Topics to Consider Before Getting Married
After four and a half years with my husband, and a year of marriage, I can honestly say that I would do it all over again without changing much. Well, maybe we would have spent our money a little more conservatively but as far as the decision on marriage - it was a perfect one.
Unfortunately, as I consider our acquaintances and their marriages, it's clear that all marriages are not created equal. Cheating, drug addiction, financial woes, and chronic fighting surrounds us and often times we are stuck in the middle as these people come to us for advice.
Here are a handful of things that have become common themes. My assumption is that you've already talked about religion, having kids, sex, etc. If not, you really need to open up the communication before you get married. So before you say "I Do", make sure you have at least considered these: (Jay White with Dumb Little Man)
Ability to Compromise
As couples are marrying when they are older and more financially stable, many of them have jobs, bank accounts, kids and/or pets, and some even businesses.
I bought my own house, received a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degree, installed a garage door opener, mowed my own lawn, and handled a class of 30 first graders on a daily basis, all by myself.
When I wanted to move, get another degree, adopt another cat or two, or even go out to dinner, I didn’t need the permission or approval from anyone. I didn’t have to consult my budget, I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s feelings, and I didn’t have to compromise.
However, I didn’t have anyone to compromise with or care what I did either.
When my husband and I moved in together and decided to make our relationship more serious, I started having to consult him first. There was another person in my life who’s life would change based on some of the bigger decisions I made. Right off hand, I can’t even remember the minor compromises I had to make for him.
There are subtle changes that most people make in their lives in order to make their spouse happy. This is part of the never ending compromise phase that is critical.
At one point, I had to make the decision to give up my home and move to another state for the relationship. I could have easily given him up, but it just wasn’t worth it. He gave up his vehicle and his home in Washington for me and we both joined together in forging a new life for ourselves.
Throughout the process, it was always the other person’s choice. We were careful not to push each other to make a decision, but to let them decide which direction to go on their own. Had one of us tried to force the other to choose or lose the relationship, that person would have resisted and eventually resented the other. That resent would have spread and ultimately influenced the overall atmosphere of the relationship.
The same is true for just about everything. The willingness of the other person to compromise today (of the lack thereof) and your reaction to it will prove to be a precedent setting event. If someone is absolutely unwilling to compromise on minor issues, you should expect the same for larger issues. Don't be shocked and appalled by it when it happens three years from now- you knew this going in and you accepted it!
Who in Your Relationship Handles the Finances?
Control Over the Money
Money is a HUGE topic when considering getting married. Are your keeping separate accounts or getting a joint account? Who’s responsible for paying the bills? Who is going to handle the budgeting?
Most individuals, marrying older, are coming into marriage with debt. This might be from credit cards, gambling, or simply just college loans. The issue then becomes, how much are we going to dedicate to paying off our debt every month, and who’s going to pay it?
You’ll also need to consider other matters. Now if you want to purchase something big, you have someone you’ll need to consult with. Do you need to save up money for a new car, a washing machine and dryer (like we did), or some other important purchase? How much can one person spend without consulting the other?
And the last thing you want to do is to rack up even more debt from your wedding. It can all get overwhelming fast. At the moment, because my husband is going to school and working hard to get a successful career going, I have been handling the finances around the house. Our ultimate plan is for me to one day hand the finances back over to him.
You have to decide what is right for your relationship and how you are each going to handle your money, especially if one person is a saver and one person is a spender. So before you get hitched, what is your plan today and 5 years from now? Who is handling what?
I don’t know if you want me to write this section. lol Chores are another big dilemma when two people join forces and get married. Obviously you both handled your own chores at one point because you manage to eat on clean dishes and wear clean clothes (Am I assuming too much?).
Now that you are “roommates,” how are you going to split these up? Did you know that 95% of arguments at least in the first year of marriage revolve around the dishes? Seriously! (Obviously it’s not always about the dishes, but that’s another article.)
I suggest setting up a plan for this in the very beginning, before you even get married. Housework is constant. It all needs to get done and it's not the most fun. The point of this is to set the expectation on both sides so that someone doesn't feel like a housekeeper.
