The first year of a relationship can set the tone for a couple’s long-term success. Those initial months you spend getting to know your partner are key to building trust, intimacy, and a deep emotional connection. With familiarity and understanding comes intimacy, and that starts with having the right conversations.
Learning about your partner’s inner world is the first of Dr. John Gottman’s 7 principles for making a marriage work. Making time to share and connect creates a strong foundation based on friendship, intimacy, and mutual appreciation. So what should you talk about in year one of a new relationship?
8 Things to Talk About in Your First Year in a Relationship
1. Relationship expectations
Expectations influence how we react to the world around us, and that applies to romantic relationships too. Generally, people have certain standards on they’d like to be treated, what they won’t tolerate, and what a good relationship looks like. High standards are essential to finding your ideal partner, but expecting perfection isn’t realistic.
Setting expectations is a joint effort that helps couples find common ground while deepening their understanding of each other. This means talking about your shared values, acknowledging differences, and being open about what you need from a partner.
2. Communication styles
Much like expectations, people may start dating with a set way of communicating already. Your style is the way you engage and interact with people, everything from how you express emotion to conflict management. Communication issues may not always show up in the first year of a relationship, so talking about them now lowers the chances of being blindsided later.
Getting to know each other’s habits will prepare couples for life after the honeymoon phase. More importantly, it gives them time to practice and develop effective communication skills that will only strengthen their bond in the long run.
3. Emotional and physical intimacy
Love is a complex and deeply personal emotion. Even partners with the same intense feelings for one another express will express their appreciation in ways that are meaningful to them. Emotional intimacy, then, is a matter of creating shared meaning and bonding in a way that resonates with your partner’s inner world, and vice versa.
Sex is an important topic, especially while you’re still getting to know each other. Couples may not place the same value on physical intimacy or have different levels of sexual desire. This doesn’t mean the end of the relationship, though. Having the conversation will help couples recalibrate and find ways to build a deeper connection together.
4. Career goals
If you’re dating with the intention of building a life with someone, it’s always a good idea to see if your career plans align. Asking a potential partner about their aspirations can give you a better idea of what the future might look like together, and how compatible your goals are.
Will someone have to sacrifice their dream or is there a compromise that offers a mutual way forward? What kind of emotional or financial support would one need? How will budgeting, family planning, and household logistics work?
These are all important things to know, even in the first year of a relationship. Not everyone is comfortable going into detail about their passions, but sharing your own can help your partner open up.
5. Personal interests and quirks
Sharing your interests outside of work is just as important, and a fun way to bond over lighter topics. Even if you aren’t interested in the same activities, being an active listener goes a long way toward understanding your partner.
See it as a chance to explore the things that matter to them while spending time together. Love maps are based on the little details you pick up about your partner, so taking a genuine interest is key.
The beauty of love maps is that they’re built over a lifetime; the more you get to know your partner, the richer their inner world becomes. Inviting them into yours requires some vulnerability in return, but having a caring partner can lead to deeper levels of trust and intimacy.
While you don’t have to disclose your financial history on a first date, it’s important for couples to talk openly about money. Luckily, there are a few ways to have this conversation without making it awkward. Couples
The honeymoon phase is a wonderful time to connect with a person over date night, but couples can learn a lot from the non-romantic relationships in their lives. Your partner’s relationship with their family may differ from yours in profound ways. Alternatively, you may share similar histories and attitudes – and find yourself in deep conversation about what that means for your shared future.
“Have the conversations that lead to intimacy, to awareness, and to a deep and meaningful understanding of one another.”
– Dr. John Gottman (Eight Dates: A Plan for Making Love Last Forever)
8. Long-term growth
Intimacy requires a lot of vulnerability from both sides. While new couples often try to present their best selves, a deep understanding only comes from sharing our truth.
Now, talking about the personal things you’d like to work on can take you out of your comfort zone, but that’s okay with the right person. If a romantic partner makes you feel safe enough to open up about tough topics, it bodes well for a long-term relationship.
“If you’re willing to be honest about who you really are and open-minded about who your partner is, your relationship will grow stronger.“
– Dr. John Gottman (Eight Dates: A Plan for Making Love Last Forever)
What Should Be Established in the First Year of a Relationship?
Trust and commitment
The Sound Relationship House is a powerful tool for couples who want to build a secure, healthy partnership from day one. Using the metaphor of building a house one floor at a time, each level strengthens the core elements of a lasting relationship. Starting from the ground level, the seven floors are:
- Building love maps
- Sharing fondness and admiration
- Turning towards instead of away
- Positive perspective
- Conflict management
- Making life dreams
By following these steps, couples create the structure to hold up the house’s two load-bearing walls: trust and commitment. Establishing both before the one-year mark is the key to a happy marriage and life together.
According to a study by investment firm Royal London, couples who reported arguing with their partner:
- Disagreed most about money (62%)
- Believed their spending habits were incompatible (33%)
- Considered their partner financially irresponsible (24%)
While money is central to many aspects of society, business, and family, it can be deeply personal too. Your relationship with money may not match up with your partner’s in frustrating ways, so it’s important to address spending habits now to avoid future issues.
“Our own personal history with money can affect our relationships in surprising ways. . .when two people with two separate histories with money get together, they must face the challenge of merging those two histories.”
– Dr. John Gottman (Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
Rituals to help you connect
Rituals are powerful social tools that form deep and lasting bonds between the people who share them. Spending time with your partner, doing things together, laughing over your favorite meal – couples engage in these rituals all the time. That said, there’s no set list to follow.
During the first year of a relationship, partners will usually form their rituals based on what resonates most. So be intentional about the rituals you create with your partner; one day, you may look back on those fond memories together
How to handle conflict together
There’s a way to resolve an issue that brings partners closer together, and there’s a way that can strain your relationship. In fact, there are four. After decades of research into major predictors of divorce, Dr. Gottman developed The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
While no relationship is immune to conflict or friction, these four destructive habits can escalate issues until couples no longer see a way forward. Conflict management is a skill, but it’s one you can work on from the first year of your relationship.
Having clear boundaries is as crucial as opening up in a relationship. But boundaries aren’t restrictions – the goal isn’t to lock your partner out. Rather, they’re a set of ground rules to protect everyone’s emotional needs, mental health, and sense of safety.
Partners are meant to work together to respect and maintain the boundaries they set for their relationship.
The Importance Of Pre-marital Counseling
According to Dr. Gottman: “Most couples don’t get any training in relationships. . .until they go to therapy.” By the time this happens, it may be too late to solve a problem that’s been worsening for months or years.
This is where pre-marital counseling can be a game-changer in the early relationship stage.
Couples counseling offers a roadmap for couples trying to resolve their issues, but it can prevent many more before they arise. Sitting down with a relationship expert lets you talk things out in a safe, mediated space and practice the skills every married couple needs to thrive.
Whether you’re in the first year of a budding relationship or planning a wedding, pre-marital counseling might just be the best decision you make for your relationship.