A question about questions.
August 11, 2010 6:10 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had asked / talked with your significant other about before you got hitched?

Marriage has always seemed like a rather massive decision to me, one of, if not the biggest decision an average person will ever make. Maybe I'm abnormal but I've always kind of been kind of skeptical of the way so many people just run into it because "that's just what people do."

I'm curious to find / compile a list of those things that would be most A) important and B) interesting for two people to discuss with each other before tying the knot. In a sense - what are the key factors that best help two people determine optimum compatibility in each other, in the marriage context.

Google leads to a lot of love-test / astrology / compatibility-quiz gobblety-gook, but perhaps I'm not thinking up the right search terms (also perhaps why I had trouble finding previous AskMes along this line). I am most interested in topics based on experience ("Why didn't I think to ask XYZ???") rather than speculation. Thanks!
posted by allkindsoftime to Human Relations (20 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: From the New York Times: Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying.
posted by nomadicink at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Previously
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2010

Well, it' based on experience, but not in a "Why didn't I ask" kind of way, more of a "These are the things you have to know before getting married" kind of way. Two big ones:
Do you want kids?
Where do you see yourself living in the future? (Where we are now, or somewhere else?)
posted by Grither at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

20 questions (not the NYT link)

perhaps I'm not thinking up the right search terms (also perhaps why I had trouble finding previous AskMes along this line).

The previous AskMe question (emilyd2222's comment) is the first Google result for [questions before getting married site:ask.metafilter.com].
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:16 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Previously on Askme: 1, 2, 3.
posted by nomadicink at 6:23 AM on August 11, 2010

More important than any individual question, I think, is if you respect each other. Do you both always give each other the benefit of the doubt? Do you always assume the other person has good intentions? Do you each always want to do what makes your partner happy? If so, then you'll probably be able to deal with pretty much anything else.

So really, I think the most important thing would be to have had one really big fight, and see how you both dealt with it. If you feel like the other person was trying to see your side, rather than just make sure that you understood their grievance, then he/she is probably a keeper.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

There are also a lot of books about this.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2010

The Relationship Attachment Model detailed in the book How To Avoid Marrying A Jerk has a whole program of progressive discovery that couples ideally should undertake before gettign married. It's pretty thorough.
posted by cross_impact at 6:45 AM on August 11, 2010

Response by poster: Gah, apparently I can't search Ask nearly as well as others here. Mods, feel free to delete this if need be - I have plenty of reading to answer my question now.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:51 AM on August 11, 2010

It's not just the specifics, because life will always eventually throw you a curveball you couldn't possibly have prepared for in advance--it's your general sense of how the two of you will handle things you didn't plan for period. The style, not just the set of things you've already Murphy's-Law-esque thought up as worst case scenarios. Just like anything where you don't want to memorize a script beforehand of every possibility, because of course the one you didn't think of will happen and then you'll be SOL. You need a general approach too, that you're on the same page with. Gottman, who gets trotted out a lot in marriage compatibility posts, is saying this kind of, in a different way.

So: when something stressful neither of you anticipated happens that uproots your daily schedules and maybe your entire life (could demand relocation, or forced time apart long distance, or job loss, or addiction, or the death of a family member or child, or a realization in the middle of the life cycle one of you regrets the path they're on and wants to do something radically different like travel for 2 months, or whatever; again, it's not about thinking up every possible horrible change, just getting a sense of the how in dealing with it as a team), how would you handle communicating about it? Are you able to tackle problems together? What's your dynamic for that sort of thing?
posted by ifjuly at 7:04 AM on August 11, 2010

Best answer: Something I didn't see in any of those links but that I think is important is "What's going to happen when we fight? What happens when you get angry?"

I was married to a man who wanted to walk away from a fight and then come back later when he was cooled off. That 1. made me feel abandoned when he walked away and 2. bewildered when he came back because I was usually already "over" whatever the disagreement was. (My temper burns white hot and quickly - which has the nice side effect of meaning I'm absolute crap at holding grudges.)

I've also been in the relationship with the person who could not lose an argument for any reason. So long past when I was ready to agree to disagree and move on, he was still trying to convince me of the rightness of his way of seeing things.

It'd be lovely to marry someone with whom you never disagree, never argue, never fight. But for most of us, it's important to know how you're going to handle what I believe the professionals call "conflict resolution."
posted by 100watts at 7:09 AM on August 11, 2010 [11 favorites]

Something I didn't see in any of those links but that I think is important is "What's going to happen when we fight? What happens when you get angry?"

