Six Conversations Better-to-Have Before Getting Married
While Covid-19 has created some challenging circumstances for planning a wedding, it may also provide some opportunities for taking some time to lay the foundation for a more solid future together. If you and your partner are planning a life together, congratulations! And, here are six things to talk about before you get married:
The idea of moving in together usually sounds so blissful and lovely, and even easy. “How wonderful it will be,” we think, “when I can start and end every day with the love of my life….” What could possibly go wrong?
We hope living together is great for you too. And it wouldn’t hurt to put in a bit of work to increase your chances of it going that way.
We get so used to our typical behaviors that we don’t tend to think about them much at all. These habits can become crystal clear, however, when our partner’s habits start interfering with our own. That being said, you may want to consider how your habits and routines will likely fit with your partner’s.
To start, take some time to think about what your home life currently looks like. Do you throw your stuff on a chair when you get home? Are you leaving dishes in the sink for an hour (or days) before washing? Do you squeeze the middle of the toothpaste tube?
Next, think about your partner’s habits and routines and how these coincide with your preferences. Are the dishes left in the sink, on the counter, or immediately put in the dish washer? Do you mind your laundry being moved and completed for you, or do you like it left alone? Do you prefer quiet at certain times of the day, or do you like noise and activity around you?
It can be helpful to consider what each of you would like to see home life look like as a couple. Take time to explore and share what each of you envision, in terms of living together.
Be honest with yourself and your partner! Know and share your pet peeves. Be upfront about what you’re willing to change and what you’d like to keep the same. If your partner can’t stand dirty dishes in the sink, discuss what this means for you and the degree to which you are willing to compromise — are you okay putting dishes away right away or are their exceptions you would like to discuss? Open up conversations around these issues. Get creative about finding solutions to meet both of your needs, so that you can transition more smoothly into home-life together.
The more our lives intertwine with one another, the more opportunities there are for conflict. These issues can range from relatively small matters, like how trash duty is determined, to bigger issues like how to raise the kids.
What are Our Values?
The ability to work through conflict successfully takes a lot of skill. It’s helpful to start with the foundation of knowing your partner’s core values, as this will help you identify the positive intentions that generally lie just behind some very frustrating behaviors.
How Do We Manage Our Emotions?
Managing conflict involves knowing how to express our needs in ways that aren’t critical and that don’t put our partner on the defensive. It entails knowing how to regulate our own nervous systems so that we don’t reactively shift blame back to our partner when we are feeling defensive ourselves.
How Do We Acknowledge Our Issues?
Working through conflict also requires both partners’ willingness to actively address conflict rather than avoid it. Partners might avoid conflict if they have grown up in a tumultuous environment, where no roadmap was provided to show how to work through conflict successfully. The alternative to conflict, however, is suppression of feelings and needs. And dismissed feelings or needs will ultimately will lead to resentment and drive a wedge between you.
While it might seem counterintuitive, having conflict can actually result in bringing couples closer together. When partners are able to show acceptance for one another’s differences, respect for one another’s values, and responsiveness towards one another’s needs, couples strengthen the trust and security in their relationship.
Holidays With (or Without) Extended Family
Speaking of conflict, what about those holidays? Now might be a nice time to have a conversation with your partner about what holidays will look like, before anyone is put on the spot or pressured by some over-involved family member.
Some Questions to Ask
First, think about what each of you would like. Some questions to get you started might look like:
- Who do you celebrate with the day of?
- Do you split up time evenly or by amount you each prefer?
- Would you mix both families together?
- Do you stay with family or do you stay somewhere else?
- Do you have the holiday at your own place and have people come to you?
Piece together what an ideal holiday/extended family time might look like for each of the two of you. You might find that your ideas are pretty similar, or they might be very different.
If you find that your ideal situations are quite different, you will need to negotiate to find a win-win solution. For example, you could agree to do Thanksgiving Day at your family’s place one year and then switch to doing Thanksgiving Day with your partner’s family the next year. Sometimes the ways that families envision their holidays will make fair-feeling-solutions a little more difficult to find. When faced with tougher situations you might ask one another, “What would it take for you to agree to…” and see where that takes you.
Remember, as you form your own family, you decide which family rules to take with you, which ones to discard, and which ones to adjust to fit the needs of your relationship. There are no rules to how these things look. Your solutions could look very similar or quite different from how others manage their family’s holiday craze.
Once you have determined a mutually agreed upon plan, think about how you will communicate this to others so that your families will know clearly what they can and cannot expect from you. Then the two of you will be better able to focus on creating some happy memories together.
If you and your partner are going to parent together, there are a lot of topics for you and your partner to discuss. While it’s probably overkill to be planning too far into the future, there are a few things you may want to start opening discussions on now.
