Maybe you have been dating for a while and are already thinking about taking the next step, or maybe you already bought the rings, planned the ceremony, and are practicing your vows. Either way, you are wondering if there is anything you missed in preparing for your happily ever after. We recommend discussing these “hot topics” with your partner to make sure you both understand the other’s experience, priorities, and desires for your life together.
You need to know your partner’s spending and saving habits. Some couples put all of their income into one bank account and agree on every purchase. Others keep individual accounts and agree on a portion of their income to put into the shared bills. You might even decide one of you makes all of the decisions about money and gives the other an allowance for entertainment or personal items. However it works, be sure you know how the bills are getting paid.
Questions to Ask: How much do we have saved? How much debt do we have? What happens if one of us loses a job? How do we handle big-ticket items like houses and cars? Does one of us want to stay home if/when we have kids?
Deciding when or even if to have children is an important part of making a commitment to each other. Make sure that you’re honest with yourself about what you really want rather than what you think you’re supposed to want.
Remember that even if you never have children, you and your partner are a complete family.
Questions to Ask: How important is it that we have or don’t have children? What else has to happen in our lives before we’re ready to be parents? What will we do if we can’t have biological children? What if there is an unexpected pregnancy? Who are our parenting models and what do we think is the most important part of parenting? What support do we have from family or friends?
This topic also ties into the money issue, but it can be its own source of stress. You may be established in your field, but he’s just getting started. Or you might have your eye on graduate school or changing careers, but she’s looking for stability. You will need to discuss where you see yourselves in the future, and how your occupational path will affect your home life.
Questions to Ask: Do we share a similar work ethic? Does one of us anticipate working long hours throughout our lives? Is the other one content to spend evenings at home alone or with the kids? Does someone’s work require travel or higher education? How much will the marriage affect our career choices, and how much will our careers affect our marriage?
Whether you and your partner have been sexually active for years or are waiting until you’ve said your vows, you should be prepared to talk openly and honestly about your likes and dislikes in bed. Even more importantly, you’ll need to listen to what your partner is saying and be sure you’re working together to make each other happy. Sex shouldn’t be a chore, but something to be enjoyed by the two of you as a couple.
Questions to Ask: Are we comfortable with our sexuality? Do we know what we like and are we confident our partner can give it to us? Are we able to talk about our sexual needs and be responsive to those of our partner?
These discussions deal with the day-to-day details that make up a shared life, and you’ll be sharing this life for a very long time (if all goes well). A habit that annoys you a little each day could bother you a lot after a few years. Be aware an unequal division of labor can lead to feelings of resentment towards your partner. To avoid conflict, you’ll need to come to an agreement about how to share the housework.
Questions to Ask: Do we have a system for deciding who does what chores? Are we able to speak up and renegotiate when we need a break or a change? What else do we need to discuss about our home, e.g. how many bedrooms do we need, should we rent or own? How can we work together to make each other comfortable in our space?
Your lives don’t stop once you leave the house, so you’ll want to make sure you have similar attitudes towards friends, neighbors, and extended family. Some people like to be on a first-name basis with everyone on the block, while others would drive 10 miles to the store rather than ask the downstairs neighbor for a cup of sugar. You are also bringing friends and co-workers of your own into this marriage, so you’ll need to be sure you’re clear on your boundaries. If your partner thinks nothing of letting her unemployed college roommate crash on your couch for a week but the idea of a house guest makes you cringe, you have some negotiating to do.
Questions to Ask: How much contact do we have with our families, and how might that change? How important is it to us that we’re involved in our community? Do we attend block parties, host block parties, or go out of town on block party weekends? Who are our other important relationships (friends, parents, siblings) and how might those people affect our marriage? How do we feel about having individual friendships with people of the opposite sex?
This topic is easy to overlook, but don’t forget your partner is marrying your potential future
health as well as your past and current physical state. If any illnesses or conditions run in your family, you should let your partner know so you can discuss what might happen. You are committing to be together for life, which includes an unspoken assumption you want your life to be as long and healthy as possible.
Questions to Ask: Do we have health, life, and disability insurance? How can we work together to make eating healthy and exercising a priority? Are we willing and able to take care of each other if one of us becomes ill or disabled? How might our physical and mental health conditions affect our children?
Like so many other issues, the amount of stress that arises from spiritual conflicts will depend entirely on how important each person’s spiritual beliefs are to them. For two deeply religious people, a minor difference in doctrine might be a deal-breaker. Whereas other couples are comfortable marrying from different faith backgrounds. Be sure you are honest with yourself and your partner about what parts of your religious practices are important to you now and in the future.
Questions to Ask: How closely do our beliefs align? If we have conflicts, how do they impact our daily lives? How will we observe religious holidays? If we have children, how will we raise them? Can we be comfortable if we don’t attend the same place of worship, or if one of us isn’t religious at all?
If you and your partner can’t answer all of these questions, or if you discover any areas that seem difficult to resolve, you might want to consider premarital counseling to create a safe and open dialogue. Your marriage will be the most important relationship of your life, so it’s worth doing extra work to be sure you are ready for it.