It shows that he's family-oriented and that he sees children in his future," Dr. Greer says. "Listening mindfully helps you understand your partner in a very genuine way."
There's another benefit from this kind of information gathering — it allows you to get your partner's answer in context. "When you ask someone a question like, 'Do you want kids,' they tend to give you a yes-or-no answer," Dr. Greer says. "It's not always that black-and-white. And a lot of people's opinions can change in the nature of the relationship." She remembers a client who was convinced he would never date a girl with cats — until he fell in love with a woman who had a 16-year-old rescue with three legs. "He compromised and took allergy shots until the cat passed away," Dr. Greer says.
Sure — dealing with an ageing feline and making the decision to procreate definitely aren't the same kinds of compromises. What's important is to note that people can be flexible. Remember when Spencer Pratt told Heidi Montag he didn't want children in The Hills? Now they're expecting their first baby. This isn't to say you (or Heidi) can fundamentally change what a partner wants; but people can change their own minds over time. Simply paying attention will tell you where your partner stands, and if their decisions are evolving.
"The nature of love is that it's transformative," Dr. Greer says. "If you can be open-minded and aware of what your partner says instead of trying to check off your own list, you'll have a better chance of getting what you want." Sometimes, when you're listening closely, you figure out that you'll have to get it from someone else.