Chores need to be shared regardless of the work and income situation. Being a woman doesn't mean the wife has to handle it all. My suggestion is a weekly rotation - perhaps you'll come up with something different. (Jay White with Dumb Little Man)
This is a topic that we’re still working on. lol But now that my husband’s out of school, it’s getting A LOT better!
Planning for the Future
A lot of the confusion can be removed before this even begins by having a 1, 3, 6 and 9 year plan set up ahead of time. All this means is discussing where each person would like to be, and what each one would like to be doing in 1 year, 3 years, 6 years, and 9 years.
By being honest up front, there are no surprises. Perhaps you didn’t know that he wanted to have kids right away, but had been intending to work for that promotion to Senior Partner this next couple of years. Or you had really been expecting to purchase a home together to move into right after the wedding, but he’d really been saving hard the last few years to be able to spend that money on a new car.
These are the kind of things that you want to have out in the open so they don’t cause arguments later. This is also a great time to start learning how to compromise, with the outcome being that both people are happy with the final decision.
You’ll want to discuss living arrangements, money, kids, parents, moving, careers, big purchases, and both of your goals and aspirations for the future. Hopefully this gets you started.
Religion and Holidays
Hopefully these important issues have already been discussed before you start planning your wedding. Are you both of the same faith? How strongly do you both feel about your individual beliefs, even if they are of the same religion? How will those beliefs be expressed in your home?
With religion being a really controversial topic, you'll want to discuss holidays, church, your faith as a couple and any expectations you have for the other person or for your relationship religion-wise.
You'll also want to discuss how this topic will be handled with your children, and once again the topic of holidays, church, and your expectations come to light again. The last thing you want to happen is to be married for almost a year, thinking everything okay, and then one of your families invites you over for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any of the millions of other religious celebrations and the other person isn't comfortable.
You want to discuss, make decisions, and come to a fair compromise that you can both be happy with on most of these topics before committing to them for the rest of your life. You might discover that there is something you cannot live with for life.
One of the biggest questions you need to ask up front is whether both of you want children. If one person does not, then you have found something really good to sit down and talk about now.
If both of you have agreed and you both want children, then a whole other series of questions arise. Not that you need to sit down and talk about all of them right this second, but it is important to at least make sure you are on the same page before you get married.
The biggest one is discipline. You were both raised in different households, with different parents and parenting styles, maybe one had sibling sand the other did not. I know my husband has 12 siblings, 13 with him included, and I had none. It was just me. Talk about different backgrounds.
How would you like them raised (religion, education, daycare, babysitting, feeding, breastfeeding or not, all natural or all commercial, with more topics than I could possibly list here . . .)?
Are you okay with your parents babysitting for you? When would you like to start trying for them? What happens if you two cannot conceive naturally? Home birth or hospital birth? Anyone in the room with you? Public school, private school, or home-school? College? Are you helping him or her pay for anything or is your child on his or her own?
Just like an older couple has to discuss all of the detailed subjects regarding death when making out their wills, I realize all of these decisions don't have to be firm right this moment, but wouldn't it make things a whole lot easier and reduce stress if you talked about most of them now?
Cheating and Intimacy
I know this sounds crazy to discuss before marriage, but just like everything else, you'll want to know how the other person feels before going in, so that you're not surprised later.
How will you really handle a situation where you think the other person might be cheating, or might not be happy in the relationship?
In an ideal situation, you would have a constant flow of healthy communication throughout your relationship. You would always address the other person's feelings with respect and a desire to make them happy. There would never be a time when one person would desire to cheat because you would have a healthy relationship in the bedroom (2-3 nights a week, right?).
The key here is to set the precedent for open communication between the two of you. Even if you don't like it, you will learn to accept another person's feelings graciously, not get angry or lash out, and learn to come to a compromise even if that means you have to apologize.
You will learn to identify your spouse's strength sand weaknesses, be understanding and respectful not to take advantage of them, and always be supportive and helpful in your expressions to eachother.
Talk about everything and anything you can think of. Get it all out on the line. Get to know each other and their expectations for any situation. This is the only way you can truly be prepared.
John Gottman really knows what he's talking about when it comes to marriage. This is another great book to help you get your marriage started in the right direction. We really enjoyed it.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness