10 Upfront Conversations Before Getting Married

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Conversations before getting married

Are you planning to get married? Do you want your marriage to live up to your expectation? Then you must begin by having frank, upfront conversations with your partner before getting married.

Doing “slow love”—choosing multiple premarital partners, having friends with benefits, or living with a partner for a while—is what young couples often do before they choose to marry. This is a good thing. Helen Fisher, who invented the meme “slow love,” argues that we have an evolutionary imperative for the deep attachment couples can find in marriage. [1]

When you do find “the one,” it’s the time to be upfront with each other—to have the kind of serious conversations that will set the stage for the equitable, sustainable, and satisfying marriage you want.

Here are 10 conversations that you should have so that your marriage has a better chance of living up to your expectations.

1. Why Do You Want to Get Married?

This may seem like an unnecessary conversation to have, but there can be a disconnect between how people think about marriage and how they act once they are in it. This is particularly true these days because you have so much latitude about the kind of marriage you can have. In fact, the book The New “I Do” discusses the many kinds of marital arrangements you can have, such as a starter marriage, a companionship marriage, a parenting marriage, a safety marriage, etc. [2]

Relationships Are Harder Now Because Conversations Became Texting

Take the time with your intended to explore your reasons and motives for marrying. Here are the top reasons why people say they want to get married, according to a recent Pew Research Center report:

  • For love (88 percent)
  • To make a lifelong commitment (81 percent)
  • Companionship (76 percent)
  • Children (49 percent)
  • To have a relationship recognized in a religious ceremony (30 percent)
  • Financial stability (28 percent)
  • Legal rights and benefits (23 percent)

As the authors of The New “I Do” admonish, “It isn’t okay to just assume that getting married is another thing on life’s trajectory.”

Also read 4 Ways To Get Emotional Closure In A Relationship, All By Yourself

2. What Do You as an Individual Want 1, 5, and 10 Years from Now?

Take some time to think about what is important to you to flourish in life. Here are some starter ideas for your conversation.

  • How important is a career to you?
  • How about children?
  • Do you have an ideal future in mind?
  • What other things are important to you—hobbies, friends, sports, etc.?

What you want in life is important and stands on its own. However, it cannot be a demand for fulfilment. In the context of marriage, it is what you negotiate—another essential pre-marital conversation.

A Lot Of Conversations Need To Be Had In Person

Also read 15 Green Flags In A Relationship That Prove Your Partner Is “The One”

3. How Will You Remain Strong as a Couple and Flourish as Individuals?

Being a couple means that what you do has an impact on your partner. Being true to yourself means you can identify what is important to you in order to flourish. Maintaining the balance between each of you seeking what is important individually while considering the impact on your partner is achieved by negotiating collaboratively around your individual goals and marital obligations.

Here are several things negotiating collaboratively means—talk about them with each other:

  • Am I willing to negotiate the important issues that arise in our marriage?
  • Do I understand that neither one of us is more “equal” than the other?
  • Am I willing and able to explain openly and directly my wishes and wants, i.e., “to put them on the table”?
  • Am I willing to not “privilege” my position in negotiations because of my status, e.g., gender or superior earnings?
  • Am I willing to take actions based on the decisions we reach through negotiation?

From my perspective, being willing and able to negotiate issues collaboratively has the status of a marital vow.

4. Being Accountable to Each Other Means Being Self-Reflective

Being self-reflective is the fundamental skill you will need to address conflict in your marriage. It is this quality that allows you to be accountable for your part in conflicts. In my work with couples with troubled marriages for over 30 years, the ability and willingness to be self-reflecting was either absent from the beginning or it had become extinct. When couples enter therapy, they always see the other person as the problem.

  • How good am I at stepping-back and looking at my part in how things go wrong between us?
  • Do I react too quickly when I think something is not going my way?
  • Do I sometimes or often take things personally?
  • Am I quick to label my partner’s actions that I don’t like negatively?

Jennifer Porter has a good description of what it means to be self-reflective: “The most useful reflection involves conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.” [3]

Also read Choosing the Wrong Partner: 7 Reasons We Settle for Less Than We Deserve

5. Be Proactive in Negotiating Your Sexual Relationship

You will want to be proactive in creating a satisfying sexual relationship. Remember, you are hoping to be together for a long time. A discussion about sex requires considerable self-reflection.

Here are some ideas about important topics to cover in this pre-wedding discussion. Be sure to add thoughts of your own.

  • How did you learn about sex?
  • How is sex important to you?
  • Has either of you had a traumatic sexual experience?
  • What fears do you have about your body?
  • How often would you like to have sex?
  • What kind of sexual acts do you like?
  • How shall you initiate sex with each other?
  • Do either or both of you watch pornography? How do you feel about that?

This discussion about sex will set the stage for ongoing discussions about sex throughout your marriage—start the discussion habit now.

