Congrats on making it through a decade with your significant other—you’re clearly doing something right. That said, complacency has been the downfall of many a long term relationship, so if your goal is to celebrate another ten years together, a candid conversation with your other half might be in order. For this reason, we asked clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook to weigh in on the five most important, albeit uncomfortable, questions every couple needs to ask each other after being together for a decade. Find out more below (and then raise a glass to your prospering partnership).
5 Uncomfortable Questions Every Couple Needs to Ask Each Other After Being Together for 10 Years
1. Are you happy with the life we’ve built together?
Why beat around the bush when you can just dive right in? “This question is important to ask because it requires a couple to reflect on their current life circumstances, how they got there and if they want to continue moving forward,” says Dr. Cook. Of course, the response here doesn’t need to be a thumbs up or down type of deal; in fact, this question should be an open-ended conversation starter that “suggests that a shift could happen if either person isn’t happy with what’s been built.” (Think: “I’m happy with how we parent the kids, but I could be happier with our sex life.”) The ensuing conversation that focuses on problem solving could help you both determine the nature of that shift.
2. Do you sometimes wish we had/didn’t have kids?
News to no one: Having children—or taking a hard pass on ‘em—is a life-altering choice that can have a significant impact on an intimate relationship, for better or worse. The good news is that no matter which boat you’re in, asking your partner this seemingly loaded question can improve the prognosis of the relationship.
For parents, any admission of regret when it comes to the decision to procreate can leave you feeling like a social pariah. (What would your mommy group say?) However, Dr. Cook tells us these misgivings about parenthood aren’t entirely uncommon, and emphasizes that parents who feel this way are, by no means, bad people. In fact, she sees it quite often in her work with distressed families: “There are many parents in the world who never really wanted to be a parent and honestly still don’t enjoy the parenting role even after their children are grown.” Still, it’s a worthy topic to explore because “feeling this way about one’s children will definitely factor into a 10-year relationship.”
True, you can’t just return your kids—but Dr. Cook says that discontent parents can nevertheless benefit from “talking freely with their partners about their frustrations or dislikes of parenting as this helps ease the stress,” and could potentially promote closeness with the partner, provided the aggrieved party felt supported.
And this question can be a game changer for those who are still at a stalemate with their significant other, too. Indeed, Dr. Cook has seen numerous instances in which childless couples “have had relationship issues because, even after 10 years, the ‘do we or don’t we’ of having kids is still unresolved.” As such, the expert says it’s a good idea to open up a dialogue on the subject because, regardless of age, “couples can add children to their family unit by either having, fostering or adopting kids” at any time. Plus, even if you thought you and your S.O. had an understanding, ten years is plenty of time to change a person’s perspective, so it never hurts to check back in.
3. Do you still love/feel attracted to me?
Work. Dinner. Dishes. Netflix. Repeat. If you’ve been with your partner for ten years, there’s a good chance you know the rut we’re describing all too well. Yep, the honeymoon phase is definitely in the rearview, which is why it’s so easy to “fall into routines and fill one’s free time with endless items on the ‘to do list’ after being together for 10 years,” says Dr. Cook. It’s a common pitfall, and one that requires your attention (because feeling unloved and unattractive isn’t exactly conducive to long term relationship satisfaction).
Indeed, couples at this stage may find they don’t even really know each other anymore, particularly if their dynamic has morphed into a roommate/co-parenting/business relationship. And intimacy alone won’t save you, since Dr. Cook tells us that “even couples who have scheduled weekly sex report feeling disconnected from their partners.”
Of course, it can be particularly uncomfortable, even downright scary, to ask your partner whether they still love and feel attracted to you, since the answer can have serious implications for the future of the relationship. Still, Dr. Cook encourages couples to bite the bullet and ask the tough question because, no matter the answer, it’s better than choosing to “continue life wondering if [your] partner still enjoys being with you.” (And we tend to agree.)
4. What are your goals for the next 10 years?
Your relationship has endured for ten years—and that’s no small feat. Chances are you made it this far thanks to a healthy dynamic that involved setting goals together during that time and making decisions both big and small as a couple. (Remember picking the paint color for the kitchen in that first apartment you shared?) Well, the expert says it’s crucial not to take that spirit of collaboration for granted, lest it start to fade to the detriment of your relationship.
“Sometimes couples just assume the other person feels the same as they do and stop checking in about big and small choices that impact the family unit (kids or no kids),” explains Dr. Cook. But this is a mistake, since “being able to sit down with your partner and talk about how you want the future to look impacts the choices you both make today.” And just to reiterate, it’s important to check in on both the small stuff (“Where would you like to go on vacation next summer?”) and the big stuff (“Do you ever think about moving to another city?”). In other words, asking questions about the future can go a long way towards ensuring that you actually have one together.
5. Are you satisfied with your overall quality of life?
Talking about the future is key, but it’s equally important to take stock of the here and now. But wait, isn’t this just another version of question number one (“are you happy with the life we’ve built together”)? They’re similar, yes, but the goal with this inquiry is to determine how your partner is feeling about themselves, as opposed to how they feel about you as a couple.
According to Dr. Cook, problems can arise when couples “talk about sacrificing their dreams or desires, either for their partners or the overall good of the couple (like moving away from family when your spouse gets a job offer that triples their salary) and stop making choices solely for themselves.” Ultimately, the expert tells us that this dynamic can result in one person “feeling unsatisfied or disconnected in life, even when things are going ‘great’ with the couple.”
Bottom line: The happiest and strongest relationships are those in which both individuals feel personally satisfied, and this quality of life question gives both parties and opportunity to voice their own wants and needs.