Things you wish you had talked about before getting married
January 4, 2015 2:10 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are discussing getting married within the next year, and I thought I'd get the hive's opinion on important topics to go over before tying the knot.

For the moment we've addressed kids (how many, when), finances (notably debts), monogamy and how we'd like to progress career wise. We've been together for 6 years and have lived together for 5 so I think we've got a handle on the everyday living situation (distribution of chores, etc).

Is there a big item (or even little item) that we're forgetting? I've left off religion because neither of us practice one.
posted by Blissful to Human Relations (39 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Within finances, how do you want to (or not) merge money, split household bills (50/50, percentage of income) and make decisions about spending. (If he buys a new $600 video game or she buys $700 boots, do you have to check with one another?)
posted by k8t at 2:23 PM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

How do you feel about living where you currently are versus moving in the future? Are there questions about living closer to family or a city?
posted by k8t at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

What are your thoughts about aging parents? Do either of you have expectations or interest in aging parents living with you? Do either of you have expectations or interests in financially supporting aging parents or other family members that need help? Are you in agreement about this?
posted by k8t at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2015 [20 favorites]

What are your plans and expectations for retirement? What are your retirement savings like right now? Where do you want to retire to? How comfortably do you want to live during retirement?
posted by k8t at 2:27 PM on January 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

Retirement plans: when? do you want to sit around and be a schlub or travel? Die broke or die rich?

Eldercare: For now, what happens if your parent(s) need assistance? Do they come with you? Do you pitch in for in-home care? For later, what happens when you become the elders?

Wedding bands: One for your lifetime, or are you permitted to upgrade/change the bands? Believe it or not, this can be a thing.
posted by kimberussell at 2:28 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

With regard to kids, how do you envision your parenting style? Do you share expectations about the role of each parent? What about stay at home parenting versus childcare?
posted by k8t at 2:28 PM on January 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

To do this thoroughly, I recommend the Getting Ready for Marriage Workbook. It covers everything, with lots of lists and worksheets to help you through. It's really helpful, and it can be fun to talk through everything together.

(Oh, yeah, looking at the reviews reminded me that it's really Jesusy. I think it could be useful for anyone, if you adapt it as you need, but keep that in mind.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:28 PM on January 4, 2015

Do either of you have non-negotiable family things? Like you absolutely must spend a particular holiday with them. Or there is a sibling with serious problems that the other needs to know about.
posted by k8t at 2:30 PM on January 4, 2015

How would you handle a special needs child, or multiple children?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:46 PM on January 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

1.You don't marry the person, you marry the family.
2. How do the families get along? Will it matter? (If they're 1,000 miles apart and will never interact, it doesn't matter).
3. Finances - Figure out spending and savings habits. Who wants to retire when?
4. Kids - yes/no? figure this out ASAP.
5. Living - geography? Anyone want to move overseas and the other doesn't?

My negotiations teacher used to council people before they were married and said his goal was to convince people to not get married. That was preferable to him than having people get divorced in 5 years with 2 kids.
posted by Farce_First at 2:50 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Last names: do either of you plan to change your last name or expect the other spouse to change theirs? What last name(s) will your children have?

Nthing family expectations -- holidays, financial, health issues, etc.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

How will you treat holidays?

End of life care.

Pregnancy - the bad bits, like extreme illness/disability (mother or fetus), birth choices, breastfeeding, recovery.

Relationships with other people - my biggest regret is not actually discussing with my partner that I take 'cleave unto each other' very very seriously where he does not (I've just joined 'his' family in his mind, and he's joined mine). That has been the greatest source of friction in our relationship and causes more problems than anything else because it relates to how I treat and am treated by his family, how we celebrate anything, how we talk to people, all of those things. We're lucky that finances, parenting, pregnancy, end of life, all of that is fine.

And sex - what happens if one of you has a libido incompatibility?
posted by geek anachronism at 3:14 PM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you haven't seen them already, here are some previous questions that might be helpful: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
posted by aka burlap at 3:31 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

communication styles
sexual pleasure
dealing with change
whose career is primary
posted by SyraCarol at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sex frequency. (Long term average, obviously, not a rigid timetable)

What if someone isn't happy with the sex frequency, what do they do?

