You love him, he loves you—but before you tie the knot, you need to know a lot more than that. Marriage is a very important decision, and it’s crucial that couples sit down and have a heart-to-heart discussion. How much do you really know about each other? Are your values aligned? Are your expectations clear?
This may contradict the belief that ‘all you need is love,’ a myth perpetuated by Hollywood movies where the couple kiss and the credits roll, conveniently btushing off real-life concerns and practicalities. Everybody gets married because they love each other; many, unfortunately, split up because of ‘irreconcilable differences.’ Here’s how to prevent that from happening to you.
1. Do we share the same lifestyle aspirations?
Some people are spenders; some people are savers. Are you and your partner on the same page about the kind of lifestyle you aspire for, the financial goals you want to set, and where you want your money to go? For example, you may want to save for a house right away, while he’d like to ‘have fun while we’re young and travel around the world.’
When you’re young and passionately in love you don’t care if you live in a deserted island with nothing but each other. But the fact is, you do have other dreams and expectations of what life you want to lead. It’s best to talk about things now, rather than find out—too late—that you have conflicting aspirations.
2. How will we handle our finances?
Agree, right now, about whether you will keep joint or separate accounts, and how you plan to split expenses. For example, do you put your money in one pool which managed by one person who acts as the family ‘accountant, or do you assign bills (‘I pay for rent, you handle utilities’) and get to keep whatever’s left of your personal incomes?
Also review any financial expectations. Do you expect your husband to be the provider while you stay at home with the kids? And if you have a career and choose to keep it, will your husband be comfortable in the event that you earn more than he does?
Another frequently-overlooked concern is debt. When you marry someone, you are also affected by his debt and his credit history. Be honest about your current debt situation, and what you need to do to get out of it. Also look at what you want from your retirement, and how to resolve and take charge of your financial problems in order to create the kind of life you’d like to enjoy when you’re old and gray.
3. What do we expect from our sex life?
Sex is always great at the start. But as many couples will tell you, the hormones kind of get weird towards middle-age. So good sex does require commitment—plus awareness of what your partner likes. It helps if you have the same preferences (in terms of level of adventurousness), but regardless of that, it’s a sign of a healthy relationship if you can talk about sex, openly and honestly, without feeling shy. Too many couples run into marriage problems because they can’t tell their partners, ‘This is what I want.’ This talk is an acid-test of your communication skills. If you can’t talk about what kind of foreplay you expect now, what makes you think you can talk about it later on?
4. How will we divide household responsibilities?
Ah, household chores—it’s the part of marriage that most of us don’t want to think about, but await us the day we get back from our honeymoon. Who handles the cooking? Who does the laundry? Who cleans? Be clear about how you’ll divide the chores, especially after you have kids. Couples who have lived in together have an advantage, in the sense that they’ve already worked out a routine. But even then, it’s best to get the question out in the open, so you don’t end up fighting: ‘I do everything around here!’
5. What are our pet peeves?
There are some habits you only find out when you’re married, or only get really annoying after spending close proximity with each other. For example, can you live with the fact that he’s a packrat? Does he mind that you tend to try 20 different outfits before going to work—and leave the discarded clothes all over the bed? Of course, it’s kind of silly to cancel a wedding just because he leaves the toothpaste cap off (nobody’s perfect!) but forewarned is forearmed.
6. What are our attitudes about children?
Do you want children? How many? What will you do if you have infertility issues—are you open to adoption? These are just some of the important questions to ask before having kids. Do take this discussion seriously, especially since they involve the lives of your children-to-be.
7. What are our expectations about our careers?
How happy are you with your career? Do you plan a career shift? Do you expect to put a lot of hours in order to establish your experience and network? Do you need to invest in training or experience? Would you move out of state to pursue a good job opportunity—and how would your partner feel about relocating? Also talk about whether or not you want to pursue a career after having a family, or how willing you are to downscale to give quality time to the family.
8. How do we handle stress?
Again, this is an issue of forewarned is forearmed. Marital life can be stressful, and it’s best for your partner to know how you behave when you’re tired or under pressure. Do you get grumpy? Do you withdraw? Do you need space or lots of assurance and attention?