When we meet “the one,” we assume that everything is going to magically fall into place — but that’s just not the case. In fact, as I’ve explained to counseling clients in the past, marriage really is work.
After all, this is a partner that you are hoping to have through your lifetime. The world will change, challenges will test you, and you will grow older. As a result, your relationship will have to evolve to stand the test of time. For this reason, the foundation it’s built upon needs to be solid.
It’s incredible to think of how many couples make it to the altar without having discussed some really important issues. Maybe this is the reason why we are seeing so many divorces in our time. To improve your chances of success and happiness, here are 10 things that couples really should talk about before marriage.
What’s your religion?
There are few things that affect all aspects of someone’s life quite the way religion does. Even if you belong to the same faith, you may not observe it the same way that your partner does. For this reason, it’s important to be very open and honest about your beliefs, how you plan to practice them, and your expectations. This is especially important if yours will be an interfaith marriage.
Think of all of the major holidays and come to an agreement about how each will be celebrated. If you come from two backgrounds, will you combine it or celebrate each separately? I’ve even heard of people alternating from one year to the next. Experiment a little and do what works best for you as a couple. Start your own traditions!
Will we have children?
This one is huge and should be taken seriously. You need to talk about whether you want to have children, and, if so, how many and how you will raise them. Make sure to touch on hot topics such as vaccinations, daycare, and homeschooling, among other things.
It’s incredibly important to pay attention to what your partner says on this topic and take it at face value. If they say they don’t want kids and you want three, that is a serious problem. Do not downplay your own wants, in hopes that you will convince them to change their mind. Everyone has the right to decide whether parenthood is part of their future. Respect that.
Where will we live?
It’s incredible how often this topic goes under the radar since it has the potential to really derail a relationship. Talk to your partner about where they hope to live. Do they want to stay where they currently are, long-term? Do they enjoy the idea of exploring new places? Would they relocate if one of you got a new job?
You might be surprised by the answers you get. Some people are really connected to their hometown and would never consider moving — even for a great opportunity. This is definitely an important conversation for you both to have before you consider marriage.
‘Til debt do us part
Talking about money can be very uncomfortable. You don’t want to seem like you are trying to pry or even be judgmental but, at some point, if you are going to share your life with someone, you need to know where they stand financially.
The last thing you want is to unknowingly inherit someone else’s debt. Of course, if you are the one with outstanding amounts owing, you need to come clean with your partner. If possible, put off any wedding plans until your finances are more manageable.
Champagne taste with juice box money
Personal preferences and our own upbringings play a role in how we feel most comfortable. Some of us are happy living a more minimalist existence while others need a little more luxury. There’s no wrong or right as long as we are honest about it (and can afford our chosen lifestyle).
This is one more area where your ability to compromise will dictate the quality of your relationship. While it’s possible that you and your partner may be on the exact same page, it’s more likely that you will have to meet somewhere in the middle. Just make sure you talk about it before you start buying furniture!
Who’s doing the laundry?
A lot goes into keeping a household running smoothly. There’s never-ending laundry and dishes to do, toilets to scrub, bills to pay, meals to cook, and groceries to buy. It’s a good idea, therefore, to talk about who will be doing what after you get married.
I can honestly say that, in my time working with clients, as well as my years as a married woman, a common (and avoidable) reason for fights is the unfair distribution of household labor. Even if you have to come up with a chart, sit down and divide the chores in a way that you both think is fair and stick to it. Trust me on this one!
Between the sheets
Just like anything else, a person’s sexual preferences are unique and must be respected. As an increasing number of couples redefine the boundaries of marriage, it’s more important than ever to be honest and forthright about sexuality.
Are you expecting a monogamous relationship? What is too little and what is enough, when it comes to how frequently you are intimate? Is porn okay? How would you feel if your partner masturbated? Sure, some of it is blush-worthy but being married is a serious commitment. You need to be able to talk about these things in order to have a mutually fulfilling relationship.
Is your mother here again?
Everyone’s life will be easier if you happen to love your in-laws (and vice versa) but, no matter how you feel about your respective families, you will need to decide how you will incorporate them into your lives.
Does your mother like to drop by unannounced? Does your partner text their siblings every time you guys get into a fight? Are your parents fighting over where you, as a couple, will have Christmas dinner? Talk to your partner about setting boundaries when it comes to extended family and create a united front. Do it sooner, rather than later. It will save you a lot of headaches.
Is that what you’re eating?
If you’ve never lived together, there’s a good chance that you don’t have a full understanding of your partner’s eating preferences. Once you have to start stocking a shared pantry and fridge, you might be shocked by your differences.
If your idea of a healthy breakfast is granola and yogurt but your partner is happy grabbing a powdered donut, things might get tense. Really. One partner might resent the fact that unhealthy food is being brought into their space, and the other might feel like they are being unfairly criticized. The stakes are even higher if you choose to have children since you might worry about how your eating habits will affect them.
This is one of those things to definitely discuss before getting married. See if you can come to a healthy, happy agreement. If not, this can genuinely cause daily battles.
The goal, at least for most couples, is to grow older together — but then what? There’s a lot more to talk about than you might realize. For starters, how old do you want to be when you retire? The answer to this question might surprise you. I’ve had clients tell me that they plan to work up until they die!
Once you retire, what do you want to do with your time? Do you want to travel the world? Buy some land and grow a farm? Volunteer for specific charities? How you envision the last years of your life is worth sharing with your partner so that you can see if your goals align.
Set the tone for a successful marriage
Even if some of these topics seem intimidating, having an open dialogue sets the tone for your marriage. You want to feel like you can talk about anything with your partner — and that begins before you say “I do.”
If you feel unsure about where to begin, pick a topic and just dive right in. Begin by explaining that your relationship is important to you and that you want to do everything you can to improve your chances of being happy and successful. Keep an open mind and an open heart and you’ll be just fine!