What conversations are a MUST before two people get married?
July 7, 2009 4:19 PM   Subscribe

What conversations are a MUST before two people get married?

Okay so, obviously the basics: i.e. will we have kids? how many? will we share a bank account? etc.

I'm looking for recommendations on the nitty-gritty things.

Like, things you have time and again said "I wish I would've known ______ before we got married."

Things we can discuss NOW and think about now - before we're thrown into the arms of matrimony.
posted by mittenbex to Human Relations (57 answers total) 383 users marked this as a favorite
Given reality, the basics are either not obvious or not taken seriously. Getting a little nitgrittier-

Are you a saver or spender?
Are you seriously okay with the intended being the opposite?
If yes, sleep on it for a few months and ask again.
What would you do with a five thousand dollar windfall?
What is your idea of a prudent investment?
Do you dream of a country house in the sticks or an apartment in New York?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:24 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have kids, what are your expectations of each other? I've heard of couples that have thought this is understood, but then the guy expects the wife to quit work and cook/clean after she gives birth. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, it's just not what everyone wants.

Also, what last name will your kids have? Will boys be circumcised? Will you take them to church?
posted by emilyd22222 at 4:27 PM on July 7, 2009

What / whether / how religion will play a role in your marriage and the raising of future offspring.

Toilet paper preference.

Holidays - which will be spent with whose family.

Do you have any debt, and how much.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:27 PM on July 7, 2009

There are a lot of money things that are helpful to talk about. The bank account question is a good start; you might also want to talk about savings philosophies, budgeting strategies, paying cash v. using credit, renting vs. buying a home, what mortgage-to-income ratio you're comfortable with, when you want to retire (early/late/never), and general priorities (some people want to eat beans and rice at home every night and save up for glamorous vacations, whereas others want to live it up a bit each week, etc.)

Cooking and eating are a potential source of disagreement for many couples. My husband and I can cook well together, which is a bonus; I could never cook with any of my ex-boyfriends or girlfriends without us driving each other crazy. Even if there are no big disparities like vegetarian vs. carnivore, there may be other places where your habits in this regard don't synch.

Changing last names after marriage is also a potential issue for some people. Again, my husband and I happened to be on the same page about it, but I know other people who have had conflicts about it.

Sleeping and waking schedules are also a surprising place where friction can occur. I think that that, along with money, is where my husband and I have the most frequent disagreements.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

Based on a few AskMe threads lately, can I meekly submit that you pre-clarify whether either of you expects to ever have sex with another human being again?

Probably best to nail that one down early.
posted by rokusan at 4:29 PM on July 7, 2009 [38 favorites]

I think you need to develop a strategy for resolving conflicts, not just the little ones but the really big ones. Acknowledge now that what each of you wants and needs will change over time, realise that you may change in different directions, and try to agree on a framework for handling those changes.
posted by Lolie at 4:29 PM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

I often recommend this book to couples I know - despite the title, it asks questions that are important for every couple to discuss before they get married.
posted by HopperFan at 4:32 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Expectations for friendships outside the marriage (can you keep the best friend of the opposite gender once you're married?)

Determining what happens when you guys have big fights (ground rules, what's never OK, etc.)
posted by Happydaz at 4:33 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

How will you decide how to spend discretionary money? Sure fights happen over large amounts of cash, but it is just as likely that you might argue a frequent spending if lesser amounts as well. We have a rule that any purchases over $25 are discussed and that works extremely well for us.

I have to say, you are off to a good start by asking this question. Too many people spend all their time preparing for the wedding and not enough time preparing for the marriage. Good luck.
posted by Silvertree at 4:33 PM on July 7, 2009

Do you love me?
posted by milarepa at 4:34 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by mmw at 4:36 PM on July 7, 2009

Forgot to mention that more marriages fail because of money problems than any other reason, so the finance, budget and spending questions here are huge and vastly important.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:37 PM on July 7, 2009

Based on a few AskMe threads lately, can I meekly submit that you pre-clarify whether either of you expects to ever have sex with another human being again?

