When you think of your to-do list after getting engaged, a few items probably come to mind: choose a venue, buy your wedding dress, pick out your reception food. But one of the biggest things you need to do is have a personal talk as a couple. You need to make sure that you and your future spouse are on the same page before you say, “I do”.
It may not be the easiest discussion, but it’s essential to walk into your marriage with the utmost confidence. Now is the time to share your honest thoughts and feelings about having kids, managing your finances, and other major areas of your life together.
Given the importance of the subject matter we’re talking about today, we decided to connect with Farah Premji, a psychologist based in Calgary, Canada, to get her eyes on this article. Farah is no stranger to the conflict that can arise in a marriage when certain key issues aren’t discussed in advance. As it so happens, marriage counseling is one of her practices key areas of focus.
It’s normal to be scared of the “big talks”, especially if you might suspect personal or ideological differences, but those reasons are actually why thse conversations are so important. I encourage my clients to cultivate an environment of honesty, openness, and mutual respect. Remember, it’s you and your partner versus the problem… never each other!
Farah Premji, MSc.
In that spirit, here are the top 10 topics that need to be discussed before you walk down the aisle.
Essential Talk #10: Personal Values
If you’re going to spend the rest of your life with your fiancé, you need to decide how you’re going to spend your time. Talk about how you value your time together versus separately.
- What family traditions or rituals are important to you?
- How do you want to spend your holidays and vacations? What about celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries?
There are some hot-button issues that need to be discussed as well, even if it’s uncomfortable. How does your future spouse feel about:
- Opposite-sex friendships
Also, make sure you’re both clear on what’s defined as cheating. Finally, it’s also important to talk about non-physical things you value: honesty, trust, communication. Getting on the same page for all these topics now will save you time and stress later.
Essential Talk #9: Life Goals
Now that you’ve talked about your present-day values, it’s time to think about the future. Discuss your life goals, dreams, and wishes as a couple and as individuals. Moving is a big decision many couples face, so it might be best to start there.
- Do you want to stay put or move around often?
- Will you live close to family or your job?
- What kind of home do you want and how much do you want to spend?
- How do you feel about living in another country or buying a second home?
Some people like a change of scenery often and others are afraid of change. Be open and honest about your vision for your future home.
Next, ask yourselves what you want to accomplish in the next year—or the next 5, 10, or 20 years. These can be small goals like wanting to lose 20 pounds or a big goal like owning your own business. Do you have any bucket-list items you want to do before you turn 30, 40, and 50? These goals may not be deal-breakers per se, but it’s good to express your thoughts and desires to your partner to see if they support them.
Essential Talk #8: Career Plans
Depending on when you and your fiancé started dating, you may be working towards your degree or you may have already started your career. Either way, being open about your career plans is a big conversation to have. Break the conversation into two categories: current job situation and future job plans.
First, talk about your current work hours, how much you currently make, and how long you plan to stay at your current job.
- Do you want to move up in the company or jump around to other jobs?
- How does your partner feel about you working nights or weekends?
- Is your job dangerous or do you have to travel for work?
Work can be stressful, but not being on the same page about your work goals and expectations can add stress to your marriage as well.
Looking to the future, consider the following:
- Do you want to make a major career change at some point? What about earning another degree to move up in the company?
- If you have children, will both parents work, or will someone stay home with the kids?
- When do you want to retire?
You should also talk about how you value work. Is it just about making a paycheck, or do you want something more out of working? Would you rather make a lot of money and be unhappy or make less money and love your job?
Essential Talk #7: Having Children
One of the biggest deal breakers in a relationship is when one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t. Sadly, some couples don’t come to this realization until after they’re married and then they feel stuck. Have this conversation up front and be totally honest with each other.
- Do you want kids or not? Are you open to trying?
- How many kids do you want?
- How soon after marriage do you want kids?
- If you have kids, how will you discipline them, teach them, and instill good values in them?
If you and your partner agree to have kids, you should prepare yourself for any possible complications.
- What if you have fertility issues and can’t have biological children?
- Would you consider in vitro, adoption, or surrogacy?
- If you have a miscarriage, will you try again?
- How will you prepare yourself for any health issues, including a preemie baby or a baby with a birth defect or deformity?
These are great questions to ask if you really want to have kids together.
Essential Talk #6: Relationships with Family
You may have heard the saying, “You don’t just marry the person, you marry the family!” There’s a lot of truth to that statement!
Having an open conversation about your relationship with your family is crucial and can sometimes create challenges for a marriage. First and foremost, remember that family dynamics change when you say, “I do”. Your spouse is now your closest family member, and you need to put each other first, even if you have a super-close relationship with a parent or sibling.
- Do you talk to or have a relationship with your immediate and extended family?
- Are there any past family issues you need to discuss?
- How important is family time to you and how often do you want to see or talk to them?
It’s good to talk about your feelings towards your family, but it’s also important to talk about your feelings towards your soon-to-be family members.
- How do you feel about your future in-laws?
