10 Upfront Conversations Before Getting Married

Conversations 6 through 10.

Posted Aug 13, 2019

My first post in this series discussed conversations 1 through 5. This post covers conversations 6 through 10.

Doing “slow love” (choosing multiple pre-marital partners, having friends with benefits, or living with their partners for a while) is a good thing—not to worry that marriage is going out of style. Helen Fisher who invented the meme “slow love” argues that we have an evolutionary imperative for the deep attachment couples can find in marriage. [1]  When you find 'the one' is the time to “be up front” with each other—have the kind of serious conversations that will set the stage for the equitable, sustainable, and satisfying marriage you want.

6. What About Fidelity?

The conventional idea about marital fidelity is that it is agreed upon once you take your marriage vows.  We have enough data on infidelity to suggest we need a different approach, one that understands fidelity based on conviction not convention.  This means fidelity is a choice you are making together—it is a negotiated choice.  Here are some ideas about how to discuss choosing fidelity.

  • Take the time to reflect on your own thoughts and feelings about sexual fidelity in your marriage.
  • Examine your implicit ideas about monogamy that come from your religious beliefs, traditional sex roles, personal moral values, and personal insecurities.
  • How are you going to define fidelity in your marriage?
    • Honesty and openness: What should you tell each other about your relationships with other people?
    • Outside relationships:  What limits do you want to set on the nature of your relationships with other people, e.g. Is it okay to share personal information?
    • Sexual fidelity:  What about lusting after someone, pornography use, and internet emotional relationships?

Remember—fidelity is about conviction not convention.

7.  Having and Raising Children

Today having children is an intentional action. This means you must plan how you will work together to be effective parents, maintain gender equity, and sustain your relationship.  Here are the important questions that can guide your discussion.

  • Do you want to have children?  Why?
  • What are your parenting philosophies?
  • What is your plan for having and raising your children?
  • How will the children impact your lives?
  • How will you share the responsibility of caring for your children?
  • If you choose not to have children, how will you handle the pressure you may experience to have children?

Philosopher Christine Overall proposes the best reason to have a child is simply the creation of the mutually enriching, mutually enhancing love that is the parent-child relationship.[2]

8.  Finances are Difficult to Talk About

Before you walk down the aisle, talk about your financial well-being as a couple.  You will want to establish a plan for managing your finances as you begin your marriage.   Here are several starter questions:

  • What are you spending and savings habits?
  • Do you have separate assets and debts?  Recognize that being married makes your individual assets/debts joint assets/debts.
  • Work to create a plan for spending and saving money.
  • Even as you manage your finances jointly, you may want to maintain your own financial and credit standing, perhaps by having separate checking accounts.
  • Regularly discuss your financial goals.

Having an initial sit-down about your finances is important, but don’t stop there, regularly discuss finances particularly as it relates to your important individual and marital goals.

9.  Health and Wellness

You may not think about maintaining your individual health and wellness as part of a commitment to each other and to your marriage.  It is.  Remember, as a couple, everything you do has an impact on your partner.  Here are several thoughts to start out your discussion.

  • How will you both maintain your physical health—nutrition, physical fitness, and individual health issues?
  • How will you support each other’s wishes to maintain physical health?
  • How will each of you take care of your emotional and spiritual well-being?
  • How will you support each other’s efforts to maintain emotional and spiritual well-being?

Having this health and wellness discussion will prepare you to have important talks if situations of ill-health arise. 

10.  Legal Issues

Besides being about love, friendship, and connection, marriage is also a legal union.  Here are a few legal issues to discuss.

  • How will debt accrued in the marriage be handled?
  • How will you decide what health and life insurance plan to use?
  • How will you decide upon beneficiaries for savings plans?
  • Are there individual premarital assets.  Are these to remain with the individual or become joint assets?
  • Create wills, including living wills.
  • If circumstances change, how will you divide marital assets?
  • If circumstances change, who will receive maintenance and/or child support from the other?

Ongoing discussions about legal issues as well as the other important areas talked about can enhance your marital relationship.

In Closing

Sociologist Kathleen Gerson found in her study of young people that they hoped to create egalitarian relationships within lasting marriages or marriage-like relationships.[3]  To achieve this lofty goal in a society that continues to define marriage in terms of outdated gender roles—breadwinner and homemaker—young couples must have the kind of upfront conversations described.  It is not easy to maintain an equitable relationship. The pull toward the traditional model is intense—particularly once you have children.  

You will have a much better chance of maintaining the kind of marital relationship you want if you begin by having frank, upfront discussions and continue them throughout your marriage as it evolves over the long haul.

References

1.  Fisher, Helen. (2016) Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray.  New York City: W.W. Norton & Company.

2.  Overall, Christine.  (2009) Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

3. Gerson, Kathleen.  (2011) The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family. New York: Oxford University Press.