Also read 8 Dangers of Dating an Emotionally Unavailable Person

6. What About Fidelity?

The conventional idea about marital fidelity is that it is agreed upon once you take your marriage vows. We have enough data on infidelity to suggest that we need a different approach, one that understands fidelity based on conviction, not convention. This means fidelity is a choice you are making together—it is a negotiated choice. Here are some ideas about how to discuss choosing fidelity.

  • Take the time to reflect on your own thoughts and feelings about sexual fidelity in your marriage.
  • Examine your implicit ideas about monogamy that come from your religious beliefs, traditional sex roles, personal moral values, and personal insecurities.
  • How are you going to define fidelity in your marriage?
    • Honesty and openness: What should you tell each other about your relationships with other people?
    • Outside relationships: What limits do you want to set on the nature of your relationships with other people, e.g. Is it okay to share personal information?
    • Sexual fidelity: What about lusting after someone, pornography use, and internet emotional relationships?
  • Honesty and openness: What should you tell each other about your relationships with other people?
  • Outside relationships: What limits do you want to set on the nature of your relationships with other people, e.g. Is it okay to share personal information?
  • Sexual fidelity: What about lusting after someone, pornography use, and internet emotional relationships?

Remember—fidelity is about conviction not convention.

7. Having and Raising Children

Today, having children is an intentional action. This means you must plan how you will work together to be effective parents, maintain gender equity, and sustain your relationship. Here are important questions that can guide your discussion.

  • Do you want to have children? Why?
  • What are your parenting philosophies?
  • What is your plan for having and raising your children?
  • How will the children impact your lives?
  • How will you share the responsibility of caring for your children?
  • If you choose not to have children, how will you handle the pressure you may experience to have children?

Philosopher Christine Overall proposes the best reason to have a child is simply the creation of the mutually enriching, mutually enhancing love that is the parent-child relationship. [4]

8. Finances

Before you walk down the aisle, talk about your financial well-being as a couple. You will want to establish a plan for managing your finances as you begin your marriage. Here are several starter questions:

  • What are you spending and savings habits?
  • Do you have separate assets and debts? Recognize that being married makes your individual assets/debts joint assets/debts.
  • Work to create a plan for spending and saving money.
  • Even as you manage your finances jointly, you may want to maintain your own financial and credit standing, perhaps by having separate checking accounts.
  • Regularly discuss your financial goals.

Having an initial sit-down about your finances is important, but don’t stop there. Regularly discuss finances particularly as it relates to your individual and marital goals.

Also read 12 Common Habits In Healthy Relationships Every Couple Swears By

9. Health and Wellness

You may not think about maintaining your individual health and wellness as part of a commitment to each other and to your marriage. It is. Remember, as a couple, everything you do has an impact on your partner. Here are several thoughts to start your discussion.

  • How will you both maintain your physical health—nutrition, physical fitness, and individual health issues?
  • How will you support each other’s wishes to maintain physical health?
  • How will each of you take care of your emotional and spiritual well-being?
  • How will you support each other’s efforts to maintain emotional and spiritual well-being?

Having this health and wellness discussion will prepare you to have important talks if situations of ill-health arise.

10. Legal Issues

Besides being about love, friendship, and connection, marriage is also a legal union. Here are a few legal issues to discuss.

  • How will debt accrued in the marriage be handled?
  • How will you decide what health and life insurance plan to use?
  • How will you decide upon beneficiaries for savings plans?
  • Are there individual premarital assets? Are these to remain with the individual or become joint assets?
  • Create wills, including living wills.
  • If circumstances change, how will you divide marital assets?
  • If circumstances change, who will receive maintenance and/or child support from the other?

Ongoing discussions about legal issues as well as the other important areas discussed here can enhance your marital relationship.

Closing Comment

Sociologist Kathleen Gerson found in her study of young people that they hoped to create egalitarian relationships within lasting marriages or marriage-like relationships. [5] To achieve this lofty goal in a society that continues to define marriage in terms of outdated gender roles—breadwinner and homemaker—young couples must have the kind of upfront conversations described. It is not easy to maintain an equitable relationship. The pull toward the traditional model is intense—particularly once you have children.

You will have a much better chance of maintaining the kind of marital relationship you want if you begin by having frank, upfront discussions and continue them throughout your marriage as it evolves over the long haul.


References

1. Fisher, Helen. (2016) Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray. W. W. Norton & Company.

2. Gadoua, S.P. and V. Larson. (2014) The New ‘I Do.’ Berkeley, California; Seal Press.

3. Porter, Jennifer. “Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It).” Harvard Business Review, March 21, 2017.

4. Overall, Christine. (2009) Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

5. Gerson, Kathleen. (2011) The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family. New York: Oxford University Press.
Written by: Catherine Aponte, Psy.D.
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission 
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