I think that's absolutely key, though I had assumed that that was covered in "the basics."

My own perspective is that monogamy works really well for many people, but that it only works when it's a conscious choice, not a default. Marriages don't have to be monogamous to work, but monogamous marriages should, in my opinion, be monogamous on purpose.

And maybe it would be helpful to talk about the Lady Chatterley scenario: what would either of you want your partner to choose if it was suddenly impossible for you to have sex comfortably, or at all? Work with a sex therapist? Masturbation only from then on? Open marriage? Don't ask, don't tell?
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2009 [12 favorites]

I don't think there's anything specific I wish I would have known before we married last year. I obviously haven't found out anything that has changed my mind, since we're still married. Potential dealbreakers were discussed within the first six months of the relationship. Moving in together was the real test, and it was impossible to know exactly what questions to ask.

I think the most important thing to figure out is how best to defuse conflict. What is the other person like when they're angry/stressed. Are they a shouter? Do they hold a grudge? Give you the silent treatment? What do you do? What do you need when you're angry/stressed? What do they need? How can you give it to each other?

I feel that if you can figure out how best to defuse conflict, communicate, and compromise, nothing else much matters. If you can't figure this out before you get married, you certainly won't magically be able to afterwards.
posted by desjardins at 4:39 PM on July 7, 2009 [12 favorites]

I'm agreeing with Lolie on the conflict style discussion (even if you haven't really thought about it personally before, which I don't think I had before I got married).

Also, discuss ambition levels, risk-taking ability, and preferred stability levels and how realistic they are with your perceived life styles. (I realize that you can't predict everything but this does have a lot to do with the pace at which you go about life. My husband and I are not particularly ambitious, not big risk takers, and real homebodies, which is one of the reasons we do well together.
posted by dlugoczaj at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Check out FOCCUS. It's a Catholic thing, but I'm nonreligious and getting married to a Catholic girl, and I still found a lot of the questions mostly helpful.
posted by nitsuj at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

These and these.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:46 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Depending on how financially independent you want to each remain, and depending on your relative incomes and potential incomes, you may want to consider a prenup.

You can't specify day-to-day activities in a prenup, but you can use it to mold traditional marriage into a form you're more comfortable with.
posted by Netzapper at 4:46 PM on July 7, 2009

The New York Times published a pretty good list of questions in 2006. For some reason, I can't get the link to work here, but if you google "questions couples should ask ny times" it should be in the top five or ten hits that come up.

I am getting married next year and the questions that my fiance and I have discussed the most are money, children, and parents. For example, my mom is widowed and growing older, so we've decided that we want to stay close to her, rather than move to Virginia where my fiance is from and where his family still lives. We've also discussed how we'll handle the holidays between families and my concerns that his mom might interfere in our relationship.

Best of luck!
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 4:49 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

in no particular order :

religion, god, sex, food/diet requirements, sleeping concerns/requirements, personal time/space, finances, personal habits (odious or otherwise), pets, children, family histories, housekeeping expectations on both sides, and fidelity.

plus any known personal baggage issues that might abnormally skew normal situations.
posted by radiosilents at 4:51 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

oh, right : and differences in political opinion.

and also how to fight & how not to fight. this last one is a big one, and i should have mentioned it earlier. some people have incompatible disagreement styles, and this can be a real dealbreaker that doesn't ocurr until you're in the middle of your first big crisis.
posted by radiosilents at 4:54 PM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

It'd be good to talk through how you want to raise your children (assuming that you're planning to have children). Often people have different assumptions, depending on how they were raised themselves.

Long-term plans in general--what are your major life goals? Do you want to pursue a particular career? Do you want to retire to a particular place?
posted by russilwvong at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2009

"Do you understand what Forever really means?"
posted by bondcliff at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2009

Netzapper, actually you can specify day-to-day activities in a prenup. It's a spectacularly bad idea, but that doesn't mean you can't do it. Unless the provisions in a prenup are unconscionable or evidence of duress, they're usually enforceable, regardless of how silly.