Relative expectations of being independent vs. doing everything as a team. (For example, do you really need to wait until I'm home from work to go to the grocery store with you?)
posted by ctmf at 3:40 PM on January 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

End of life/elder care expectations for your parents

Rules of engagement for the following situations:
- Disagreements about life structure issues (money, house, career)
- Disagreements about behavior
- Physical crises (illness, injury, natural disaster)
- Emotional crises (money surprise, firing/layoff, boundary fuckup, scary news)
- Differing opinions about how to go about high-stakes things like leaving a job, parenting, telling family/friends about life events, etc.

You've been together long enough that a whole lot of those rules may be unspoken. It can be very educational to articulate them.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:46 PM on January 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Policies and preferences for houseguests

Policies and preferences for lending/giving money to family and friends in need

Vacationing styles

Pets, especially where they should sleep (with you?) and how much you'd be willing to spend on vet care to save their lives
posted by Jacqueline at 3:52 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Which family do you spend what holidays with?
posted by CrazyLemonade at 3:54 PM on January 4, 2015

Does anyone have a big, unfulfilled dream they can't really release, that would require significant compromises on the other person's part (med school, a doctorate, living on a houseboat, etc)?
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

What if one of you becomes religious later on? Are you going to have a separate but equal approach to spiritual beliefs, especially with kids?

How do you feel about divorce? What would be the reasons you would immediately divorce each other, what would you go for counseling first?
posted by viggorlijah at 4:12 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by buzzman at 4:51 PM on January 4, 2015

Lyn Never:

What do you mean by "rules of engagment"?
posted by samizdat at 6:07 PM on January 4, 2015

How are you two at handling serious disagreements and stressful times?

I was with my first husband for four years before we married, and in that time we didn't really have any major disagreements, never really had to work to resolve any major differences between us, until after we were married. Then some big problems came up, where it became clear we were severely lacking in communication skills, each expecting the other to bridge the gap. We just ended up hurting each other more, it divided us permanently. It was certainly a learning experience for me.

I had to think about it for a minute when my now-Husbunny proposed to me, before I replied. Though I knew I love him more than I've loved anyone before, we've fought a number of times over the course of our relationship, which was worrying. But we also worked hard at dealing with it, getting better at arguing and reconciling, and understanding each other better so we don't get to that point. Each time has been remarkably better than the last, and that demonstrated improvement was what gave me confidence to accept his proposal.
posted by lizbunny at 6:30 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Relative standards of cleanliness, and domestic division of labour.
posted by reshet at 8:09 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you ever, even a little, questioned your gender identity?
posted by hishtafel at 8:34 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

criticism/communication - how do you want to be told that something isn't working/needs a change? are some subjects off limits? where are the sensitive spots?

kids - not just when/how many; but what if things don't go according to plan - would you adopt? or try treatments (how much would you spend? how long would you try?) - or just accept being childless?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:46 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Beyond debts, for finances: how is money combined/divided? what would a will look like? if one of you stops working to take care of kids or otherwise (ie laid off) what does that look like? if there was a divorce, how would finances be divided if someone had stopped working during the marriage?
posted by Toddles at 10:15 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Previously and previouslier.
posted by John Cohen at 11:01 PM on January 4, 2015

My brother and sister in law, despite not being catholic, attended a marriage course run by a catholic church and said that it was eye-opening in ways that they would never have imagined. Particularly about how, despite them appearing on the surface to have the same attitude to finances, underneath they approached things very differently. This was in the UK but I expect that you would be able to find something similar near where you are. You may need to bite your tongues through the religious bits, but it sounds very worth it.
posted by fearnothing at 11:58 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

This sounds like I'm being facetious, but I'm not:

Air-conditioning. I've had more fights about air-conditioning (and heating) with partners, room-mates, lovers, wife, than any other trigger topic.

Find out each other's beliefs about preferred ambient temperature. It won't solve
a lot of problems, but at least you won't be surprised.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:00 AM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

I had a "maybe should have returned the gifts" length marriage after a wedding that cost as much as a condo in a rural area. I would echo, bold and blink this:

How do you feel about divorce? What would be the reasons you would immediately divorce each other, what would you go for counseling first?

because my marriage was humiliating and a waste. If you can't commit to counseling first for anything short of domestic violence, I don't think you can commit to a marriage.

