Engagement is an exciting time for every couple and, when contemplating the adventure ahead, there are many things that should be considered. A marriage is a combining of the lifestyles, habits and beliefs of two, sometimes very different, people. It is important that you love one another and believe you have a strong future together, but it is also important to discuss the various areas of life that often bring conflict down the road. Here are 10 areas of life that should be discussed by every couple.
1. Finances – This is the number one consideration for any couple. The number one cause of divorce is money, as cited by many experts. Money may not seem that important to you in the beginning, either because both of you are working and making a solid income or because one or both of you are not considering all of the expenses with which you may be faced down the road. It is important to map out your plans for career, family, investments and retirement together in the beginning and consider all of the expenses involved in a marriage such as childcare, investments, mortgage, insurance and taxes. Also include the expenses that may be even less obvious such as decorating and startup for your new home as well as child rearing expenses that do not involve food, clothing and education such as field trips, school events and sports, etc. Sit down together and plan a budget that involves all of the expenses that you believe you may incur to see if they fit within the realm of what you each expected. Also consider how tight that budget can be for your personal comfort and whether single incoming living is a possibility for you.
2. Debt – Trust and transparency are the keys in terms of debt. Discuss the debt each of you has currently and expects to acquire in the future for education, home, vehicle and any other types of loans or credit, including credit cards. Also discuss how the debt will be shared and what your current lines of credit are. There are many variables to debt, so you may wish to manipulate the figures a number of different ways to see what the possible monthly payments and repayment periods may be. Will you have mutual credit cards or each maintain your own? Can you or would you wish to consolidate debts such as student loans? It may be wise to seek the assistance of a tax or financial advisor to help you with this discussion.
3. Children – It is amazing how many couples go into a marriage with only the most basic of understanding of each other’s expectations regarding children. It is not enough to know if you both wish to have children. You should also discuss how many children you each anticipate having, how you wish to raise them, what educational plans you have for them and how child care will be handled. If one parent wishes to stay home to raise them, it is important to discuss how that plan will be financed and what the appropriation of other household activities and chores should be.
4. Religious Beliefs – Discuss the religion you each have and, if it is not a shared one, discuss how religious traditions and events will be handled, including religious holidays. It is worth discussing the possibility of one or both of you converting to a new tradition if the one considering a conversion is truly positive about the idea. Mismatched religious beliefs are not necessarily a hindrance to a happy marriage, but there is value in spiritual unity because it can make for a more harmonious home and fewer logistical problems. If separate religions are maintained, it is important to discuss and agree on the religious training of any children you may have well in advance of the marriage. This can be a very emotionally charged and difficult area in any marriage.
5. Family Commitments – Disagreements with relatives and in-laws can wreak havoc on a marriage. Discuss with one another the planned and anticipated degree of interaction with your extended families. If there are personality conflicts with your new family, discuss those with your partner and plan how they will be handled. These issues can be handled, but it is important that you both see your marriage to each other as always being the priority and feel comfortable that you each see your partner as a support rather than an adversary. This discussion can be difficult, so be sure you are not confrontational or defensive and remember that the discussion centers on your families whom you each love deeply. Using statements such as “I feel” rather than “They are” can be very helpful in keeping this conversation positive and productive.
6. Career Plans – Career is not something one simply leaves at the office each day in a separate mental compartment from the family. Work stress, office hours and relocations can be devastating for a family. Discuss what and how many hours you each expect to work under ordinary circumstances, whether that may change and, if so, how. Discuss how you will manage stress and whether those stresses may impact your marriage and family life. Ask yourselves whether you plan to remain in your current careers or move on to new ones and what impact that may have on your future together. An important discussion to have is whether you both anticipate working long-term or if one of you may wish to be a homemaker or may have other family responsibilities such as elder care in the future which may require a long-term period of unemployment or even if one of you may return to school at some future date.
7. Family Name – This may seem like a small issue, but it is important in these modern times to discuss the family name, particularly whether the woman will retain her maiden name or assume her husband’s name. If the married partners will have different names, a discussion of the names of the children may be important as well. In the same line of thought, consider if there are any family names within your genealogy that you want represented as a child’s first or last name and whether those are agreeable to both of you. There are many options to consider, so this discussion should not be avoided.
8. Living Arrangements – If you are entering a marriage, your home will be the place where your life is centered. If you each have a home or apartment, it is important to discuss well in advance whether you will live in one of those homes or have a new one together. If a new home will be purchased, it is critical to become familiar with the housing and lending markets you will be facing to help you make your decisions carefully.
9. Retirement Plans – It is a great idea to see a financial adviser or retirement planner to discuss retirement plans and benefits. You will need to incorporate retirement savings into your household budget very early in your marriage to ensure that you are saving adequately and review this annually or semi-annually to be sure you are on track to meet your goals.
10. Previous Relationships – This issue may not impact every couple, but particularly if there is a previous marriage or children from another marriage which may necessitate child custody arrangements, child support payments or alimony, this discussion may be necessary for you and your partner. It is very important to look at the issue realistically and anticipate the pitfalls and financial impact of any prior relationships. Discuss the issues openly, honestly and respectfully.
Marriage is a serious commitment and there are many things you should be certain you see eye to eye on to properly assess compatibility. Honesty and trust are the keys to a successful marriage and those attributes should come into play in your pre-marriage planning. These conversations work best before time, expense and emotional involvement are invested in wedding planning. It is a common mistake to invest much into planning for a wedding without considering the true cost of marriage, even excluding the financial cost. You are each giving up your separate lives to lead a combined life and there will be problems, challenges and obstacles on the way, but you can reduce them a great deal by discussing the matters that really matter well in advance.