I agree with a lot of what has been said here, but I'd include the issue of past relationships. I'm not talking about a tell-all expose here, but you really should have a basic idea of how approximately how many people they've been with, how many serious relationships they've been in, who they were with, etc.

I see two main reasons for this.

First, there's the obvious: these people were seriously involved with your intended spouse for some period of time in the past. If either or both of you run across them again, that fact will and should make a difference in how that scene goes down. If the breakup was amicable and the relationship remained friendly, that's great. If there was abuse and someone took out a restraining order, you probably want to know that too. This is just necessary to ensure that you've got your partner's back and they've got yours when the chips are down, because unless you know these things you won't know that the chips are, in fact, down.

But the second and probably more important reason is that past relationships affect present relationships. Something seemingly innocent that just drives your partner insane may simply remind them of that-asshole-ex-who-did-that. Both of you being aware of that will help communication and facilitate conflict resolution. Also, when you're in a close relationship with someone, you tend to learn a lot about yourself, so sharing that with your partner is going to be pretty important.

Again, you'll probably wind up talking more about yourselves than you will about your various exes, and I'm not suggesting that you need to take an exacting history down to that kid she kissed in 10th grade. But a multi-year relationship that hasn't been mentioned before? Red flag, I would think. Even a really serious relationship that only lasted a few months can be a big deal if it isn't disclosed. Similarly, if either or both of you hooked up a lot in the past, yeah, a detailed list of who did what with who and when may not be possible, even if it were desirable, but the mere fact that you were hooking up should be out there.

Obviously, how you deal with this information and how the conversation goes down should be predicated on your relationship, and a lot of it gets discussed pretty quickly anyways. But I think it's pretty important information for any two people seriously contemplating marriage, especially since some of the most important stuff tends to be the most personal, and thus the least likely to be casually revealed.
posted by valkyryn at 5:08 PM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

Some ideas:
- How much do you make? Do you have any debts?
- What are your cleanliness expectations around the house?
- What are your expectations about parents leading up to, during, and after the wedding?
- How public do you want your personal lives to be? (ie: post every minute detail on Facebook? tell your mom everything that happens in the bedroom?)

Assuming you would like to have a baby:
- How many kids do you think you want?
- What religion will the baby be? How religious will your household be? Will you circumcise/baptise/____ the baby?
- If anything goes severely wrong with the pregnancy, do you get an abortion?
- What happens if you can't conceive?
- Who will stay home with the baby once he/she is born?
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:12 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

What role will religion play in your marriage? Church? Temple? Are you completely agreed on what you will tell your children about God?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:13 PM on July 7, 2009

Does either of you have a default level of flatulence that is significantly higher than it's been while you've been in each other's presence during your relationship to date? Would either party be displeased if the other's flatulence level rose to its natural level? Because that forbearance tends to get whittled away (much to my wife's dismay).
posted by gurple at 5:20 PM on July 7, 2009 [20 favorites]

How important is your job to you? Is it just a paycheck or is it part of your identity. Basically, what is more important: your 9am to 5pm... or your 5pm to 9am?
posted by chrisalbon at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing radiosilents comment about how you fight and not fight. This requires quite a bit of self awareness which is, needless to say but I'll say it anyway, a good thing to have when entering into a life-long relationship.

Fights (as in disagreements) are part and parcel of most healthy long term relationships. My ex husband and I had this conversation before we married and decided to make up a silly physical gesture that we were able use when one of us felt that a disagreement was going over the edge into distressing territory, risking the likelihood that one of us would respond or say something nasty that we didn't really mean. The gesture, when it was made by one of us, meant the other had to stop the disagreement/argument RIGHT NOW to allow us both to calm down. Because the gesture was silly and kinda funny (we'd close our fist around our nose) it also lightened up the situation. It's easier to make and respond to a gesture that says "I'm feeling distressed and emotionally threatened by our disagreement" than it is to say/hear it, especially if the verbal accelerator is flat to the metal.
posted by Kerasia at 5:33 PM on July 7, 2009 [63 favorites]

The New York Times published a pretty good list of questions in 2006. For some reason, I can't get the link to work here, but if you google "questions couples should ask ny times" it should be in the top five or ten hits that come up."

