Before You Get Engaged

Questions to contemplate if you're thinking of marriage.

God and Money before marriage!

Religion is not unimportant and love will not conquer all.

Religion is not unimportant and love will not conquer all.  Many couples feel that their love and connection to one another will surmount all foreseeable obstacles.  These individuals should be applauded for their passion, and in many cases a loving and strongly connected couple is able to weather most challenges and come away stronger, wiser and closer.  Yet there are certain topics and issues that won't affect a couple fully until they make the decision to have children, if they do.  One such  issues is religion.  Some feel that marrying someone of the same faith is a must, but many couples seem to think their connectedness and willingness to stay together at any cost will surely trump issues so potentially divisive as religious differences.  Nations themselves are quick to war over issues like religion, so it is no surprise that couples choose to put off discussions of the nuts and bolts of their own religious practices until a pressing need arises (such as children).  These people run the risk of blindsiding each other with what may be very different ideologies and practices.

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Religious sensibility tends to be deeply ingrained in our individual identities because we usually receive our most intense exposure to our family's religion when we are quite young.  Later, in our adolescence and adult lives, we come to make our own decisions about what these traditions mean to us, though by this time, their basic tenets, rituals, and mythologies are already a part of us.  Whether someone has been raised with a strong religious faith in God, has had a more secular religious experience, or is an atheist, such views generally remain a very important part of that person's sense of self.  Even if a person is set against a particular spiritual tradition, it still may be a factor influencing his religious leanings or spirituality, if only as a set of ideas to react against.

Sometimes religious issues come up while a couple is dating, during the holidays, or while planning the wedding.  But most of the intense conflict over religion that I see in couples revolves around raising children.  No matter the situation prompting the discussion, the open and honest review of your respective religious identities can help your partner discover important aspects of you, and is yet another wonderful way to get to know your partner's layered personality.  If you have this discussion early on, you can defuse the potentially explosive conflicts that are certain to come once children are in the picture.

God is not the only "off limits" topic in many pre-wedding relationships, so is money!  The truth is marriage is also a business and money is a very real issue.  This issue of money may not seem significant in the beginning of a relationship, but you will eventually have to address it.  On the path toward engagement, you should have a sober discussion about finances.  Couples come up with different ways of handling finances.  Some will merge their accounts, others will keep them completely separate, and many find an arrangement that is somewhere in between.  When you share a life, what you spend on money on and how freely you do so may differ.  That is why it is always important to share your ideas and goals regarding finances.  You will want to look at your spending and saving habits to see whether you are on the same page.  Having these conversations as you get engaged is a good idea.  You don't want to wait too long.  I have worked with too many couples who realized only after getting married that they were on opposite ends of the spectrum in their financial habits and values.  

How much debt do you or your partner have?  What assets are you bringing to the table?  How do you feel about sharing the money you have earned?  What do you and your partner enjoy spending money on?  What are your goals surrounding home ownership and long-term material possessions? These questions can be a point of contention for many couples, so by asking them early on, you won't feel surprised and resentful later.  If you discuss and deal with these issues in a grounded and sensitive way, you will establish good patterns for your future life together.  This will allow you to support each other in times of stress, and you'll ultimately be more likely to develop a system of handling your finances that will allow you to feel closer and share financial ups and downs as a team.

 

Michael Batshaw, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and author of the new book, 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged.

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