Happy February everyone. I recently came across an article on questions to discuss, not when you are engaged, but BEFORE you start talking seriously about a life together. Some of these answers could make a huge difference in a life-path. Wouldn’t it be better to know these things about your partner before too many dreams have been dreamed?
The article is from Oprahdaily.com and is written by Samantha Vincenty with information from contributing expert Dr. Emily Jamea, a very accomplished professional who is not only a PhD but a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) as well as an author and business owner. Here are her tips for discussion. While reading this article does not replace Pre-Marital Counseling, it is a great way to decide if your relationship is far enough along that you and your partner should consider that to be fully prepared for a life-long relationship. Enjoy!!
By the time you and your significant other have gotten serious enough to sign a certificate, you might assume that you know everything about each other. Yet, we contain multitudes, and there are still many topics couples should talk about—but often neglect to—until the walk down the aisle is long behind them. Ask the right questions before marriage, and you'll likely uncover needs, dreams, and expectations for your life together that you hadn't considered.
Emily Jamea, PhD, a Texas-based sex and relationship therapist, says that plenty of well-meaning couples don't know what to talk about before getting engaged. Though your goals and preferences will shift over time, answering a kind of pre-engagement questionnaire now can save you some future conflicts, she says. Or, the questions will at least prepare you to effectively resolve them together.
"I encourage people to have these conversations before they've even gotten to the engagement point, because it can be really hard to walk away once you start to plan a wedding and you're feeling excited," Jamea explains.
Therapist Erin Wiley, MA, agrees. "As a marriage counselor, I wish I could work with couples before they get married. Most of the couples I see for therapy come in with problems that have been brewing for years," she says. "People see marriage differently, and have differing beliefs and expectations."
From where you'll spend the holidays, to how you'll allocate your money, here are 25 important questions to ask before marriage, according to experts.
"With so many couples nowadays choosing to not marry, why tie the knot? Strong romantic feelings shouldn't be the only reason we marry someone," Wiley explains. "How do you feel marriage will add to your relationship? And to your life as an individual?"
How do you handle change and the unexpected?
"Something a lot of people don't realize going into marriage is how planned out they have their life," Jamea says. "When something happens that interrupts that plan, it can take a toll on the relationship." It might help to use a previous example when considering your answer.
How well do we currently handle disagreements with each other?
"Is one of you so stubborn that you can’t seem to ever compromise? Or, so terrified of disagreements that you never mention what upsets you, and runs away from conflict in a fight? These are problematic patterns that should be worked out before marriage," says Wiley.
How much do you value time together, versus time apart? Will one of you expect to do everything together as a married unit, while the other needs a lot of me-time? "When you're dating, you're spending a ton of time together," Jamea says. "Once settled into a married routine, a lot of people find that they miss their independence—and they may pull back a little bit."
Is your parent's marriage part of your inspiration to marry? "If so, why? And if not, why is that?" Wiley asks. "Talk through what a successful union looks like to each of you."
Do you want kids? Your answers might change over the years, but it's still important to touch base on now. "If one person says '100 percent I want kids,' and the other says 'I 100 percent don't,' that's probably going to be a no-go moving forward," says Jamea.
What if we're not able to have biological children?
How do you see kids fitting into our life?
"I've treated a lot of couples who, once they have kids, it kind of takes over the relationship," Jamea says. "One person's really craving that time as a couple, and the other is just fully focused on the kid. That can create a lot of strain for couples." If one half of the couple expects to have a girls or guys' night out every single week, that's great to know now.
How will you handle it if we drift apart?
Work, kids, and life in general will distract you from the "couple" part of being a couple at times. "Who is more likely to sound the alarm? And, how will you reconnect?" Jamea asks.
How do you expect to cope with our sexual ebbs and flows? This is a more productive question to ask than "how often will we have sex ?" according to Jamea, because that frequency will fluctuate over time. "Sexual satisfaction can correlate to relationship satisfaction," she adds, "so it's important that couples are more or less on the same page when it comes to what they want from the sexual part of their relationship."