I linked to it in my previous comment.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:37 PM on July 7, 2009

If you haven't already: Be clear about what's okay/not okay to do with someone other than your spouse. Be specific; when a married person has feelings for someone they're not married to, they'll rationalize like crazy. Follow this discussion where it leads. If kissing isn't okay with you, say it out loud. How about expressing attraction but not acting on it?

This one is important early on, till you get the hang of it: As soon as you're married, your families of origin need to accept that you and your spouse are now a family unto yourselves -- that this new family takes precedence in your lives over all others. Both of you need to speak and act accordingly. It may be hard at first; at the very least, it'll take getting used to. Here, you can practice: "Mr. Bex and I have decided"... "I'll talk with the bexboy and get back to you."

Even if you're just letting off steam, don't bad-mouth or even significantly criticize your spouse to anyone in your family. Those relatives never forget the negative things you say, and they may repeat them to others.
posted by wryly at 5:47 PM on July 7, 2009 [9 favorites]

In an argument (among family), to whom do you owe your loyalty first? Family of origin, parents, partner, children?

What should I do, what's appropriate for me to do if you don't keep your side of the bargain to (keep the toilet seat down, mow the lawn regularly, reduce first player shooter hours, cook twice a week, stick to a budget, etc). That is, instead of nagging, what process should we take when we're unhappy with each other?

How much in the way of assets and cash in the bank do you NEED to feel secure? Treat this question very seriously, both of you. Because if one of you says, "I dunno really, a grand?", maybe they actually mean they don't feel insecure without money. This is not a bad thing or a good thing (or it's both) but it can be a confusing thing.

Is it okay to tease each other in front of other people? Is it okay to argue in front of other people?

What's the best way to discipline children? Is smacking ever okay?

If you are going to cook twice a week, don't you think you should learn how to do it without worsterschire sauce?

What are we going to do if one of us starts drinking too much?

What's your opinion on the law - set of guidelines, only important if you get caught, a societal restraint that requires every thinking person to test, or the law is the law! (because you can really be surprised by your partner on this one).

who's going to do Parent Teacher meetings? Why does it have to be me?

When and if we have kids, whose job suffers during sick kid time? Equal parenting, or one major caregiver?

What if I don't like one of your friends? Do you still want to bring them into my house?

Actually, all of this is pretty much covered by my second question:
That is, instead of nagging or arguing, what process should we take when we're unhappy with each other?
posted by b33j at 6:27 PM on July 7, 2009 [12 favorites]

[Speaking as one half of a happily married middle-aged(ish) couple]

Be sure to talk about your expectations regarding "going through life together", such as:

- what is your idea of togetherness with your mate?
- what constitutes a great vacation or night out together?
- to what extent is your marriage your primary relationship with another person, both for activities and talking through problems?
- what are your ideas about sharing the labor on household chores and the like?

If you and your intended discuss all -- or even most -- of the topics mentioned in this thread, you are going to have one fantastic marriage!
posted by DrGail at 6:27 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Kinda seconding what was said a couple of comments further up: make clear how important your career is (or isn't) to you. If you are planning on having kids, would your partner (or you) be willing to stay at home? Would you compromise? How?

Oh, and actually: do both of you want kids? Acquaintances of ours got married and it turned out after a while that the guy definitely didn't want kids, while the gal did. They never had that conversation and just assumed they were on the same page.
posted by Bearded Dave at 6:40 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

In laws. If someone's father dies and the mother is all alone, can she come live with you? For how long before the other person loses their mind?

Where you'll live. Would you move for a job? Would you expect your spouse and kids to come with you or would you come back after a year? Would you move temporarily for a sick parent?

Kids. Not only how many, but talk about parenting strategies for a kid who refuses to do HW, or starts sneaking out of the house, is giving $ as a reward for good grades OK? etc.. Would either one of you yell at your kids?

Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't? Live abroad for a year? Experiment with drugs? Whatever. Get that out in the open and either do it before you get married, or make sure that it's something the other person would be OK with during your marriage, just so you don't hold it against your spouse later.