- Do you want a relationship with them? Are there any conflicts that need to be resolved?
- Do you feel comfortable saying no to family functions or attending without your spouse?
- If a family member gets sick, will you take care of them or let them move in?
- How will you split up the holidays?
Again, some of these conversations may be uncomfortable, but now is the time to get everything out on the table and talk about it in a calm and respectful manner.
Essential Talk #5: Religious Beliefs
Your religious beliefs can be another hot-button topic, especially if you were raised under different faiths. Talk about your personal beliefs, how you were raised, and if you still practice that faith today.
- Do you plan to attend religious ceremonies together and get involved on a regular basis, or only attend for major holidays?
- If you have different religions, which religion will you practice together?
- Will you raise your kids in the same faith?
If you’re still torn on which religion to follow, you can talk to a faith leader or guidance counselor to help decide together. At the very least, be open to learning more about your partner’s beliefs.
Essential Talk #4: Handling Finances
One of the biggest reasons for a couple to get divorced is because of finances, so it’s best to talk about money up front. Money tends to be a very sensitive subject, so there’s often a lot to discuss here.
- How do you manage your finances?
- Who is going to handle the finances?
- How often will you talk about your finances with your spouse?
- Do you have any debt, and how much? When are you due to pay it off?
- How do you feel about loans, debt, and credit cards?
- Do you want one bank account or separate accounts? If you choose separate accounts, how will you split up the bills?
- What are your financial and savings goals?
- Are you a saver or a spender?
- Do you have any savings, including 401K and retirement? What are you saving up for? (Car, house, travel, etc.)
- Will you pay for your kids’ college or have them take out a loan?
- Do you value giving money?
- How do you feel about lending or borrowing money from family and friends?
- Do you need to consult each other for every purchase or just large purchases?
- How much would you spend on physical items like a car, a pair of shoes, etc.?
- Will you both work? If so, how do you feel about full-time, part-time and contract work?
- If you take on freelance work, do you get to spend that money yourself or does it get lumped into the family’s finances?
- How do you feel about a personal allowance for yourself and your kids?
- What would you do if you were given an unexpected amount of money, like a bonus or an inheritance?
It’s also a good practice to talk about how you value your money and how you were taught to handle your money. Discuss how you feel about money: is it just about paying the bills, do you get anxious about money, or do you constantly crave more money? Being open and honest about your finances will benefit both of you in the long run.
Essential Talk #3: Legal Decisions
Like the money talk, it’s crucial to discuss any legal decisions you need to make in the future. Decide which health and life insurance plan to use, and what car and homeowners’ insurance to use.
Thinking long-term, it’s also smart to investigate creating a will (including living wills) and decide who will be your beneficiaries for your savings and life insurance plans. If you have children, it’s important to choose legal guardians in case you and your spouse pass away at the same time.
- What happens if things go south in the marriage? Some couples sign a prenuptial agreement that divides the assets fairly if they get divorced. If you don’t sign a prenup, how will you divide your marital assets?
- If you have children, will you share custody, or will there be a custody battle? How will you handle child support?
It may be unpleasant to talk about this before you even get married, but you’ll feel better going into the marriage with a plan in place.
Essential Talk #2: Sex & Intimacy
Intimacy and sex are very important in a relationship, so it’s good to talk about your feelings and expectations.
- How did you learn about sex?
- Is sex important to you?
- How often do you want to have sex?
- What fears do you have about your body?
- Have either of you had a traumatic sexual experience?
Once you talk about the basics of sex, think about how you want to enjoy your sex life: what do you like, what do you not like, do you have any fantasies, how do you feel about pornography, and do you want an open marriage?
Beyond sex, intimacy is just as important. Be open about your needs on an intimate level: going out on dates, public displays of affection, giving and receiving gifts, discovering your love language. You and your partner will value each other more if you’re honest about what you want in your relationship.
Essential Talk #1: Handling Conflicts or Obstacles
One of the last things you need to talk about before getting married is how you and your spouse will handle conflicts, arguments, and obstacles. It’s okay to have healthy disagreements, but there are some boundaries you need to put into place if a disagreement gets ugly.
- When you get into a fight, do you want to settle the argument right there or do you need time to step away?
- If you’re upset, would you rather have your space or do you want to talk it out? If the argument is heating up, it’s a good idea to have a safe word or phrase to signal your partner that you’re about to take your anger to the next level.
As painful as it may be, talking about the past is necessary as well.
- Have you ever been violent in a past argument?
- Have you ever been in an abusive relationship: verbally, physically, or emotionally?
- How were fights handled growing up? Was there a lot of yelling, name calling or silent treatment?
Mental health is another important topic that might tie into this discussion. If your partner gets depressed or has an anxiety disorder, how will you choose to treat it? How do you feel about medications or medical testing?
If you feel like your marriage is struggling in any of these areas, talking to a counselor is a huge help. They can help resolve conflicts and teach you different strategies to use in the future so that you have a long, happy, and healthy marriage.