Marriage detail #1. Children.
Will you have children? Neither you nor your spouse have to answer that just yet, but if you are open to the idea and your potential spouse is absolutely closed minded about it, you may have a problem. The specific answer isn’t what’s important here. What is important is that you both are on the same page.
Despite what anyone claims, nothing can prepare you for children. I know, I have three! Children are a wonderful addition to a marriage, but they should never be allowed to divide a husband and wife. If you both decide that, yes, we want children at some point, then you should both agree under what circumstances (financial and emotional) you will bring them into this world. You should both agree on how you want them educated and raised, day care, public or private school, discipline, will you pay for their college, all should be discussed and a general consensus reached. What you decide is a matter of personal choice. I’m not here to advocate one way or another. What is important is that you both agree and feel comfortable with the other’s level of support and commitment to your agreement.
Marriage detail #2. Finances.
It’s a broad sweeping statement, but statistics bear it out: money problems cause more marital problems than anything else. Make sure you both agree on how you will earn a living, who will work, how you will budget for necessary expenses and save for the future. I would recommend that both of you sit down and make out an individual budget, based on your current income and expenses. Don’t let your potential spouse see your numbers until you both have completed the exercise. Then come together and compare notes. Did he budget for something crazy like $3,500 per year in hunting club dues? Did she budget for a $575 per month BMW that she’s been wanting? Seeing what the other included in discretionary spending will reveal where his or her priorities lie. Compare this budget to both party’s actual expenditures. Is there a disconnect? If so, how will you handle it?
Just remember that men and women view money and finances differently, but what you and your potential spouse decide to spend your money on is not what’s important. What is important is the level of agreement you both share on important items such as personal debt, how much you need to spend on make-up, hobbies, entertainment, and vehicles. How much rent do you think is too much? How will you handle charitable giving? Will you have one checking account, two, or three? Who will pay for what expense items?
Agreement is what’s important. Without it, you’re setting the stage for late night arguments over bounced checks and overdraft fees.
Marriage detail #3. The relationship with in-laws.
How well do you get along with your potential spouse’s parents? How well does he or she get along with them? How will you handle holidays, birthdays, vacations, special events, his cousin’s wedding, her aunt’s funeral? It isn’t uncommon for a newlywed couple to have 3 or 4 sets of in-laws, parents, and step parents. All of them think you should be with them on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and New Year’s eve and New Year’s day. They want both of you there at every special family event and can make things very difficult if you aren’t. It can make for quite a lot of tension that newlyweds don’t need. You’re both still trying to figure out your role with each other, much less your role with his or her crazy uncle.
It isn’t always easy to equitably divide time among even just two sets of parents, much less three or four. Talk it over with your potential spouse and come to an agreement on what your relationship with the in laws will look like after you get married. Remember that no matter what, his momma will always see him as her baby boy and her daddy will always see her as daddy’s girl. Don’t worry about fighting that. They are not what’s important. What is important is your relationship with your potential spouse and how you will both handle the in laws and support each other in doing so.
On another note, it may be important to discuss aging parents and what role you will play should those parents need your care during their senior years.
Marriage detail #4. Religion.
Like all the other details, you must come to a consensus on how you will treat religion in your marriage. Chances are, you’re both of the same mindset already, but it’s still important to talk things out ahead of time. Is he Catholic and you are Protestant? If you decide that you’ll go to church, where will you go? Where will you get married? What role will the church play in your lives?
Hashing these details out now will make for a smoother transition into marriage and will result in fewer arguments later.
Marriage detail #5. Where to live.
This one seems easy, but if she’s always dreamed of living in the mountains and he wants to live on the Gulf coast, there will be a problem. Does he want to live in the city and she in the suburbs? As I’ve said before, talk it out before the marriage license. Make sure you agree on where you’ll live.
Marriage detail #6. Traditions.
What traditions does he keep in his family? Do they always open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve or do they wait until Christmas Day? Does she celebrate birthdays like there’s no tomorrow or does she see it as just another day. Does he spend every weekend at the lake? Does she spend Thanksgiving at the Salvation Army helping feed the homeless? Does he like to spend a month or so in Europe every few years?
Make certain you know and understand the level of commitment that your potential spouse has toward their traditions. Are you willing to match that level of commitment? Does he or she say, “You don’t have to come along,” but resent you afterwards for failing to support them?
Marriage detail #7. Saying I’m sorry.
Go back and think about how many times your potential spouse has said these words. I’m not talking about keeping score and racing to be the first to say it. That’s childish. What I’m talking about is the other person’s willingness to admit when they’re wrong and to have the humbleness to say those words. Remember, you aren’t always right, either.
Some people find it easier to say “I’m sorry” than others, but it’s important to discuss how you’ll disagree with each other. Always make it respectful and never resort to name calling or petty “gotchas.” That isn’t productive and it certainly isn’t loving.
Before you go
Now that you’ve discussed these 7 areas and have explored some of the core values, beliefs, and traditions of your potential spouse, prepare for everything to change. You might have a child (or two) unexpectedly, your finances might suffer from a job loss, you may have to MOVE IN with her parents for a time, you may both get disenchanted with your religion, you may decide you’re just tired of the cold and snow, and you may develop new traditions. Going through the exercise of talking to each other before getting married will help you understand the other person much more deeply and will help you both get through the rough times.
Just remember that rarely is anything in life absolutely set in stone. What’s important is to love and understand each other and be flexible. Love and understanding comes about from open and honest communication. Some people have had highly successful marriages without discussing these 7 things, but I’d bet that if they wish they had talked about them beforehand. Make sure you talk with your potential spouse about these 7 topics and that you’re both honest with your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.