What to do if one person loses their job and gets depressed and refuses to get off their ass?

How often you'll vacation together? Where? Laying on a beach or active vacations?

How much money to spend on stuff like big screen TV's and how much to put away for retirement?

If you've lived together then you already know what it's like to be with each other, but if not, then discuss everything from who would do laundry, dishes, pay bills, clean, dust, mow, sow, etc. Sounds stupid, but I know so many married couples who fight about this at least once a week and the woman feels like she's doing everything while the guy bitches about doing dishes twice a week and claims that he does part. Does one of you have a higher tolerance for messes? Is it OK to leave dishes in the sink overnight if you're tired? Or leave clothes on top of a dresser or will the other person get annoyed by it?
posted by KateHasQuestions at 6:49 PM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


  • Children

  • Money

  • Religion

  • Family

  • …what are your mutual plans regarding these things? They encompass pretty much everything that inspires major marriage conflicts.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:11 PM on July 7, 2009

    The one question I left unaddressed, because simply, culturally, it did not occur to me until after we married was the prospect that mothers-in-law might ever come to live with us. This has been mentioned by others, but I'd like to emphasize it... especially if the two of you are coming from different ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
    The spouse and I were, it turns out, working on completely opposite assumptions. I don't think it would have been a "deal-breaker" issue if we'd talked about it beforehand, but there was some disappointment at the time.
    I think the thing to think about, personally, are what exactly are your deal-breakers, as I don't think they're quite universal. Money is important, as are dishes in the sink, of course, but it may not be as un-compromisible as kids, religion and family. Think about and talk about these issues before you even get engaged, so that you don't compromise on a deal-breaker just to keep the prospect of marriage alive.
    posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:13 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

    …since you mentioned money and children in your question, I'll talk a little about the others. These all can be thought about separately, but they will interrelate in life; I'll try to give examples of how:

  • Family: How do each of you feel about your parents? Do you want to have a home that is similar to the home you had when you were growing up? Do you want to have a home that is similar to the home your partner's parents had when they were growing up? How does your partner feel? Are there huge mistakes that either of your parents made that you'd like to avoid? These questions are ostensibly about how the home is run, what traditions are kept, what you two do on holidays, et cetera, but they obviously also have other significance if you both want to have one or more children.

  • Religion: Do either or both of you believe in God? Are you particularly religious? Do religious traditions mean a lot to either of you? Are there certain religious truths that either of you see as obvious or self-evident—and, if so, do both of you agree there? Can you find a way to live with disagreeing about certain things? Again, this question is takes on a host of other levels if you choose to have children; if you do, you'll both have to decide how you'd want to raise your children with regard to faith.

  • posted by koeselitz at 7:27 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

    I just want to add something to consider to all of these great suggestions. It's a great idea to have any/all of these conversations now, but please revisit the important ones after the wedding. Remember that you might change your minds about something. Right now you are thinking of your future together and looking at it with bright happy thoughts, and well you should. But shit happens, and your perspective changes. Please don't balance your relationship on things that are determined beforehand (obviously excepting the predetermined "things that will end the relationship" boundaries). Years down the road, one of you may decide that 'actually, I'd rather live closer to my family than yours for awhile' and the response should not be simply: 'but before we got married you said you wanted to live next to my parents forever.'
    posted by purpletangerine at 7:35 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

    If you discuss nothing else, discuss money. It's the #1 reason marriages fail.
    posted by reenum at 7:51 PM on July 7, 2009

    What are your wishes for the end of your life? Does your future spouse feel comfortable carrying out those wishes?

