Couple Talks Before Marriage

December 1st, 2011

Even after being married for two-and-a-half years (and almost two years of being friends and dating before marriage), its amazing the things I’m still learning about my husband. Like how he once played the trumpet in elementary school. Or how he started a forest fire while at a family reunion. Although these little snippets are seemingly insignificant (well, the forest fire is kind of a big deal), it still shows that when I said “I do” I only just started getting to know the person in front of me.

While my husband and I talked a lot before we got married and got a good feel of our habits and dispositions, the actual act of being married and living together is hard to fully grasp until you are doing it.

To help others who may be seriously dating and about to take that next step to marriage, I have put together a small list of things that should be discussed before making a huge commitment. Because quite frankly, you need to know what you are getting yourself into.

1. Ambitions and Long-term Goals. This may seem obvious and maybe it even came up on a first date. But an honest and thoughtful discussion about where you both hope to be in 10, 20, or 30 years will help you to see if you are on the same page. Talking about goals isn’t just about goals; it is a window into our values. In addition, understanding what the other’s goals are will help you to be more supportive and encouraging during the difficult road ahead. For example, my husband has a goal to get into dental school and it hasn’t been an easy process. After getting a couple of denials, wait-lists, and finally an acceptance letter, it put a huge strain on our relationship with all the emotional ups and downs. But because we both understood what our end goal was, we were better able to push through those difficulties and encourage each other.

2. Conflict Styles. Although you wouldn’t actually come out and say, “By the way, I am a more avoidant conflict style, just so you know,” it is important to understand how each of you handles conflict. In our marriage prep class, I remember my teacher saying it was important and beneficial to have disagreements while you are dating so you can see how the other person reacts to conflict. Since my husband and I disagreed on more than one occasion while we were dating, we found out that our conflict styles were vastly different from the other. But we were able to work through our issues before marriage so that now being married we are much more aware of how the other person feels and are able to compromise easier.

3. Household Responsibilities. Okay, let’s be real for a second. When you are dating and trying hard to impress your boyfriend/girlfriend, you will probably say anything that sounds good when it comes to household chores. Like, “I would take out the garbage everyday and then run to the nearby meadow to pick you flowers on the way back from the dumpster.” And then they will sigh and swoon over how lucky they are to have you. Until after a few months of marriage and garbage is piling up and each of you is looking at the other with that look of, “Well, I did it last time, why can’t you do it?” I’m not speaking from experience or anything. I just remember what it’s like from both sides. And I know what it’s like when you have unrealistic expectations for how you or your partner handles everyday chores. So it is important to have an honest and real conversation about what you expect from one another. Do you hate cleaning the bathroom? Do you expect the woman to cook every meal? Do you expect the man to cook every meal? Who is responsible for the trash? And for the flower picking? These are all real and important questions that should be addressed (except maybe the flowers… though I do support the frequent giving of flowers). I can tell you it will highly decrease your chances of arguments and hurt feelings over chores in the future. Of course, things like this will change over time. So it may be better to pay attention to underlying values evident in these conversations rather than the actual specific tasks.

4. And finally. Habits and Past Records. This is probably one of the most important things to talk about to your future spouse. Though you may feel embarrassed or shamed, they need to know what has gone on in your past so they can make an honest decision about your future together. And not only that, but they need to know so they can understand how to support and help you if anything happens again. Research shows that most people bring addictions into the marriage, not after. If you have struggled with pornography in the past, marriage will not solve the problem and you could still struggle with it afterwards. Your partner needs to know this so they can be made fully aware of anything that might come up. I know from those very dear to me how keeping secrets can hurt and destroy relationships. Do not sugar coat it. Do not say you are better if you are not. Do not pretend like the problem isn’t real. It is real and it needs to be openly discussed in a comfortable and loving environment. It shouldn’t be an interrogation, just an honest disclosure of your past issues.

There is obviously a lot more that should be discussed: finances, children, in-laws, religion, the list goes on (and you don’t need to discuss all of them at the same time). And the RELATE questionnaire is a great way to get a meaningful discussion going! These are just a few that I have found important either in my own relationship or in those close to me. Researchers who study divorce know that in so many cases the seeds of serious marital challenges were present and often known before the marriage ever began. Couples should use the dating and engagement time to REALLY prepare well for their marriage, to work through their issues rather than assume that marital love will conquer all.

What would you add to the list? What are some things you wish you knew before you got married? Tell us in the comments below!