Right before getting married, when your relationship is still heady and full of wonder, you might hesitate to approach sensitive subjects. Perhaps you are shy, or you want to preserve the romantic magic. However, as seasoned relationship experts know, weighty topics such as children or finances form huge parts of life after marriage, and need to be addressed. In the best case, they are pillars of a strong healthy relationship. At worst, they cause tension, fights and ongoing unhappiness.
Marriage is not just an extended romance. It is also a shared project – the building of a life around common values and ideals. It’s crucial to know where your partner stands before you tie the knot. According to Robert Scuka, the executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, “If you don’t deal with an issue before getting married, you deal with it while you’re married.”
Talking about these things early on creates good communication habits that will strengthen your relationship in the long run. Below are some crucial starting points for discussion, plus some vital tips on how to get the conversation started.
Children and Family
For some couples, talking about family is exciting, fun, and natural. For others, it can be more difficult. Family can be a sensitive subject for numerous reasons, especially when linked to one’s own family upbringing.
Our personal histories have a huge impact on what kind of family we want for ourselves in the future. There will be things each partner will want to recreate, and things each partner will want to do differently. Find out what these things may be, and discuss the “why” as well as the “how”.
Before getting married, it’s a good idea to start a conversation about family by finding out about the type of family your partner came from. If you don’t know already, ask them whether their parents are divorced or still together. Find out if they are an only child or had siblings. How did their family handle conflict? Was money an issue? How was the relationship between their parents? Did this have an impact?
When it comes to children, experts agree the most important questions are whether you want them, and when. At this point in your relationship it’s probably fine if you disagree on how many kids you actually want (if you want them at all). Your views on family may change as your relationship develops through time. That’s okay. In fact, it’s healthy. Here are the vital questions you need to approach early on:
- Do you want children? At what point do you want them? (How many you want can come later.)
- What will your roles be as parents? Who will change diapers? Go shopping? Take the kids to soccer?
- What birth control methods will you use before having children?
- If you have previous marriages or children, what role will they play in your life?
- Do you get along with each other’s parents? If not, what is your plan to deal with it?
- Do either of you plan on changing your name after tying the knot?
As relationship experts, we encourage couples to have open, honest dialogues about their religious values, if they have any. What may seem like a minor difference to fiancés can take on more importance as in-laws, and especially children, are thrown in the mix. If one or both of you are religious, then do think ahead. It’s best to have a plan for the future before getting married, especially when it comes to your children’s religion.
Here are some major points you need to get out in the open.
• How important is religion to you, both in your day-to-day life, and long-term?
• If you come from a different religious tradition than your partner, will you continue in your own faith?
• What faith will you conduct our wedding in? Who will ordain?
• Will you give your children religious upbringings? How strictly and in what faith?
Money is the biggest cause of conflict in most marriages. And even before getting married, it’s a delicate subject for many couples. However, discussing the biggest issues early on helps eliminate tension down the road, or can help create a roadmap to a solution when problems arise. The most important things you need to talk about are:
• What is worth spending money on? (The question ‘How much would you spend on a car?’ is a great way to get started.)
• What kind of lifestyle do you envision for yourselves? How will you budget for this?
• Do you want to combine all finances? Combine some finances? Keep everything separate? If there is a major difference in your incomes, how will you handle it?
• Do you have any personal debt? Would you be willing to help your partner in the future if they do?
• What about children? Will both of you go back to work? If one partner wants to stay at home with the children, will you be able to afford it?
How to Talk About It
Talking about these issues can be intimidating, especially during what is supposed to be the most romantic time of your life. These conversations may seem like a minefield of potential conflicts. However, think of them as the start of bringing your relationship to a higher, more meaningful level.
Begin with general views as a way of getting to know your partner on a deeper level and build up to specific questions. Try not to speak in terms of universals (“Money is supposed to be handled like this”) but in terms of personal values (“I’ve always thought the best way to view money is ___”).
Remember, not every disagreement needs to be a deal-breaker. While your common ground is an immediate source of bonding, your differences are a unique chance to learn new things from each other. Try to look at them as projects, not problems – ones that need to be tackled as a team, rather than from an individual perspective.
If you find yourselves overwhelmed or treading the same ground over and over without coming to a resolution, you may need help from a relationship professional. Premarital counseling has shown itself to be invaluable in helping couples get off to the best possible start. Be sure to find a counselor with solid experience and training in this area, and your marriage will reap the rewards for many years to come.