    A friend of mine recently broke off a long-term relationship because she found out that her partner believed that stopping life-sustaining medical care for a terminally ill person is immoral, while she is a strong believer in assisted suicide and euthanasia. She didn't want her next of kin to be someone who would leave her lingering in a coma she would never recover from, and he didn't want his end of life decisions to be made by someone who might pull the plug if things turned bad.
    posted by decathecting at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2009

    A topical aside: the counselor that we saw in preparation for our marriage told us that a study of marital therapists revealed that couples fight most often about five subjects: family (in-laws), children (raising of), sex, money, and housework. Just an interesting tidbit to keep in mind... it's been very helpful in our marriage, to keep The Big 5 in mind so that when we are talking about a Big 5 issue, we become reticularly activated to slow down, speak thoughtfully, and be more considerate. "Tread carefully! Hear there be dragons!"

    A lot of the best stuff has already been covered, but I would just add a few things we didn't talk about that I wish we had.

    "What if I change my mind, or what if the situation changes?" Like purpletangerine said, you have to consider what the takebacks policies will be, and where the dealbreakers are.

    For example, we had the obvious "kids or not" conversations before we got married, and were very proud of ourselves. But I was in my 20's then, and I'm in my 30's now; my own feelings (as the one who would be pregnant and the primary caregiver) about having children has swung 180° and back, multiple times, in the years since that talk. There's a looooong window of possible child acquisition in most marriages, and people's feelings can change dramatically.

    Also, I would recommend the "what if we want kids and are unable to have them?" conversation. I know many couples who've cracked under the pressure of infertility struggles, and it was because they didn't have an exit strategy or simply had never talked about those various scenarios or made assumptions about how the other would feel.

    I wish we had discussed food; Sidhedevil is spot on that this is an unsuspecting danger zone. I'm a "food is awesome, I love food, I love cooking, I love going out to eat" person and my spouse is a "food is fuel, I hate the hassle, I wish I had those Willy Wonka pills that feed you a full meal and then I could be done with it" person. So here is this one issue, so glaringly obvious that one doesn't even think to think of it, and we never discussed it. We never really noticed it before marriage because he would happily go out to dinner and cook meals together and all that as part of courtship. I didn't realize it was not his everyday MO.

    But it plays out in daily life, more often than one would think. Spouse doesn't think to go to the grocery store when we need provisions, for example. When I'm asking around 4pm what we're going to do for dinner (which to me is the evening meal that we will share and talk about our day, an event of communal sharing, bonding, dining, yadda yadda), my husband is thinking, "dinner? eh, I'll eat cornflakes." When I want to splurge, it's on a ten-course tasting menu; he would rather eat the cash, than have to sit through all that folderol.

    Would it have stopped us marrying? Of course not... but it has required us to meet in the middle on a near-daily basis. That's a lot of small compromises. Compromise is the glue that holds a marriage together, but it's sure easier when you already see eye to eye, and can keep that emotional capital in reserve.

    So this part will require a bit of detective work, because you can't know what you don't know... but if you see any areas of daily life where you seem to diverge significantly on a regular basis -- no matter how minor -- maybe examine it critically, and try to imagine the worst-case scenario.

    And, public school vs. private school for the children. If you're both indifferent now, great... this is usually a family-of-origin thing where you've either already got the opinion formed or you don't. But I didn't learn till after I was married that I am a big advocate of private schooling, and my spouse is mostly opposed to it.

    One that we didn't discuss in advance and got lucky on, but which has caught many of my friends' relationships off guard: who owns in-law problems? Example: If your mother is repeatedly discourteous to me, how long before you step in and address it? She is your mother, after all. Or, if my brother borrowed your table saw three months ago, and your polite attempts to get it back are failing, do I just ignore this because it's "between the boys"? Etc.

    Someone upthread mentioned disclosing prior debts. I would also say to talk about how to address those debts going forward -- whether it's working on them in one big pile together, or he owns his pre-existing problem and she owns hers. Assuming that "my student loans" will just become "our student loans" is dangerous.

    One that I recommend doing with the help of a neutral third party would be talking about problems with family of origin. Those can be tricky waters to navigate alone, but more than most anything else we do or become, how we grew up shapes how we act in relationships.

    And learn how to play 5-3-1. It's a trick to settle the "where do you want to eat?" "I don't care, where do you want to eat?" game. One partner names 5 places, the other eliminates two of those choices, and the first one eliminates the remaining two. It's decision making in turns, and it works just as well as anything else.

