Perhaps the best counsel a parent can offer their child before marriage is to get to know your potential partner well. There are things to talk about before marriage that are awkward, but important. Too many married couples discover things about their wife or husband they wish they’d known before they said, “I do.” Judgment gets impaired by the romance of courtship. Important issues often get overlooked.
Wise parental counsel can do a lot to help an adult child avoid some of the landmines that may blow up a marriage.
I recently attended the wedding of one of my daughter’s best friends. My daughter didn’t catch the bride’s bouquet, but I know she’s already planning her wedding. She’s just waiting for the right guy to cast as the groom. In the meantime, my wife and I will offer up some pre-marital counsel.
We don’t have a perfect marriage from which to draw our counsel. Our wisdom is often gained from our mistakes more than our successes. At opportune times, we share the hard lessons we’ve learned in marriage. We want to help our daughter avoid the setbacks that caused us grief.
Here’s a list of some of the hot-button items that a potential bride and groom can discuss. They aren’t romantic topics, but worth some serious attention. The aim isn’t that the prospective husband and wife will immediately agree on every issue. What’s important is to begin to understand where each other stands. The process of coming to agreement can take time, and positions may change as life circumstances unfold.
The topic of how many children to bear seems to come up without any prompting. It’s also important to discuss each other’s opinions on when to have children. One might assume the other wants to start having children in the first year of marriage. The other may want to wait.
Bringing a child into marriage requires significant adjustments in many areas, and may require sacrifices that the potential mother and father haven’t considered. A couple considering marriage will benefit from talking about the impact having a child will have on the time they have for each other, their careers, their finances, their relationship with each other’s parents, and where they want to live.
Before marriage is also a good time to discuss thoughts on how children will be raised. Will one parent stay home? Will children go to childcare? Will they be homeschooled, sent to private school, or public school?
2. Sexual Expectations
Frank discussions about sex might be uncomfortable. The attitude that sex can just happen, and the assumption that it will be good for both partners can lead to disappointment.
While many couples are engaging in sex before marriage, there remain those that aren’t for reasons such as health issues or fear, or on matters of principle and religious conviction. In either case, open discussions about sexual expectations can lead to greater intimacy and satisfaction. It can also prevent disappointment.
Topics for discussion may include birth control, and what fantasies, concerns and fears each partner has about sex in marriage.
3. Extra-marital Friendships
A couple planning to marry may not have the same friends. He’ll have his guy-friends. She’ll have her girlfriends. He and she may also have friends of the opposite sex. Before marriage is a good time to clear the air on how you both see those friendships continuing after the wedding vows.
It’s worth discussing how you each see those friendships carrying on. Will he be okay with her going out with her girlfriends for an evening, or away with them on weekends or on vacations? Will she be okay with him golfing, or going to sporting events, or out for drinks with the guys? Is he okay with her having lunch with her best male friend from work? Is she okay with him going on a business trip with his best female friend from work?
4. Money Matters
An American Express survey revealed that only 43 percent of the general population talked about money before marriage. Newly married couples disagreed about money in their first year of marriage more than any other issue according to a study by Jean Oggins at University of California at San Francisco.
Couples considering marriage can avoid unwelcome surprises by disclosing each other’s income, debt and credit history. These financial issues may directly impact a married couple’s ability to get a loan for their first home.
It’s also a good idea for the couple to discuss each other’s thoughts on money management. What do they think about having separate or shared bank accounts? What are their thoughts about spending and saving, and having a household budget? How will they manage their finances and pay bills?
5. Religious Convictions
A couple contemplating marriage will each have their personal views on religion. If one is an atheist and the other has religious convictions, there’s an obvious need to discuss how each person’s different worldview can be incorporated into a marriage and raising children.
When a couple shares the same faith, it’s also important to recognize differences in each other’s beliefs. One may have stronger convictions than the other on the teachings of their faith. Such differences could become the basis for sharp disagreements about money, raising children, what kind of food to serve at home, and how to spend time together.
6. Deal Breakers
In the heat of passion, people say things that can be misunderstood. In one way or another, many couples in love say something like, “You’re all that matters to me.” That probably doesn’t mean, “You’re all that matters to me, forever.” It’s more likely that he or she means, “You’re all that matters to me right now.”
Sooner or later, other things will matter. Some of those things may be deal-breakers in a marriage, resulting in divorce. Specifying each party’s “deal-breakers” is common in forming a contract. Marriage is more than a public proclamation of mutual love. It’s also a contract to do, and not do, certain things.
A couple should discuss what deal-breakers exist among the issues already identified here, and in other areas. Consider career and personal goals, household responsibilities, and relationships with parents, to name a few.
Do you know someone with an adult child thinking about marriage? Let them know you care, and share this with them. What topics would you add to this list, and why? Add to this list with a comment below.
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.