Although a marriage proposal may leave you giddy and eager to jump into “happily ever after” mode, it’s time to take a deep breath and discuss the hard questions. (No, that doesn’t mean deciding between pink- and salmon-colored bridesmaid dresses.)
Hopefully, you’ve got a pretty good idea of your partner’s views on the important issues if you’ve made it this far in the relationship, but love can sometimes make it easy to gloss over the uncomfortable parts. If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between actual “red flags” and mere annoyances, consider some of the must-discuss issues below.
If you’re always saving for a rainy day and your partner can’t walk past a window display without buying something, stop right where you are. Even if your spending differences seem charming during the dating phase, money is one of the most common argument topics that plagues married couples. It helps to agree upon rules ahead of time so you’re not floundering when money disagreements inevitably arise.
Some questions to consider include: Will you pool all of your financial resources, manage separate bank accounts, or use a combination of the two? If you keep separate accounts, will you split the household budget evenly or according to income? Will you discuss large purchases ahead of time?
Remember that, under many states’ laws, once you marry you will be responsible for not only half of your partner’s assets, but also half of their debts. Some couples find that signing a prenuptial agreement puts their minds at rest and prevents money-related stress on the relationship.
You know what they say about guests and fish: both start to smell after three days. Be sure you and your partner agree on the ideal duration of a family visit. Discuss how much (or how little) of your partner’s family you’d like to see in an average year. Will you alternate holiday visits with one family, then the other? What will you do if one family moves closer to you and expects more visits?
No matter how much you love your partner’s family, there’s such a thing as “too much togetherness,” and strained familial relations can put stress on a marriage. Before tensions have a chance to rise, discuss how you plan to handle spouse vs. family conflict in the future.
What will you do if your in-laws disagree with the way you’re raising your children? What will happen if an aging parent needs to move in with you? Your partner should always consider your needs when forming a compromise (and vice versa).
The biggest question when it comes to children is, “Will we have them?” This is not a disagreement to resolve after the wedding! If you do decide you both want kids, you’ll need to discuss the process of raising them. If one or both of you have children already, how will you integrate the families?
Sit down and discuss the important questions. How many children do you ideally want? If having your own children isn’t an option, would you want to adopt? What is your discipline style? Is spanking okay? Are violent video games allowed? What about co-ed sleepover parties?
What are your educational expectations? Even though most of these situations won’t come into play for years down the road, it’s important to bring them up now–you may be surprised by some of your partner’s answers. The important thing isn’t that you agree on every point, but that you are able to discuss everything calmly and work toward compromise.
Even if you and your partner share the same religious beliefs, what will happen if one of you changes your views later in life? Interfaith marriages can survive despite differences in belief, as long as there is respect on both sides.
Discuss how important religion will be to your household. If one of you attends a house of worship, will the other partner be expected to attend, too? Which holidays will you celebrate (and how)? If you have children, will they be raised practicing one religion, or a combination of the two? Will they be allowed to choose once they’re old enough?
In the Bedroom
If your love life runs into problems, don’t assume marriage will fix it. Open communication is the only thing that can. Mismatched libidos are common, but it doesn’t form an insurmountable problem unless you can’t broach the subject and find a compromise.
Even if you’re embarrassed, discussing these topics helps form a healthy marriage with matched expectations. You can try writing your answers on paper and trading with your partner if you find it difficult to talk openly.
Consider: What is your definition of marriage? Is an “open relationship” ever permissible? Does your partner want physical intimacy as often as you do? Are there any activities that you will never, ever try? If your partner ever cheated, would you want to know?
Although asking these questions can be hard, it’s much easier to establish ground rules before you get into emotionally-charged situations.
Vices and foibles
Nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. Relationships are a constant process of forgiving your partner’s shortcomings while trying to improve your own. However, some shortcomings are easier to accept than others. Don’t get married hoping to “fix” your partner–it’s important to know your spouse thoroughly or your marriage will be a lifelong struggle.
Some vices are minor annoyances. If your partner leaves the sink full of dirty dishes, it’s relatively easy to compromise. You may decide to assume kitchen chores while your partner does all of the yard work, for example. But what do you do when your partner has more serious problems, like emotional volatility, compulsive gambling, or a substance addiction?
You’ll need to discuss it frankly before committing to marriage. Is your partner willing to get help? What will happen if the problem worsens? If you don’t like the answers you get now, just remember–the issues won’t disappear once the honeymoon ends.
Open Communication is Essential
Although the answers to some of these questions may seem obvious to you, it never hurts to discuss them with your partner to make sure they’re as straightforward as they seem. Many couples, especially if they’re getting married early in life, haven’t had a reason to give some of the more complex topics deep thought. It’s common for religion to play a larger role in people’s lives once they have children, for example. Similarly, young couples may not have complex finances until they advance in their careers.
It helps to visualize the future with your partner and discuss hypotheticals so you can settle potential disagreements before they happen. While many differences can be solved along the way, it takes effort to talk openly and calmly. If any subject is off the table for discussion, that by itself is a red flag. Remember, with open communication and a willingness to compromise, a loving relationship can weather almost any storm.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.