    Maybe someday, someone will solve the dilemma of why two educated self-aware people can make major life decisions but are wholly unable to commit between Chinese and burgers.

    posted by pineapple at 9:54 PM on July 7, 2009 [193 favorites]

    Don't marry anyone until you've spent time together in a canoe. Not some big excursion, you don't need to camp out. Just some paddling up and down stream, a time or two or three. You want to see how you work together. Canoes tell one hell of a lot.

    A narrow stream is best.

    Ann, an old sweetie of mine, time after time took us into the trees; no matter how much digging around I did in the back of the canoe -- ZAM !! -- we're back into the trees. It was a horror show. We did not work well together. It was good information to have.

    Just sayin'.....
    posted by dancestoblue at 12:44 AM on July 8, 2009 [27 favorites]

    ooo! I saved an article from 2007 about this exact topic.


    Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying
    Published: December 17, 2006

    Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:

    1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

    2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

    3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

    4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

    5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

    6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

    7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

    8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

    9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

    10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

    11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

    12) What does my family do that annoys you?

    13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

    14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

    15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?
    posted by ruelle at 2:56 AM on July 8, 2009 [10 favorites]

    Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (of the little grey cells) said that only two questions must be agreed on for a marriage to succeed: what time do you go to bed? do you leave the bedroom window open?
    posted by Carol Anne at 5:49 AM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

    This is more of a conversation (or series of conversations) than a question, but as a divorcee now dealing with separated/dysfunctional parents, I'd say that you need to discuss how your expectations and memories change over time. My mom, for example, still harps on slights that were done to her 35 years ago, and when I was married my husband would use his marvelously selective memory to rely on something I'd considered a passing comment. ("But... but you said you hated X! But you said you got nightmares from Y!")

    I hope I'm not being too vague here, or that this isn't just an exhortation to keep the lines of communication open. Obviously it is, but then again it's always worth checking in over the years.

    I wish we could revisit our premarital goals and wedding vows and go over them more frequently, keeping them in sight as time goes on. That sounds like a very clinical way of doing things, but we (everyone) just go so far afield.
    posted by Madamina at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

    ooo! I saved an article from 2007 about this exact topic.

    Hmm, isn't it sort of bad form to paste a long block of text with no credit or link? It's from the New York Times, and here, for the second time, is the link.
    posted by Jaltcoh at 9:48 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Talk about each other's and your family's health histories. Just to know if you guys should watch out for salty foods because his father died of stroke at age 40, etc.
    posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:43 PM on July 8, 2009

    Not that I have any serious experience with either drugs or marriage, but drug use/abuse could definitely be a dealbreaker to most of us. Like, what drugs have you used before? Regularly? Do you still use any, and if so, which? How does it affect you, your job, your decision making, etc.? Would you enter rehab if I asked you to? Where do you draw the line? What would you teach the kids? Etc.
    posted by JensR at 3:27 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

    One obvious thing many couples forgo is establishing clear and unambiguous rules of monogamy (or non-monogamy, if that's your thing, although in that case the odds are you guys, like most non-conventional couples, have already discussed the subject thoroughly). What does and what doesn't constitute infidelity - you'd be surprised how differing ideas people have underneath the "of course I won't cheat". Crushes? Flirting? Holding hands? Online dating ads just out of curiosity? Cybersex? Emotional affairs? Sexting? (Whatever the hell that is - I'm old.) Lap dances? "Just a kiss"? "Just sex"?

    Make the boundaries clear, and keep talking about them later on as well, because they may change (or, often, one party unilaterally may convince him/herself that they've changed). It's also more difficult to fool yourself if you know what the other person really has agreed to (I'm thinking about a friend of mine who quite sincerely told me he hasn't "really" cheated on his wife by sleeping with a considerable number of women, because he never loved any of them; whatever, but I'm pretty sure his wife would disagree).

    And determine whether, and under what circumstances, the other person would want to know about a transgression, or prefer to remain blissfully ignorant. It simplifies certain situations so much.

