7 conversations to have before getting married
We are all familiar with the expression, ‘the honeymoon phase’: a small window of time before the reality of married life hits home. While we think that phrase is a little too flip, it does help burst the romantic illusion that the wedded bliss that follows your engagement is destined to overcome any obstacle. It is widely accepted that successful relationships take work, transparency, compromise, and emotional intelligence. To head off any marriage problems and ensure your nuptials stand the test of time, here are seven conversation starters before tying the knot.
1. Future vision
Do you have a compatible vision of your future together? Shared values are the cornerstone of a good marriage, not least whether you plan to have children – how many! – and how you would raise them. Career path, the ideal location of your home, the proximity to your families, and the more intangible qualities of trust, fidelity, and commitment can all be enrolled into an overall vision. How you imagine your life together decades into the future can show how aligned you are with each other, while leaving space for change and adaptation. It is worth clearing up any crossed lines of communication at the outset.
2. Parents and parenting
How we were parented offers a vital clue to the personality drives of both bride and groom. While we are not destined to repeat the lives of our parents, if there are any lingering or unresolved issues with either parent, they may be triggered in the marriage. This is especially the case with parents of the opposite gender. A frank conversation about your childhood and likes and dislikes towards your family, and your future spouse’s family, is a gateway to bring these issues out of the shadows. It is here where you can re-commit to working through difficulties with honesty and without blame, so you do not pass them onto your own children.
3. Emotional intelligence
All this leads to ensuring you are well matched when it comes to emotional intelligence. An awareness of your coping style under stress, your ‘attachment’ style, and your emotional weaknesses is – paradoxically – a sign of strength. Everyone needs affirmation, but an excessive need can lead to insecurity and jealousy, and be corrosive to the relationship. We are moving into therapeutic territory here, but no one is perfect and it’s not time to turn a blind eye. Our personal histories and how well we have overcome setbacks speaks to the development of essential resilience. How well your partner listens – as opposed to hears – is a wonderful (but not the only) gauge of emotional intelligence.
4. Conflict resolution
How have you handled the conflicts in your relationship so far? Most marriage counselors are familiar with the devastating long-term impact of conflicts that remain hidden, buried or are left to fester. Be wary of avoidance tactics (spending extra hours at work for example) or pushing conflict away to be dealt with another day. Again and again, clear communication and a humble willingness to forgive, to be ‘wrong’, and to change, adapt or compromise can move mountains. It is not about being perfect or having no conflicts, but how well you manage them when they arise.
5. Red flags
This should be obvious but it’s worth reiterating. A partner who drinks or takes drugs excessively has a history of violence or a criminal record, or who blatantly refuses to engage in the skills of introspection and self-honesty perhaps has some work to do before they are ready for marriage. This alone does not rule them out, but you want to be sure they have healed the past enough for such a commitment.
Yes, we need to talk about money. All of the above comes into play when the issues of how you spend and save, whether you have separate accounts, your debts, and your bills come into the conversation. Money tends to be a lightning rod for all that is unresolved in a relationship. Ensuring you have a shared vision when it comes to financial goals and how to go about meeting them (and agreements around vacations, children, career path, and housing affordability) is a sound basis for making sure you are on the same page. Let’s call it the marriage economy – you want to make sure you are in the black!
Respecting each other’s differences and the need for solitude, and separate time with friends, allows your partner to return refreshed and revitalized. Being joined at the hip may appear romantic but is not sustainable over the long term. Can you and your partner stand each other’s separateness or do you need to always close that space? Giving room for a partner to have an identity outside the marriage recognizes their inherent dignity. As the poet Kahlil Gibran wrote: “Stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”