Why You Must Discuss Future Family Plans in a Relationship

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eight Dates" by John Gottman, Julie Schwartz Gottman, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have future family plans? When should you discuss having a baby with your partner?

Whether you’re in a new relationship or a long-term one, it’s crucial to discuss future family plans with your partner. If you aren’t on the same page about having children or what your family would look like, then it’s better to know early on.

Read below to learn how to bring up future family plans on a date with your partner.

How to Have a Conversation About Family

The authors of Eight Dates argue that different visions and definitions of family can be a dealbreaker in a relationship. The goal of this date is to understand what future family plans look like for you and your partner. Every person defines family differently, so it’s important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page before entering into a long-term commitment. Specifically, if you don’t have children, talk about whether you want to be parents. 

(Shortform note: This date focuses on couples who haven’t yet made the decision to have kids. If you already have children, you can use this date to talk about how you co-parent—what’s working and what isn’t. Consider discussing your different parenting styles or any house rules and routines that need to be changed or updated, or just take time to discuss how your family is doing and any challenges you’re facing right now as a parent.)

Use the following prompt to guide your conversation:

  • Describe your dream family.

If you’re planning on having children, ask yourself:

  • What challenges can we anticipate when we bring kids into our family?
  • How do you imagine me as a parent? Where do you think I’ll thrive as a parent?
  • What qualities of ours do we hope to instill in our children?

If you aren’t planning on having kids, ask yourself:

  • What does being a family mean for you?
  • Who’s your community? How do you want to strengthen the relationships with those in your community?

(Shortform note: As you discuss the decision to have children, it’s important to acknowledge that women face more societal pressure than men to have children. Even though many women choose not to have children, motherhood is still strongly associated with adult femininity. A study of nearly 1,200 American women found that child-free women who choose to remain childless feel more social pressure to become mothers than other women. However, they tend to feel less distress about not having kids than women who are childless due to infertility or other reasons.)

Whether or not children are in your definition of family, the authors argue that the most important relationship should always be with your partner because the couple is the foundation of a family, and the other people in your life will be best served if you prioritize that relationship.

Is Your Romantic Partnership Really Your Most Important Relationship?

Throughout the book, the authors emphasize the importance of a monogamous romantic relationship. However, some people argue that placing so much emphasis on romantic relationships actually minimizes people’s social support networks. 

For example, in an article published in The Atlantic, Mandy Len Catron makes the case that marriage actually weakens social ties and leads to increased isolation. Single people, she argues, are far more connected to the world around them. The American ideology of marriage assumes that the work of caring for someone falls primarily to one person, but without the preeminence of marriage, care and support could be redistributed across networks of extended family, neighbors, and friends. Catron advocates for expanding our sense of what love looks like beyond the insular institution of marriage to benefit from a diverse network of close and loving relationships.
Why You Must Discuss Future Family Plans in a Relationship

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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