Is it possible to get married without fighting? Even if the relationship has been a bed of roses up until then organising something as stressful as a wedding is likely to give the happy couple a great deal of experience in conflict resolution...
posted by ninebelow at 7:35 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

ninebelow: These tips are not presupposing that the issues never ever come up before the marriage. There are many issues that come up in a pre-marriage relationship (fighting, religion, desire to have children), but they may be easier to sweep under the rug before you're married.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:42 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the links, but I believe two big issues are religion (and how that will affect raising kids), and finances (do you pool resources or have separate accounts, who runs the checkbook, etc.).
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:27 AM on August 11, 2010

finances (do you pool resources or have separate accounts, who runs the checkbook, etc.)

Another big one financially is being honest about any debts that either one of you have if you've been hiding it or downplaying it. And although it can be awkward to think about divorce before you even get married, a prenup can help legally establish how you are going to run your finances together and explicitly specify how your assets would be split in a divorce rather than relying on your state's laws.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:42 AM on August 11, 2010

Best answer: Not to dodge the question, but I would like to take issue with the premise of many of these 'x questions to ask your SO before marriage.'

A lot of these questions are asking you to plan your entire lives together, as if you have any sort of idea now, say at 25, how you may feel about children when you're 35. Or things like who will work when and how much will you earn? I mean, the world is changing, especially in the work sphere, so quickly, and people are now able to have many different sorts of jobs, indeed will have all sorts of jobs, jobs that do not yet exist - I don't really see how having extended conversations of how your lives might play out is very worthwhile. Certainly a modicum of shared general goals, etc., is critical - but if you're considering marriage, presumably this is sort of already the case, no?

I mean, this is hyperbolic, but a lot of those questions are akin to things like, "Do you plan on being in any severe car crashes that you might want to tell me about?" or "Do you plan to always consider asparagus your favorite vegetable?" Even a seemingly good, practical questions to ask like, 'where do you want to live?' is pretty futile - a lot of people who wanted to live in Seattle 20 years ago might now to live nowhere near there.

The point is this: there are really - and increasingly - strict limits on how much of your own future is predictable. Change is happening too quickly (c.f. Burke). Marriage is a commitment to love someone until they die, ostensibly. It is not a prediction of, oh, I will still be in love with this person in 50 years.

There's a reason it is called the plunge, is all I'm sayin'.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:23 AM on August 11, 2010 [11 favorites]

I think something to think about is: How do I think my partner can/will handle unpredictable situations and/or things they cannot control. This maybe part of the "five love languages" or whatever, but it can matter very much in certain situations whether your partner is an empathetic, supportive sort, or someone who's uncomfortable dealing with strong emotion.

I say this as someone who's currently watching the (long anticipated, even) death of a chronically-ill parent create some pretty severe relationship turmoil for a couple of our closest friends.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:48 PM on August 11, 2010

Rule 1: you should never marry someone until you are comfortable with how they handle a crisis.

Rule 2: You probably shouldn't marry someone if you are not comfortable with their family. If you ignore Rule 2, you better be real comfortable with Rule 1.
posted by any major dude at 5:49 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Conflict resolution is huge. My wife and I thank God every day we naturally resolve our conflicts easily. This was not the case with me and previous girlfriends.

Trust is necessary. Set whatever boundaries are needed and live by them.

Also, ask yourself what's not negotiable. For instance, children. If you must have them and she doesn't feel the same way, don't get married until you both do.
posted by xammerboy at 11:03 PM on August 11, 2010

There are a few things that I wish that we had talked about before we got married. Now that I'm married though, I'm realizing that a couple of things are true. One, as my friend liked to say, finding potential issues in marriage is kind of like playing poker. If you are diligent, you can see a couple of the cards up front before you get married; but there are always a few hidden surprises. The bigger questions revolve around how to handle these surprises when they come up, not how to be fully aware of them before they happen (although the former is good too, just not 100% possible). Second, I've always believed (and feel like my marriage has confirmed) that it's more important to know about how your partner handles conflict, and if they are willing to work their issues out during difficulties, than whether or not there is conflict to avoid in the first place. Because there always is. Either things get addressed on the front end of marriage before it starts, or shortly after it starts; but either way, when issues are addressed, the attitude and the approach is more important than creating a stress free environment in the first place.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:47 PM on August 14, 2010

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