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- American psychologist
A primer for tackling every kind of talk (Photo: Shutterstock)
“We have to talk” are four words no one wants to hear, but when you’re ready to figure out whether you and your partner are really on the same page, you might not know how else to kick things off. The good news: There are better ways. Allow us to explain.
When it comes to making things official, many potential boyfriends worry that putting a label on their relationship means losing their freedom to do things like go out with the guys or watch the game on Sundays, says psychologist Diana Kirschner, Ph.D., author of Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor’s Guide to Lasting Love. Others don’t want to be forced to make a relationship-changing decision sooner than they have to, she says.
The time: To keep him from freaking out, try to postpone the define-the-relationship talk until you’re spending lots of time together, you’ve dated for at least two months, and he’s introduced you to his family and friends (and vice-versa). These relationship milestones are good indicators that he should be ready to put a label on your relationship, says Kirschner.
The place: It’s a good idea to mention something like becoming exclusive during a playful interaction, like splashing each other in a pool or lounging together after sexy time. That’s because any bonding activity that involves a ton of touching gives you both a blast of oxytocin, the bonding hormone—which makes you feel closer and more open, says Kirschner. And because you’re more relaxed, the conversation won’t be as awkward as it could be over a quiet dinner, she says.
Apart from getting touchy-feely, it’s also important to bring up the “are we or aren’t we” talk casually, says Jane Greer, Ph.D., a New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. To strike up the tough convo, bring it up after asking a question about your future plans, says Greer. For example, “My friend invited me to her wedding, but she’s only giving plus-ones to her friends with serious boyfriends. What should I tell her?” While it still puts the pressure on, it’s not as confrontational as saying, “So are we seeing other people or what?”
For some men, talking about marriage is pretty terrifying because they’re scared of committing to someone forever, says Kirschner. Obviously, it’s a much bigger deal than calling you his girlfriend. For some guys, a ring on his left hand means never getting to sleep with other women again, says Kirschner. On top of that, dudes might worry that their relationship will totally change in unpredictable ways, she says.
The time: Once the two of you are past just bar hopping and Netflix-bingeing together and have moved on to checking in when you’re apart, discussing your life goals, and making a few financial decisions together (hello, IKEA)—that’s the ideal time to start chatting about getting hitched, says Greer.
When things begin moving in this direction, he’ll probably be on the invite to your friends’ weddings, and you might talk about moving in together, says Greer. These situations are a great jumping-off point for your “where is this going?” talk, she says. For example, if you’ve just decided to move in together or you received (yet another) save the date in the mail, you can say, “Do you see us getting married down the road?” When your discussion is directly related to something that’s going on in your relationship, it makes things much less tense, says Greer.
Don’t bring up the conversation if you’re feeling majorly ticked off about not being engaged yet, says Kirschner. Springing the topic on your guy when you’re super annoyed will only make the conversation emotional (in a bad way), and it could make your partner feel guilty or defensive, she says. He might say he’s ready too quickly in the heat of the moment or clam up and say he never wants to get married, says Greer. Obviously, neither of those are what you want to hear.
The place: Take the same approach as the exclusivity talk, says Kirschner. That means discussing your legally single status when you’re both feeling super close and carefree, she says. Lying in bed on a Sunday morning, making dinner together at home, or just hanging out one-on-one are all great options, she says.
Like getting married, having kids is just one step deeper into adulthood—which can freak some people out, says Kirschner. Plus, they might feel added pressure of being a provider and that can be especially daunting for men, she says.
The time: If having children—or not—is a deal-breaker for you, definitely bring up babies before getting engaged and making that commitment, says Kirschner. But even if you know you’re on the same page already, bringing up the possibility of having kids soon can make him shut down if he isn’t ready, says Greer. If you think he’s open to the idea or you recently saw him looking pretty comfortable holding a baby, strike up the conversation on Sunday—the most laid-back day of the week.
The place: While being somewhere near kiddos is an ideal place to naturally bring up the subject of kids, you can also bring it up any time you’re relaxing together, says Kirschner. The important thing is to find a moment when you’re both feeling content, she says. When you’re there, ask your guy what he thinks of having kids someday—or sometime soon.
Being rejected sucks. So it’s pretty clear why any guy—or any person—would not look forward to this conversation. But when it’s not working out, you just have to do it.
The time: Since you probably spent most of your time together on the weekends, it can be harder for him to be alone on his days off, says Greer. So select a time during the workweek to break it off, she says. By telling him it’s over on a Tuesday or Wednesday, your soon-to-be ex can focus on work and other responsibilities afterward.
The place: When deciding whether you should do it in private or not, you have to think about what his reaction will be, says Greer. If you’re dealing with someone who could blow up, it might be better to end things in public so you can get up and leave if necessary, she says. But if he’s not that type of person, in private is the best place to be really honest and help him get closure.
Though you definitely want to say what’s on your mind, try not to have the breakup talk when you’re mad at him, says Kirschner. If you do, he might just think you’re having a fight—not splitting up. To keep things civil, give the guy some compliments first, and then begin a mature conversation about why you’re leaving. The talk can be hard; but with a little preparation, you should be able to communicate what you need to.
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