Assigning Tasks and Responsibilities
One area of contention with parents involves role expectations and determining who will carry which responsibilities. This conversation might start with questions of how baby duties will be divided (diaper changes, bath time, nighttime feedings, sick days, etc.), but it also includes a lot more.
When thinking about the tasks that are included in parenting, it is important that you not forget about the many invisible mental tasks that must accounted for. Who will remember to schedule doctors appointments? How will daycares be vetted? Who will remember to shop for and collect all the things that need loading in the baby’s bag? Who will be in charge of setting up or keeping track of play dates or other events?
In addition to considering the assignment of tasks, couples need to determine what values they hope to instill in their children, and how they intend to do this. Do you want to teach your children values through your religion, or do you plan to allow your children to determine their own belief systems? What are your ideas about technology and how does this interplay with your value for social connection? What are your ideas about teaching responsibility, teamwork, contribution, etc.?
Blending Disciplinary Styles
Lastly, discipline is an important topic to consider. Many parents emphasize person-centered approaches that focus on communication and understanding. Others tend to place more emphasis on consequences of behaviors and encouragement of compliance. While we tend to promote a both/and approach, explained here, each of you will inevitably have different ideas about how much you agree or disagree with these perspectives. It is important that you start considering how you would like discipline to look because, regardless of how you ultimately choose to approach this, it will be important to present a united front together.
Aaaaahhhh…Money. There’s a lot of ways this conversation could go, and for a lot of couples it goes south. Let’s see if we can help you and your partner veer north!
Some Questions to Ask
The way you choose to work with finances will be unique to your relationship. To get started, some questions to ask yourselves are:
- How will we divide up our household expenses?
- Will we share a bank account, keep individual accounts, or have both?
- Which bills will be paid by which accounts?
- Will each of us pay a certain percentage of our income toward shared bills, or will we each pay the same amount regardless of how much we make?
- How will we address the having an emergency fund?
- How will pay for vacations or entertainment?
- Will we invest jointly or separately?
- How will investment decisions to be made?
- Will we have savings accounts and how will we determine our contributions?
- How will we keep track of expenses for the kids and how will we divide up these financial responsibilities?
- What are our rules (if any) for communicating about individual purchases? Does this depend on the price of the item? Is the type of item important? Does the balance of our accounts matter? Will it depend on which account is used?
While not all these of questions may apply to you and your future partner right now, this provides a nice stepping stone for opening up the conversation about your financial future together. At the same time, expenses and incomes will fluctuate over time, and you will need to revisit these questions repeatedly.
Once you decide to implement a plan, It can be helpful to allow yourselves a trial period where each of you can take some time to see if your approaches are working for you. It is important to set a timeline for checking in with one another, because often when something feels like it is working great for one person it may not be working so well for the other. Make sure to check in with one another and be willing to adjust your approaches if needed, so it can feel fair and balanced for both of you.
Ahhhh-huh, so you think you’ve got this one all figured out? Yes? No?
Well, for now, maybe you do. But, what people don’t always talk about, when it comes to sex, is how changes in our relationship can impact changes in our sex life. And I’m not (totally) talking about the stories where it goes right downhill after marriage. There is (a lot) more to the story.
Now, please take just a moment to reread the above paragraph. Note that what I said was, “how changes in our relationship can impact changes in our sex life.” What I did NOT say, was how changes to our bodies impact changes in our sex life. Many people worry (for some reasons that won’t get addressed here) that sex declines because of our age or changes to our appearances, and I want to put that worry to rest — it is not an issue with our bodies that is generally at the center of these changes.
Changes typically actually happen because of the way desire works.
As Esther Peril, an expert in eroticism, points out, desire and security can act as two conflicting forces. As couples begin to feel more secure, their desires often naturally lessen.
This is why it might interest you to know now: How comfortable is your partner likely to feel if desire wanes as you become increasingly comfortable and secure together? Is your partner more likely to feel content with a strong sense of security, and not worry so much about the potential for decreased sex drive? Or is it more likely that your partner will want to seek out some novelty, adventure, surprise, risk, or mystery to make sure that the sexy is brought back?
If either of you is of the Bringing Sexy Back Variety, what would you be willing to explore to achieve this goal? What would you not be as comfortable with?
Communicate About These Difficult Topics Before They Become An Issue.
It’s hard to do, I know. Who wants to ruin these blissful moments?
But it is important to know what you are getting into. Starting to have these conversations earlier, rather than later, will provide you with a solid foundation to lean on when difficult times occur. These issues will surface at some point, and it will help to know how far you will need to come to find win-win solutions for you both.
Start now. Your future relationship will thank you.