A very salient question is, "Are you marrying me expecting I will change in a certain way? If so, how? How would you feel if I did not change?" There are plenty expectations of change that can load a marriage before it even begins: secret hopes of maturity, greater compatibility, more sex, less sex, weight lost, &c. My ex married me with the expectation I would "get better" and that we'd figure out I had an "easily curable illness" and then we could have kids - I am permanently disabled. We got worse and worse news about my physical health, including the advice that he should take the next year off.

And here's another. What will you do if there's a force of nature (like an illness or other tragedy) that throws you off - career wise, money wise, just life in general wise? How will you remain a team against illness or job loss, not resenting each other about it? My exhusband was going to law school next year -- given that he felt he absolutely could not take time off from his job to be with me during emergency surgery, the recommended year off to be with me and help me (because I might not have time left, then) wasn't happening. He regarded my requests for help as me "trying to own" him. He had taken care of me for five years before with extreme compassion but having my illness threaten to put us off course made him resent me, instead of having us together fighting for my health. I'd say that if the answer must be that you'd take breaks for each other, should something big happen. There are many, many career opportunities (etc) but marriage is about your delight in finding out the other one of you (one and only) exists!

Also, learn about any illnesses the two of you have. are you up on treating them? any surprises there?

My husband today and I had talked out the health stuff more in our three months of dating than my exhusband and I did in nearly 6 years. We only lived together shortly before getting married. Within two months, we had in home help and my husband was telecommuting to take care of me. We were going to counseling so he could understand my PTSD and I could process his chronic health problem. It sucks that we needed any of this -- but it was good stuff that never happened in my other alliance. I didn't even know it was possible to live intentionally like you love somebody. Make sure you're gonna do that.
posted by sweltering at 4:10 AM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Frequently recommended on the green in Gottman's Emotional Focused Couple's therapy. He predicts divorce really accurately and has scientific principles for making marriage work (as you'll see at the website). Mentioning this because it looks like they have a Premarital Counseling Program. There's even this deck of cards 52 Questions Before Getting Married or Moving In, which looks like it could be a fun format for heavy subject matter. If you aren't around Seattle, you could get individual premarital Gottman counseling from anybody who uses his methods - I think there's a directory there, too.

oh! Gottman therapist Sue Johnson wrote Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which are deeper conversations and questions. My partner and I have worked through it and it's amazing.
posted by sweltering at 4:27 AM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

How well do your energy levels match? I am a high energy person and hubs is not. I am an early bird but he is a night owl. This has meant a lot of lonely times for both of us.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:54 AM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with the above advice on talking through long term illnesses, chronic conditions, and health in general. I assumed that we'd have time before we had to deal with debilitating illness in either of us. We had 3 years before it happened. I see friends dealing with cancer, MS, etc. and some are not even out of their 30s. Don't assume it's something that won't happen until you're in your 60s, 70s, or later.

Also agreeing with elder care discussions. We're now involved in elder care on both sides, and it can be difficult balancing parental care and marriage needs.

How you plan to discipline kids.

How much is reasonable to spend on a pet before you discuss euthanasia, if you own pets.
posted by RogueTech at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Holidays, holidays, holidays. Even worse than usual since we're both only children and SUPER-expected to adhere to The One True Way Of Christmas, or whatever. (I got out of Christmas Eve with my MIL for the first time in 10 years by being might not be as fortunate...)
posted by at 5:32 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

-Yes, sexual compatibility is that important in a long-term relationship.

-Don't overestimate the "opposites attract" line. They may attract, but 10 years on do they want to go on vacation to the same places and enjoy the same pursuits? Do they want the same thing n a house and neighborhood? Do they build a life together?

-Are your potential spouse's parents divorced. Are yours? Consider the roll models you're both working with.

-"For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, till death to we part." Do you both mean it, expressly and literally, and commit to not quitting when it gets to the worse parts?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2015

Oh yeah, nthing Gottman on marriage. Does you potential spouse express contempt at you? Presence of "contempt" is the biggest predictor of divorce
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:09 AM on December 1, 2015

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