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Let's Get Seriously Serious: Part 1

...a three-part series on asking the hard questions of your new partner

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This blog is part of a series on What to Ask When You're Getting Serious about Each Other.

Part 1 is about relationship/family history. Part 2 covers sex. Part 3 covers money.

Part 1: Questions about family and love and loss

I imagine this movie scene: a couple is debating whether to be a committed/exclusive couple. He turns to her and says, "Before we make that decision, I'd really like to know more about your dating history. What's been your falling in love/ending the relationship pattern? How do you feel about the people you've loved?"

So, that movie never got made. And it never will, because asking such real and clear questions strikes at the heart of our romance fantasy that the perfect person who is perfect for us is out there, and they are so perfect we'll never have to confront them. And even more, the very act of falling in love clears the past and makes everything new and different and...well, perfect. But, as most therapists will tell you, we are our pasts. And we bring these old patterns--around communication, sex, money, alcohol, trust, affection, work--into our closest relationships. .

I know that asking questions can seem scary and unromantic. Some women tell me it would just feel too pushy or aggressive to be that blunt. I know that is difficult for some people--especially women who've been raised to "be nice"--but isn't it better to know now near the beginning of your relationship about each other's money/sex/personal history? It could save you both so much disappointment and heartache (and couples counseling) down the road. And getting answers can also help you understand whether this is truly the partner you want, once the haze of lust and hope have cleared a little. Because, Rule #1 is History Repeats Itself.

I should know because I ignored Rule #1 when I dated Andy in college. We were crazy about each other, crazy about Southern soul music, shabby flea markets and driving around old back roads in his beat-up Pinto. I thought we were so cool together, and when he told me he'd left his last girlfriend because she was "boring," I knew that would never be me. So, a year later, when he dropped me for Even Groovier Katie--they married in costume on Halloween--I was devastated. I had ignored Rule #1. (And, of course, I later found out that I was only one in a long line of 'boring' women Andy had dropped. By then I was too busy to care, as I was hard at work on discovering why I was attracted to men like Andy...)

Here are some questions about relationship and family history I'd ask a new partner:

  • What was it like growing up in your family?
  • Were the adults in your family loving to each other? Was there fighting? Talking our problems? Lots of silences? 
  • Did anyone use/abuse alcohol or drugs? Did they ever seek help?
  • What's your relationship like now with your family?
  • What's your dating history like? How do you feel about your relationships? How did they end and why? Do you have any regrets?
  • Do you feel any pain/sadness/anger over any of those relationships?
  • Do you think you're a good partner and why (or why not)?
  • How have you changed in your relationships? What helped you change?
  • Have you ever been in therapy? Read a self-help book or sought advice from a mentor?
  • Do you have close friends? Who do you go to with your problems?
  • Do you have a hard time asking for help or making a request?
  • If you're disappointed in me or angry with me, will you tell me? How? When?

One of the biggest problems I see with couples is not talking enough about things that matter. Asking these questions--and adding many of your own--will help you get started on the right foot. It may be uncomfortable, you may hear things you don't like, but don't stop.