    Oh, and why not fess up those weird kinks, too. (You know, the ones you're pretty sure you'll never really need to act out anyway.) And your pet peeves. Regrets. Crazy, even embarrassing dreams you may one day wake up wanting to go after, like living abroad, becoming an actor, or ditching everything for organic farming. Your secret fears. Mortifying weaknesses. Fantasies. Now's the time for awkward topics!

    It's only partially about gleaning info; even more important is to establish a good, solid habit of open communication, regardless of the subject.
    posted by sively at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]

    I know marriages are built on trust, but I would suggest a background check to make sure the answers you receive are true. I suggest a mutual credit, medical and public records check. The public record can be downloaded off the internet. I don't know how well you know your husband-to-be. My seven year relationship started off with many of the questions mentioned above. Unfortunately for me, my boyfriend was afraid of letting me know about some of his past until a year into the relationship.

    Time with your partner is important. Communications is key AND you need to observe if your partner's actions jive with what he says.
    posted by Aunt Chrissy at 8:52 PM on July 8, 2009

    Stuff we still fight about, or discuss after fifteen years:

    1. My working class family
    2. Her middle-class family
    3. How strict to be with the kids
    4. Different levels of religiosity
    5. Money. And level of lifestyle.
    6. Her career goals
    7. My career goals (I just got tenure and don't want to work more than 40 hours a week)
    8. We agree on politics. We both like NPR.
    9. Food--she wants to eat healthy, I have the taste buds of a toddler.
    10. Frequency of intimacy, and matters relating to.
    11. Picking up the pile of crap on my side of the bed
    12. Etc.

    Your capacity to put up with the other person's quirks degrades rapidly after the first few years.

    Best advice I ever, ever got: "Don't mess with the other person's puzzle. They're not you."

    The hard part is talking about this stuff honestly.
    posted by mecran01 at 9:40 PM on August 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

    Maybe read a little John Gottman too, or at least listen to that "This American Life" episode that talks about Gottman.
    posted by mecran01 at 9:43 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

    For what it's worth, I would say if you haven't already discussed/figured out most of this stuff, then it's too soon to be thinking about marriage. You don't know each other well enough.

    And once you do know each other well, the questions don't really matter. The only things that really matter are commitment, trust, and willingness to compromise.

    For example - Food habits? Really? I don't really care what my partner eats. I've been a vegetarian since 1980, but the only concern I have about his diet is that I want him to eat healthier because I want him to be around a long time. But if he absolutely can't bring himself to eat healthier - then not being able to deal with it is my problem, not his. So the question is, do I love him enough to overlook his less-healthy eating? Is it better to be with him for the rest of his possibly-abbreviated life, or should I just break up with him, and lose him forever? Personally, I choose to be with him. That's how I know he's "the right one" - because being with him is more important to me than any "quirks". We also have completely different taste in food - the only food we both like is chocolate. So we each just make our own food. It's not a big deal, because we don't let it be.

    Something to keep in mind is that marriage is a commitment between two people. Read that again. It's not a "joining of two people". You're still going to be two separate people, with different opinions, even if you're married 60 years. It's a commitment - to sharing life together. Where things go wrong is when people expect the other person to be, think, and do exactly as they do. Enjoy the differences - don't try to remove them. Being married to someone who is exactly like you would be boring!

    As someone else pointed out, it really doesn't matter how you answer the questions, because people grow and change over the course of a lifetime. If you are both willing to compromise, then those changes won't matter. If you aren't willing to compromise, then you'll go down in flames. The only question is when.
    posted by fairywench at 7:34 PM on January 11, 2010 [12 favorites]

    I never thought I would say this, but, if you're having kids: Santa Claus.
    posted by dpx.mfx at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

    Read this, or other books by John Gottman. If one partner acts mean or sarcastic, that was a bad sign. Shared values were a good sign.
    posted by theora55 at 4:46 PM on April 5, 2010

    If they're a smoker, you had better go after that in detail. Whatever concerns you have about their health, where/when lighting up is appropriate (in bed? in the kitchen?), etc...
    posted by Concordia at 3:55 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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