How do you expect to get sexual needs met, if I’m not meeting them? This may open the door to sharing your views on masturbation, pornography, or even the idea of consensual non-monogamy such as an open marriage.
How do you imagine spending the holidays?
Is one of you picturing every Christmas at your parents' house, while the other's dreaming of a Disney trip? If you're serious enough to think about marriage, you've probably settled on an agreement currently—but one of you may think that should change after marriage, particularly if you have kids.
What’s your take on vacations, and how often would you like to take them?
If taking an annual vacation is a priority, for example, know that you'll both need to budget for that expense in the future.
Do you want to save a lot early on, or save up in bursts for things like a vacation or a new TV?
One of you may assume you'll be house hunting as newlyweds, while the other's picturing frequent travel and nice meals out instead.
Do you want separate bank accounts, or to share all assets?
Every married couple's financial agreement is unique to their relationship. "One good strategy for a lot of people is to have a shared bank account for expenses," Jamea says, "but then designate an amount to put into a personal bank account." That way, you can save up all year and buy yourself a new toy without a squabble.
Do we agree on the division of labor in our house?
Who does the chores, and how often, is a perpetual issue that Wiley hears from clients. She recommends parsing who'll be responsible for tasks like bookkeeping, cooking, laundry, and yard work as early as possible. "Discuss how you'll handle it when one of you neglects to complete a task that's assigned to you," Wiley says.
When do you feel the most loved by me?
Examples include, "When you make me lunch," or "when you give me a big hug."
How do you express love?
Taking the love languages test may help you find the language to explain it. (Gary Chapman’s Test is called the 5 Love Language Assessment. It’s free on line.)
You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Complete this sentence: "I feel most comfortable sharing my feelings with my partner when he/she ____...”
Try to remember a time you broached a hard conversation, and what helped make it feel easier to open up. Examples: "When we’re at dinner out of the house," "When we're free of distractions," or "When we've been getting enough sleep."
When do you feel unsafe sharing your feelings with me?
"This gives you a great deal of insight into the level of emotional safety and closeness in the relationship, which is vital for a healthy union," says Jamea.
When you reflect back on your childhood, what memories bring the most joy? Which bring the most pain?
“Sometimes our efforts to avoid pain create distance in a relationship," Jamea explains. For instance, conflict or misunderstanding may emerge if one person comes from a family where birthdays and holidays were a big source of joy, while the other associates those occasions with unhappy memories.
Do we appropriately respect any religious, spiritual, or political differences between us?
Couples don't need to be in complete agreement about everything. But Wiley says you will need to find a way to respect each other's differing beliefs, and identify what you do need to agree on. "Are you aligned on your view of the world and how you believe people should be treated? Do you agree on political issues? And how important is it to you to align your belief systems?"
Whose career would take precedence, if it became necessary?
One of you may get a job offer requiring a cross-country move. Or the loss of childcare may require one parent to step away from work, as many families have experienced in the Covid-19 pandemic. "Would you support your partner walking away from a job to follow their dreams, even if it means sacrificing family income?" says Wiley. "Gaining a solid understanding of your partner’s beliefs about both of your careers helps prevent you from being blindsided in the future, if they see their career growth taking priority over yours."
Do either of us have any major secrets we haven't yet shared?
Whether some secrets are meant to be kept is for you and your partner to decide, but you're risking them finding out later. "I’ve helped couples work through the revelation of undisclosed debt, past infidelity, previous pregnancies, and childhood sexual trauma," Wiley says. "I believe it's best to be your true authentic self, and know that you're fully accepted, regardless of your past."
Are you committed to counseling, if and when we need it?
"The number of women I've seen who say that their partner doesn’t 'believe in counseling' or refuses to 'tell their problems to a stranger' is too high," Wiley says. While you're in that pre-engagement glow, agree on a plan for what to do if things get rocky down the road.
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Maryellen Dabal, MA, LMFT